The recent news report on two young children committing suicide, for reasons that hardly merit such a drastic step, has shocked the nation. A 12 year-old boy hanged himself in the school toilet because he had failed some class exams. An 11 year old girl, who was a promising dancer and had appeared in a couple of television reality shows, also took her own life.
The really alarming aspect here is that these are not isolated incidents but the latest manifestation of an alarming new trend amongst today’s young people. A couple of years ago, two teenage girls in Bombay, India, hanged themselves over perceived academic failure. Hardly two days later came another report of a 22 year-old Indian Institute of Technology student committing suicide for similar reasons. It seems that the tolerance limit for disappointments is being rapidly lowered for today’s youth. Sure, people have been committing suicide for centuries but, up to as recently as 50 years ago, the reasons that drove them to this irrevocable action were far more profound; the death of a child, perhaps, or the prospect of an impossibly bleak future.
So what is the cause of the facility with which youngsters succumb to despair and take that extreme step? A large number of teenage suicides in India appear to stem from academic failure, often more perceived than actual. It is very tempting to put the blame on demanding parents who pressurize their children to excel academically and paint a forbidding picture of consequences if they fail. However, parents have been parents since the beginning of time. Parents of my generation (I’m 62) were not that different. True, we grumbled and cursed and some rebelled out of sheer cussedness, but the thought of killing ourselves never entered our minds.
So what has changed? Paradoxically, one reason may be that the so-called Generation Next has never had it so good. Allowances and, consequently, spending power has increased dramatically: friendship is just an SMS away; and instant entertainment is at their fingertips, literally – just click on the remote. The result is that frustration sets in very easily, without the maturity to cope with it.
True, peer pressure is not a new phenomenon. Keeping up with the Jones’s has always been with us. But nowadays it has assumed alarming proportions. Young people are taking to crime with far less compunction than before; robbery seems an easy solution to fund the incessant desire for indulging in the latest fashions, impressing your girlfriend at the pub; in short, just being hip. The gruesome murder not that long ago, of an old lady and her infant grandson is a case in point. That youngsters could even contemplate such a heinous crime just for a few hundred rupees is, sadly, a sign of the times. The urge to be part of the gang, to fit in, is so overpowering that these misguided youths will go to any lengths. And in many cases, the wrong doers come from fairly affluent families. So it is not desperation that derives them to commit these dreadful acts. It’s almost a game. And the frightening part is, the end is so important that they believe any means justify it. Even murder is not treated with the gravity it deserves.
So is there any solution? Certainly no easy one. The concept of the pampered sonhas always been part of Indian tradition, but parents seem to be taking it to extremes nowadays. In their eyes, their little darlings can do no wrong. So what if he wants the latest mobile? He or she has to keep up appearances. And it reflects on the family too. It would never do for the Mehtas to point fingers at the Patels and say they are too cheap to buy their child the latest gadget. And the child starts to believe that everything is within easy reach. And if it isn’t, it has to be obtained by any means whatever. Parents seem to forget that they were deprived of things when they were growing up; and it did not ruin their lives. They need to rediscover that simple but very important word. No.