Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What is with these children committing suicide?

Everyday I open the newspaper with a fair amount of dread. Sure enough, every day emblazoned across the front page will be the news about some child somewhere killing themselves. The puzzled grieving parents saying we had no clue why they would want to take their lives. The reasons as ridiculous as losing a percentage point in exams, dread of examination results or worse, being reprimanded by a parent for whatever reason.
It puts a knife into my guts and twists it around till I feel physically sick. I have a son. It would kill me. I cant even imagine being in their situation. I pray no one has to. But it seems to be an epidemic. Children are committing suicide every single day, in droves. In the last three months, over a hundred students have committed suicide across Maharashtra.
Why? What could be so terrible that they feel they cant face life anymore? Is it, as the articles go, the pressure of studies and the feeling of inadequacy? Is it the terrible competition for a few seats in reputed colleges (therefore the lack of a balance between supply and demand in our educational institutions)? Is it the social stigma? What sort of a society are we morphing into if a child feels that life is not worth living if he flunks an exam? Or is suspended for bunking?
And then I read a story like this. And this. And it gives me hope.
And I wonder why can we not teach our children to focus on the positives. I wonder how I can do that. I wonder how I can make my child understand that education is only one part of who he is, and even if he does not fare well in his exams, he is still my child and I love him more than I love myself.
I wonder where we are going wrong. We are bringing up a generation of children who are completely focussed only on education. Children are drilled with the concept of getting the best marks they can. Parents too transfer all their hopes and aspirations onto their children and consciously or unconsciously pile on the pressure to the child to fulfil their dreams. The child has to yet find and realise his or her own dreams, how can a child fulfil another's dreams. And yet, there are some cases where there is no external pressure from the parents but yet the child feels compelled to end his or her life. How gut wrenching would this be, not knowing why a child you have given birth to and nurtured would not consider the life you gave him or her worth living? Is this making parents terrified of overstepping an imaginary line while asking their children to study? Are parents handling their children with cottonwool for fear that they might just take their lives in reaction to a harsh word?
Are we bringing up a generation of weak willed children? Children who cannot deal with failure? Children who are terrified of tackling challenges? Children who have everything handed to them on a plate that they do not know how to tackle rejection and failure? Placing too much pressure on children to perform well academically, and neglecting to teach them that life is not all about academics and career success?
I am guilty of this too. The brat struggles to cope with the syllabus at school. I work with him. He has a tuition teacher to help him. He is in grade 1. I temper it by being laid back. If he doesnt feel like doing his work, I let him be. But I do worry. I do know that my heart beats faster when I go for his PTM meetings. That I sigh in relief when I see he's made it beyond the red line in most subjects. I would be happy if he just moves up class to class. And if he doesnt too, well, I'm okay with it. But I still worry for him. Maybe the person who needs to change is me.
Maybe it is me who needs to change my expectations from my child. Maybe it is me who needs to have faith that my child will survive and earn a living in this world even if he doesnt top his class, or make it to IIM or IIT. Maybe we really need those reforms Kapil Sibal was talking about.
Maybe it is us as parents who need to accept that if our child is averagely intelligent, we find another option that the child shows talent and promise in and nurture that. It could be art, music, dance, any skill. A sport. Maybe we parents are the ones who need counselling.
Maybe we need to propagate the concept of suicide as the last refuge of cowards, and not as the glorified end to an unfulfilled life. Perhaps that might work. We need more stories of those who stuck it out and achieved their goals. We need more stories of high school failures and dropouts who made it big, as motivational and inspirational stories for children to read and know about. We need children to realise that suicide is cowardice and sticking it out in the long run is the courage they need. And we need parents the children can turn to for support. I want to be that kind of a parent. I want my child to be able to come to me and tell me he has flunked an exam with no fear. And I pray I am able to accept his failure as his own, and not mine. And that I can give him the courage to get up and go on to attempt it again and again till he succeeds. And not give up midway. I pray all our children get this courage. I pray we as parents are able to give it to them.


  1. You practically wrote every single thing that was in my head, Kiran.

    Yes, it's a very complicated thing. We really do need to build in resilience into our kids, tough love that teaches them to deal with failure in various fields, rejection by peers and lovers, the pressure to look good, the pressure to fit in, do well. It's a really crazy world out there, and if we're not teaching them how to cope, then yes, parents do need help. The world had changed a lot, a lot, and we're still several generations behind our kids, most of us without family support. We should reach out for help for ourselves and our kids. I did.

    I agree that the media (and blogs) need to write more about the 'weak' students who made it wherever whenever. The rejected lovers who found their final soulmate. The children who look different, or are differently abled, have learning differences or differently built families, who made it anyway and HOW they did it, instead of focusing on the negative. The media is anyway too sensationalist. Going on and on about failures and suicides doesn't help those kids who're struggling and despairing. What helps is inspirational stories. And all of us being real.

    I'm inspired by your writing about your Brat's struggle at school, let's talk about these things openly, with each other, with our kids and their friends. It's the way to acceptance and supporting our kids the way they need.

    My heart beats faster in PTMs too.

  2. What a wonderful post this is, Kiran. Please get it to a wider audience. This is so true and so valid.

  3. Even if there was no pressure from the parents, perhaps those children felt that they could not unburden themselves to their parents? I know it's easy to blame parents; even little children have a mind of their own, but usually people intending to commit suicide do exhibit warning signs.

  4. "Maybe it is us as parents who need to accept that if our child is averagely intelligent, we find another option that the child shows talent and promise in and nurture that. It could be art, music, dance, any skill. A sport. "

    Very true! Most parents tend to think the creative arts are a waste of time and intelligence only lies in science and mathematics!

    You will love this video where Ken Robinson speaks of how creativity is destroyed and not nurtured: http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html

    Recently, a marathi movie called "Shikshanacha Aicha gho" was released. It's a story of a father who continuously pushes his son to study hard and make a good career when what his son really wants is to be a cricketer.

    This "building a career" concept is too over-rated now, and so very misinterpreted!

    Parents need to let their kids pursue what they really want to and children should be trained to think that suicides is for "losers" and is so "uncool", that there is life beyond it and those who fail but don't give up eventually end up as super heroes! :)

    Wonderful post!
    Congrats on the Spicy Saturday Pick! :)

  5. It has a lot to do with the coping and support system around the child rather than blaming the education system.

    If a child commits suicide and the parents are clueless about it tells a lot that probably the child could not open up their hearts to their parents. This I believe needs to be worked on wherein they are able to communicate openly.

    Life is full of ups and down and one needs to learn how to cope with it. This is what parents need to teach their child.