My words, my world…
A terrible monster lurks in lakhs of homes in India and is threatening the lives of the teens. This monster slowly captures the minds of teens and keeps increasing the pressure like a bench vice. This monster is called “stress of studies”. In the last few weeks, there have been many teen suicide cases. Most of them were connected to poor results and stress due to exams. Just yesterday, a district collector of Kota wrote a heart-wrenching letter about the rise in suicides in teenagers due to this monster. But this blog is not to give you 5 tips for your teen to deal with this monster. It is also not an open letter to the education minister to dismantle the education system. The purpose of this blog is to request all parents of a teen to pause for a minute and ask yourself one question “how did this monster enter our homes? Why do we let him stay?”
I will tell you the answer. But before that, let me narrate a first-hand experience I witnessed few months ago. My son’s school organized an open house for parents with the Headmistress. After the pleasantries got over and the Headmistress gave an update of the school, she invited parents to ask questions that concern them or their wards. Some parents suggested more scientific activities on robotics, some pointed out the importance of internships with companies and many parents requested more classes for competitive exams like JEE, CLAT, NEET, SAT etc. One parent even warned that the competition is so cut-throat that without extra tuitions, the kids cannot qualify.
The Headmistress smartly answered all of them and ensured that school is willing to take these suggestions and implement them. She also highlighted to the parents that the school has a million other areas for their wards to develop them holistically – like the playgrounds, the sports complex, the library, the teachers, the labs, the subjects, the hobby camps, the student competitions, the inter-school activities, the magnificent nature etc. She went one step further and told the parents to let their wards enjoy school, then take a year off and prepare for these competitive exams.
This last sentence didn’t go very well with one parent. He stood up and said “Madam, do you know the impact of loss of a year on the career of our children? This loss of a year can result in a child not retiring as a principal secretary at the age of 65. Or she might not get the right valuations by a VC when she starts his first company. Then she will blame me for not guiding her properly because her friends will be a year ahead of her”. The room broke into pandemonium. Many agreed with this parent and the organizers had to calm everyone down. At this juncture, the Headmistress invited a very senior member of the board, an alumna of the school and an expert psychiatrist with a solid 30+ year of practice to speak a few words. She looked at all of us, made a dramatic pause and said
“There is nothing wrong with the school or the kids. I have no doubt on their capability. But I have a serious doubt on your capabilities as a parent. I think the problem here is YOU. All of you should take a treatment for dealing with your own anxiety”.
There was another dramatic pause and a pin-drop silence. Many parents looked a little irritated. It was at this point that the thunderbolt struck me. She was right. She showed all of us a mirror and it wasn’t very pretty. Our reactions came out as denial, anger and a counter-argument to her point.
I kept thinking on this topic of anxiety and the more I researched on it, the more it made sense to me. I have quoted Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi few times before in my writings. But I was looking at his model of “Flow” with a different perspective of happiness and passion.
If you look at this model above, you will get the answer of what this senior board member and psychiatrist meant. We experience flow or happiness when the challenge we feel for a task is high and the skill we have to accomplish that task is also very high. The exact opposite of this is anxiety. Anxiety comes when we have a very challenging task ahead of us but no skills to accomplish it.
Don’t we skill ourselves for our jobs in the corporate world? Parenting is a BIG challenging job of our lives too. But are we skilled enough to handle that challenge?
Chances are that many of us learn parenting “after” we become parents. We learn on the job. We make mistakes and move on. But these mistakes can be very costly to your child. For instance, your child may not want to write those competitive exams. She might be a good singer and wants to take up humanities and study singing more professionally. This is a very delicate situation and happens in many homes. At one side you have your child who wants to sing and study a course which she likes. But on the other side, you have your own biases and beliefs that tell you that singing might not be a good paying career for your child. You love your child but you don’t trust her judgement. For you, she is still a child in a candy store and your job is to protect her from bad decisions. The result – your anxiety kicks in and you panic. You open the door to the monster. You force her to take Science Maths and put her in tuitions. The monster loves it. He thrives in homes like this. And this monster could be claiming one more child very soon. I pray that it’s not yours.
This situation is serious but we don’t realize it till we are right in the middle of it: just like environment problems. We all talk about it but feel that “it won’t impact me and my child”. So before this monster walks right in the middle of your living room and makes life miserable for all of you, do something about it. Get skilled to handle this challenge. Learn how to trust your child’s decisions, learn how to deal with anxiety caused by these situations, learn how to remove your own biases, learn how to manage your jealousy caused when you see your neighbour’s son featuring in the newspaper and not yours, learn how not to showcase your child to your friends, learn how to give your child a home full of love and encouragement and not pressures and stress.
About the Author
Rakesh Godhwani calls himself a nobody. He teaches, writes, reads a story to his kids every night before they sleep, bicycles his way to work when he can, does yoga, earns a fraction of what he used to, but lives a million times better. Follow him @godhwani. Read his other posts at https://rakeshgodhwani.wordpress.com