Why this killing rage?

What prompts young school boys to pick up a knife and stab a teacher? Jane Henry explains the reasons for the uncontrollable anger increasingly found among students .

The nation gasped in horror as news of a young teenage boy, who stabbed his teacher at a high school in Chennai, hit the headlines. Everyone wondered where this degree of rage stemmed from in such a young soul. Speculation naturally follows over the nature of provocation leading to such a violent reaction. What makes children so uncontrollably angry?

Many teenagers today study in crowded high-school classrooms, where teachers hardly have any time to recognise psychological problems among students. Invariably it is only the high performer student who wins attention and accolades of the school. Children with undiagnosed learning disabilities, emotional disturbances or even decreased intellectual capacity often fall through the cracks of the system. Combine this with a non-supportive or overly punitive teacher and there’s a ticking time-bomb waiting to explode.

On the other hand, today there is a rise in filo-centric families in our cities where the adults’ lives in the family revolves solely around children’s needs with little regard for socialisation or community needs. Instant gratification is the name of the game and very few parents actually focus on teaching their children tolerance or delaying gratification.

Un-reined aggression among teenagers is also perhaps due to lack of space in a city for play and physical activity to channelize their physical aggression. Teenagers are observed to exhibit lowered levels of frustration tolerance for other reasons too — a probable undiagnosed hormonal or psychiatric condition, presence of innate temperamental traits of aggression and exposure to excessive media violence through video games or otherwise.

A more reversible influence could also be faulty parenting. Some parents unfortunately teach their teenager through their own personal actions and pronouncements that aggression or violence is acceptable as reactions to deal with humiliation or frustration.

However with some amount of education and counselling these parenting patterns are reversible provided parents are able to see their role in the cycle of violence and genuinely want to make a change.

Indian dual income families today are a busy lot with both moms and dads making no time to understand the emotional upheavals or psychological needs of their young ones.

They often fail to pick up on important signs of probable disturbance — withdrawing into oneself, sullenness, crying spells, nightmares, truancy from school, falling grades or even refusal to go to school are often signs of something deeper. The focus remains on performance.

Parents themselves often fail to recognise the possibility of diminished intellectual capability, learning disabilities or even psychological disturbances in the child and the frustration that sets in the child at not being able to achieve on par with his peers. Given their limited verbal abilities and poor social adaptability these teenagers then go on to show their angst through behavioural manifestations in the form of aggression or violence.

Today educational policy makers must seriously consider making the presence of a school counsellor as a mandatory requirement in every school. Untrained teaching staff who are already burdened with administrative and syllabi related deadlines cannot be expected to play dual roles of those of counsellor-cum-teacher nor can they be expected to pick up emotional cues.

At the same time, however, there is a need to train our teachers to focus on being age appropriate, objective, and sensitive to the teenage mind and spirit while doling out punishments or reprimands. Enough cannot be said about the need to do away with crowded classrooms and underpaid and therefore frustrated teachers which in its own way also contribute to the perpetuation of aggression among children.

  (The writer is visiting faculty at the Postgraduate Department of Psychology at Christ    University, Bangalore)

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