Teenage suicide the tragic result of parental expectation

It is bad news that student suicides are on the rise. What with the kind of stresses that young persons endure in a fast paced environment that offers no space for them to introspect, it is not surprising that they succumb to depression leading to self destruction.

Again, the fact that many teenaged suicides occur among educated and wealthy families, points to a more disturbing trend. Why do these youngsters who are blessed with comfortable homes, well heeled parents, access to the best schools and colleges and the promise of better things to come, decide to end their lives so pathetically? It cannot be material insecurity. They have enough and more of opulence – in fact, they have too much of it. The luxurious life they lead offers no challenges. They are the deprived kids. Deprived of the need to go out there and fight for things which, unfortunately, fall into their laps with no effort or pain.

The medical journal, Lancet, recently conducted a study of juvenile suicides in different countries. Shockingly, India ranks highest in the world, with the suicide rate threatening to become the ‘biggest killer in the country.’ It also points out that the malaise is higher among boys coming from affluent families. Whereas, in poorer societies, the victims are young women.

 We can understand this variance. Girls from backward families run the risk of early marriages, dowry deaths, repeated pregnancies and a host of other social ills for which they are ill equipped to cope. Poverty also adds to their trauma.

The escalating rate of unnatural deaths in cities like Bangalore tell a different story. Rapid industrialisation and globalisation have changed our lives. They have also changed our expectations. Parents are no longer content with children who go to school, play games with friends and pass examinations with average grades. They push them to excel in studies, in sports, in the arts, in almost everything they do.

The rat race begins even as a child toddles his way to that ‘play school’ where odious comparisons begin. The next 10 or 12 years of schooling complete this oneupmanship to excel over others. College life takes its own toll later, with multiple examinations, competitive tests and dizzying yardsticks to secure enviable jobs.
When children hardly enjoy those carefree childhood years trying to keep pace with those around them, they grow up into hyperactive, hyper sensitive teenagers ready to take on a world that leaves them little choice. This is the most vulnerable period in their lives, with parents, peers, teachers and society dictating what they should or should not do. If he/she chooses a course and a career that will bring in the big bucks, the child has made a ‘good’ choice. Society approves, the parents are happy and the child is rewarded with their approval.   

Well trodden path

But what if the youngster chose to break away from the well trodden path? He did not wish to become a doctor or engineer or lawyer. He wanted to do something different. Maybe, a musician or dancer or painter or writer. Or, maybe he simply wanted to make a difference in the lives of other people. Such altruistic goals are not accepted by society or parents who want their children to make “rational” choices in study, career or marriage.

 These rational choices are largely dictated by an uncaring society. Were the parents of great thinkers and pioneers of change happy with their children? Even a Buddha had to escape from their clutches to go out and seek enlightenment! Unfortunately, many children have ideals which are crushed even before they are explored. A few may rebel and go out to do their own thing. But, for the vast majority, parental consent, societal approval and going on the beaten track is important. So, they succumb to what is expected of them rather than pursue their own calling. The unfortunate few who want to rebel but lack the courage to do it, succumb to despair, depression and possibly, suicide.

Well known economist, Amartya Sen, describes rational choices as selfish ones, as opposed to altruistic choices which have no self interest. Society demands that one follows established rules of conduct and behaviour. It gives no freedom to individual choice in matters like study goals, employment ambitions or marriage. To be young and trapped in such an environment can be so traumatic that the victim seeks the only escape route open to him. 

This is a global phenomena but more so in developing societies where progress is rapid and expectations are high. The suicide rate in our fast growing cities should be a wake up call to all parents. Do they want their children to be happy or ‘successful?’ The former is in their hands to provide. The latter is dictated by social demands. If an R K Narayan defied his parent and turned down a ‘proper’ government position of tahsildar to become a writer, he knew what he wanted and had the courage to go out and get it. If a Rukmini Devi Arundale knew her calling was dance, she had the courage to defy society and follow her own instinct. But not all young boys and girls can be an RKN or a Rukmini Devi. Hedged in by family, censured by society and trapped in a hopeless situation, they turn to the rope and the ceiling fan, driven to a point of no return.

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