‘The burden of unrealistic expectations takes a heavy toll’

Students are filled with guilt and they are afraid that they cannot live up to their parents’ expectations

Mumbai : Rohan Shetty’s (name changed) teachers believed that he would top the school but as the board exams approached he was absent for an entire month. His mother, a single parent, was shocked on being told about this. It turned out that every morning the boy would leave home as usual but would instead while away time in nearby park.

The boy said he could not deal with the burden of expectations. The counsellor found that Rohan had in fact slipped into severe depression and was even harbouring suicidal thoughts.

Academic pressure is among the top reasons for depression in teenagers. The moment they reach the eight standard, parents cut down their free time considerably and they are made to focus on their studies. Mental health researchers say a lot of students break down under this sudden pressure being exerted on them. They don’t know how to deal with the change.

Dr Arun John, director of Vandrevala Foundation, which provides a 24-hour helpline (1860 266 2345) for the distressed said panic calls increase three-fold during exam season. These calls start a month before the exams and go on till the results are declared.

Dr John added that these calls are mostly about children not being able to cope up with their syllabus before the exams and after the exams they are scared of failing. “At times, these panic attacks are so severe that the children are on the verge of committing suicide,’’ he said.

Psychiatrist Harish Shetty said this happens because children are filled with guilt and they are afraid that they cannot live up to their parent’s expectations.

He added that the best way for parents to deal with children who are undergoing this kind of academic pressure is to let them know that they accept them completely with or without their mark-sheet.

Swapna Redij, a counsellor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) said, “ Parents these days send their children to expensive coaching classes and treat these classes like an investment and expect immediate results from their children. It is when the children under-perform in spite of all this money spent on them that they go on a guilt trip and slip into depression.”

S L Dixit, vice president of Mumbai Junior College Teacher’s Union, said, “Teenage suicides due to academic pressure is a big problem these days. Patents should stand by their children no matter how they perform academically and make them realize that there self worth cannot be measured by the grades on their report-card.”

Katy Gandevia, who retired as professor of mental health from TISS, said, “Parents should understand their children’s capabilities and never overburden them with unrealistic expectations. Instead of pressurizing children to be good at things which they can’t tackle, parents should look for what their child is good at and help them to capitalize on that aspect.”

(This is the second in an ongoing series on teenage suicide)

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troubled Teens -2

Psychiatrist Harish Shetty’s prescription for parents
l BE THERE FOR YOUR CHILD
Your presence must feel soothing and must comfort your child.
l CALM DOWN
Anger and fear affects the morale and memory of a child, so be careful about what you say around your child.
l EXERCISE AND PLAY
Encourage your children to exercise and play outdoors for half-an-hour daily.
l LEARN TO LISTEN
Take an interest in what your child says and listen to him/her patiently.
l DO NOT LOOK BACK
After an exam, do not wait to see the question paper and find out what your child has written in the exam.

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