The rights of the child

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In India, children’s rights have been under the scanner for various reasons. While the government has passed laws to help kids in schools, or defend their right to education, it’s the parents too who need support in formulating the right strategies for our children today. Dr. Harish Shetty diagnoses the problem.

A few weeks ago, four students below the age of 13 were forced to quit school. The Principal threatened them with a harsh school leaving certificate that she said would mar their future if they did not leave the school on their own. The crime the kids committed was to smoke a cigarette inside the school lavatory. Forcible and coercive expulsion is a norm in many schools in Mumbai, the financial capital of the country. Fully aware that RTE (Right to Education) does not allow schools to expel kids, the coercive mode where threats flow like water, are used by Principals.

The magic word of ‘discipline’

Schools ideally look at the two words, ‘discipline’ and ‘indiscipline’. Nothing wrong with that, as basic values and discipline should be inculcated early in life. Viewing discipline as appropriate, and indiscipline as inappropriate behaviour aids correction. This provides space to format the mental software of the child. I see schools and families as structures that mould children, and not ones that reject the little ones. The four cardinal needs of children in both these ‘spaces’ are, emotional safety, trust, respect, and love. As a kid enters a school s/he should believe that they will be moulded, nurtured, corrected and inspired to be wholesome human beings. Well this may appear utopian, but we need to strive to do the same.

It’s a widely held opinion that kids of today are worse than those of yesteryears’. I disagree and believe that every era has its own issues and the answers to the same are different in every generation. Viewing the kids of today with the glasses of an earlier generation will give a skewed idea of our present generation. Single kid families, long working hours of parents, small match box homes in nuclear families, long study hours in schools and tuitions, pose different challenges. Not to mention the global village we are living in where kids view the world and are influenced by happenings across, through gadgets and the different screens they have easy access to. Inspite of all the issues Indian kids are facing, let me add that our kids are inspiring, and a large majority are doing well in India and across the globe. Following are some issues children face, and I propose some solutions.

Maintain ‘gadget hygiene’

The sleep time of kids has fallen. Surveys show that right from the early age of six, the hours of sleep has gone down. In poorer communities it could be due to early morning water supply that causes the problem. Parents coming late from offices is a big issue, where kids wait up for them. Long tuition and study hours coupled with anxious parents, leads to shorter sleep cycles. But the emperor of sleep deprivation is addiction to gadgets. There is no control on the screen time, and kids spend long hours with screen, thus destroying their sleep patterns. Few are aware that this leads to distortion of the mind body orchestra, causing both physical and psychological problems. Early hypertension, diabetes, anxiety, depression, issues with eye sight and others are common. My prediction is that many will suffer from burn out early. This can be resolved firstly by parents observing ‘gadget hygiene’. No gadget activities at home, no screens while conversing and eating, and keeping gadgets in closed drawers rather than the tables, as visibility of the same leads to excessive use. Gadget hygiene if practised diligently by parents is the first step. The second step is encouraging kids to be involved in physical activities and cutting meaningless tuitions. Schools are temples where kids learn to intermingle, learn the rules of friendship, arbitration, discover compassion, and basics of learning different streams. Show me one school Principal who has pasted her 10th marksheet on the wall behind her chair.

There will be none. Yet, love for studies needs to be inculcated early. Schools should discuss the perils of gadget addiction and formulate strategies in consultation with kids. Those schools that are involved in participatory learning do much better than those who impose and bulldoze. Needless to say that kids who stay inside their rooms, slowly stop taking part in family activities, and are getting addicted to gadgets, need to be seen by a counsellor immediately. Addiction to these instruments is worse than that to drugs and alcohol. Indian parenting need not be so liberal as that of the West. Certain few rules have to be in place along with many guidelines that may be flexible. Gadgets cannot be ‘instruments’ to keep kids calm. If a child has to wait outside a doctor’s chamber or in a function, parents need not give a gadget as an appeasing toy. Let them be. Sitting in silence without doing anything is a very powerful software that needs to be inculcated in children. ‘Doing nothing’ in short spurts in a day is a powerful mental health tool in adulthood.

What causes distress and depression?

In recent years, the age of onset of depression, suicide, first sexual intercourse, first act of violence and intake of drugs, have gone down .Well, the brain has not changed in its structure, nor has the earth in its behaviour. The rotations and the revolutions are not faster. Man has been forced to run with the pace of the industrial revolution, attempting to live a century in a decade. India is worst, as apart from reckless globalisation, our systems both in the realm of infrastructure and efficacy are still developing. Rampant corruption and marginalisation of certain sections is a norm.

In one of our studies, we found that in a school, about 27% of the parents were depressed. A few were even
suicidal. India is slowly becoming the diabetes and the suicide capital of the world. So reversing alienation is important, both at school as well as home. Children need to experience play, friendships, learning, along with unconditional acceptance in school. Needless to say that this can be achieved if the teachers are healthy.

They too come from the same universe, and our studies found that ‘balancing school and home responsibilities’ is the biggest stressor. Schools that spend their money on the health of their teachers will contribute to the well-being of their kids. Any change in behaviour of the child should alert the school teacher. If one is excessively quiet or is irritable, sleeps less or more, eats less or more, drops grades, refuses to play, one needs to knock the doors of the counsellor. Delay in seeking an opinion may cause the death of the child. Long sermons to kids should be avoided.

Drop in grades, drop in self-esteem

This is a big issue for families. Mental health science is not a philosophy, but is close to mathematics. No kid likes low marks or wants to abstain from school. There is always an issue that needs to be corrected. My constant line is, ‘Fever or failure, diagnosis is the key.’ When kids score less than expected or score low grades, there are reasons that need to be examined, which are mainly three:
D for disabilities: This stands for a learning disability or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), or others.
I for interest: A loss of interest can have many reasons. Poverty, problems in the family, disabilities, uninspiring teachers, poor stimulation at home, etc.
E for emotional distress, disorder, or depression: This may not be visible to even the most inspired teacher, or the most aware family.

This is a child right emergency that needs to be addressed at the earliest. The new Disability Act mandates states to adhere, and has given them two years to do the same. This intervention will help child mental health in a big way. Lakhs of kids are humiliated across the country for not doing well by families and parents, not knowing that it is not the child’s fault. This causes agony and most of them get depressed, or resort to meaningless violence.

The North-East problem

Can you believe that in the entire North-East region comprising eight states, only three students registered as having Learning Disability in the 2016 10th exams of the CBSE board? Successive governments in the past have neglected the North-East for decades, and that is true also for the educational sector. As we all know Learn- ing Disability is an issue where a child can have a difficulty in reading, writing, comprehension or mathematics.
A child can have either or one and more disability. Here the child has a normal intelligence or average and above average intelligence. CBSE and other boards grant provisions of extra time, a scribe, ignoring spelling errors and others.

This Disability Act mandates states to adhere, and has given them two years to do the same. This intervention will help child mental health in a big way. Lakhs of kids are humiliated across the country for not doing well, by families and parents not knowing that it is not the child’s fault. This causes agony, and most of them get depressed or resort to meaningless violence.

Child mental health is an important issue for the country. This is also linked to maternal health, family wellbeing, and financial nourishment of the community. While we rejoice over fellow Indians’ accomplishments, we also tend to romanticise their struggle and the victory over difficult circumstances. While that’s fine, it’s also our duty to give our children the right environment and infrastructure for wholesome growth. The country has to unite to help children thrive, flourish, and shine.


Dr. Harish Shetty

Dr. Harish Shetty is a counsellor and practising psychiatrist with extensive experience in various areas of mental health. He also works extensively with children. He consults at Dr. L.H. Hiranandani Hospital, Powai, Mumbai. He can be contacted at: harish139@yahoo.com

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