Monday, November 21, 2005
Child missing from home
Quite ironically this had to happen a day after my previous posting on Nov 14, observed in India as Children's Day, when children are the focus of attention. My posting that day was on how elders need to radically change their ways of dealing with children.
The next day, Nov 15, at night around 9 I got a call from a friend saying her 13 year old son was missing from home. Children running away from home -- this is something that is at the back of every parent's mind, but you don't think it can happen until it does. Shocked, I just mumbled, "Did you check out everywhere...?"
Sobbing, the mother said, "I did. He is no where. Around 7.45, I had just asked him to kneel down as a punishment, since he hadn't studied what I had asked him to study. I flunked the book at him, and went to the kitchen seething in anger. After a few minutes when I returned to his room, he wasn't there. On his notebook he had scribbled: I am gone forever..."
Since the boy is known to us, I hoped he might come to our house, or he might call up from somewhere, when he would realise that he had ventured into something that he couldn't pull off. With hope, I stayed home, rather than join their neighbours in the search. The fear was not that the boy wouldn't return before long, but what if, some criminals on seeing a vulnerable boy walking the street at night kidnaps him... It was too scary even to think...
Around 10, a neighbour saw the boy apparently returning to the house, but on seeing the crowd, ran away. This gave everyone the hope that the boy was around the neighbourhood and hadn't gone far away.
The search continued. And, finally around 1 am the boy was found... curled up because of the intense cold, partially asleep... sitting on the floor of a nearby place of worship...
Relief all around. But it had sent shockwaves among his classmates and parents too.
A child (or for that matter anyone) would never take such a drastic step, unless he/she is under tremendous emotional stress. Obviously this boy was under lot of stress. Like many middleclass children, this boy too had lots of comforts at home. But that's not what mattered to him. It's what he missed.
The parents admitted to me that they used to beat the boy and shout at him. Their only complaint was the boy wasn't studying and was academics was on a downslide.
This is one problem that all parents face. How to keep their pre-teen and teenaged children under check. "You stop them, you are damned; you let them you are damned" -- that's situation they face. They are their wit's end not knowing how to react as highly enthusiastic, bubbly, confident, cheerful children are into everything... except studies.
The emotional trauma many children silently endure -- mainly because of lack of proper attention from their own parents -- is a reality which is not well recognised. The danger that lurks behind is enormous. If you are a parent (especially of a teenaged child), please do go through the points below. They are well-documented facts evolved by experts after intense study on modern child psychology. If you are not a parent, or you are not directly affected by this topic, please forward this to anyone you think will be interested.
1. Treat teenagers with respect. Don't insult them. Don't keep pointing out their mistakes, and never in front of others.
2. Don't compare them with other children. Each child is different and they are endowed with different abilities. Some may be slow learners, some may be fast. Some may be good at arts, some may be good at maths. Some may learn better by seeing, some may learn better by hearing. Every child has to be tackled in a unique manner, in a way that brings the best out of them.
3. Never beat pre-teen kids and teenagers. It's violent and demoralising.
4. Never nag children with commands and advices. If you think that a particular point has been made many times in the past (but not heed to) just repeat it once and leave it. Try to explain calmly without raising the voice why your child should listen to what you are saying. It works better when the kid is in the mood to listen.
5. Expose children to inspirational personalities. It works very quietly and at a subconscious level, and has a long-term impact.
6. Treat friendship with peers especially with those of opposite sex as quite normal. Never sound alarmist, though you need to keep a check, without seeming to do so. Never make fun of their boyfriends or girlfriends. What is a joke to a parent, could very well be an insult to the teenager. Be very cautious.
7. Explain matter of sex, if and when they crop up, in a matter of fact manner. Never instil the idea of "bad" or "guilt" with issues concerning sex. Tell them it is a physical activity like breathing, or an emotional feeling happiness, but they need to grow up to understand it fully. And, more importantly never say: "You won't understand" Instead assure them "You will understand as you grow up." There is enormous difference between the two.
8. Never harp too much on studies and marks. It irritates kids, and they lose whatever little interest they may have. If you see the marks dipping, try to find out why it is going down, rather than tell them: "study, study, study..." and punish them for not studying.
8. If you detect some marked deviant behaviour -- like disinterest in studies, arrogance, unruliness, lack of regard for what you are saying etc... treat it as a symptom of something wrong somewhere, rather than as a disease. Closely examine the child's activities, without making it obvious. Do an introspection and check if as a parent you aren't yourself committing a mistake somewhere.
10. Keep communication channels open with the child. Let him/her never be inhibited when interacting with parents.