School days may be called the 'wonder years', but they are also a time of moody rebellion and confusion. In the name of 'cool', there is peer-pressure to experiment with everything, from smoking to alcohol to sex.
The dangers, of course, are real. In October 2010, a 17-year-old boy jumped from the third floor of his east Delhi school after being caught with a bottle of alcohol. Such incidents may not be common, but cigarette butts and empty alcohol bottles found on school campuses give the 'high' in high school a different meaning altogether.
Access is easy. Adolescents find it easy to drink in bars and buy cigarettes. "Very few places check your ID. If you can act cool enough, you get served all the cool drinks," said a student on condition of anonymity. And with access to pornography just a mouse click away, schools face an uphill task.
"Children are not untouched by what they are exposed to. Times have changed, we do not have absolute authority like the gurukuls of the past," said MI Hussain, principal, Delhi Public School, Mathura Road.
To tackle these issues, schools in Delhi have trained counsellors to lend an understanding ear to baffled, often angst-ridden teenagers.
The idea is to educate and not titillate. Schools are subtly introducing these issues in workshops and encourage students to bring up their problems - whether they are emotional, academic or related to sexuality. "We have a peer-training group where students can share their problems," said Richa Mohan, a class 12 student at Modern School, Barakhamba Road.
Just as schools are adapting to these trends, parents too are beginning to change. "If a child is caught doing something prohibited, parents find it difficult to accept that something wrong or unusual has been done. That's where the role of the school comes in - to break the ice. After all, parents and the school are on the same side of the fence," said Ashok Pandey, principal, Ahlcon International School, Mayur Vihar.
Most agree that there has been a paradigm shift in attitudes of students, parents and school authorities, with these issues no longer being swept under the carpet.