Life in the fast lane
Are flashy mobiles, fast cars, speed dating and booze binges actually signs that our youth need help? HT explores why GenNext is going round the bend and what can be done to get them back on track.Updated: Mar 01, 2008 23:38 IST
Routine bores 21 year old Vishwas Dhaundiyal, an executive in a Dehradun-based BPO. This is why after his Boards, he had signed up as a call-centre executive. ‘Higher studies’ and ‘professional courses’ are for everybody else. Two years, two promotions, gizmos and a sleek bike later, Vishwas is happy to earn Rs 25,000 per month while most of his friends are cramming in college. But he is still restless. He wants more. Fast.
What is Namita Sharma, a 20 year-old college-goer thinking when she waits in her Maruti while Bullets and Ferraris race outside her campus? “My car is fine but it would be cool to have friends who own them,” she says. “Everything is speeding up. Now, even an 8-10 year-old can teach me a thing or two. The age for things to be known or achieved is getting less.” She may not admit to anxiety, but allows that that there is always a waiting, a curiosity: What’s new? What’s next?
The price for pace was paid once again last Sunday. Sneha, a student of Amity University and Anirudh who had come from Dehradun to pursue a course at Delhi University were killed and two of their friends were seriously injured when their high-speed Skoda crashed into a road side tree near India Gate. The police say they had consumed alcohol. This year, 28 people — mostly in their 20s — have lost their lives in bike accidents in Dehradun. In Delhi, no one is keeping count anymore.
Geetika Kapoor, a consultant psychologist with Delhi schools, says risk-taking has always been second nature to youth. “What’s changed is the increasing number of avenues where they can have fun.” And what is fun? Whatever peers do. And that means, trying out things, and reaching out to people who they think are cool, and to a larger pool of global youth culture.
“It’s the Net that keeps us connected,” says Kashish, a Mass Communication student in Lucknow. Recreation time is spent hovering between three screens. TV, computer and cell phone. The smaller the screen, bigger the obsession. (Burnout, for example is a popular video game that obsesses today’s youth. The ‘fun’ factor comes from speeding, blowing up cars and causing as much damage on the road.)
The right image
These days, media excites — there are no two ways about it. Dhoom, Bollywood’s cinematic ode to the accoutrements of speed came packaged with Johnny boy’s muscle, bike and babes.
“If you get influenced by what you see on screen, it’s a recipe for disaster,” says psychiatrist Samir Parikh of Max Healthcare.“The problem is that youth today are unable to process all the exposure they get.” Geetika Kapoor warns of the dangers of unsupervised online chatting. “For a 14 year old, it’s a heady feeling to be interacting with a 30 year old. Or even pretending to be one,” she says.
“It excites, so where do you take that excitement?”
Stress and its release are wiring adolescents up. “Competition and expectations are so high that getting a 60 per cent is bad,” says Siddharth of JIMS, Vasant Kunj. “There’s no space for the slow kid. Keep up or get lost. Putting on loud music and driving fast may seem like recklessness but what we are in a sense doing, is also running away fast”.
Children as young as in the fourth or fifth class are experiencing anxiety and stress. The race doesn’t end at examinations, there’s the extra pressure of excelling at extra-curriculars. “Everyone wants a dream child,” says Dr Rachna Singh, lifestyle management expert, Artemis Hospital, Gurgaon.
For parents and teachers of this high-stress generation, communication — leave alone discipline — is becoming an issue. “There’s just no outlet for releasing pent-up energies. This is the age of bifurcated attention spans. Children are rowdy and uncontrollable, even as they themselves burn-out,” says Singh. At times, ‘switching off’ leads to negative stress coping — binging on alcohol, smoking, speeding, anything that gives an instant ‘high’.
Talk to me
It’s getting tough being a child. The choices before children are huge: whether it’s a preferred career, picking a partner or the latest pair of branded footwear. Kids socialise at coffee shops as early as 11-15 years, says Arvind Singhal, of Technopak. In this culture of mindless consumption, too many choices can confuse a young mind.
Adarsh Saxena, 18, is one of the over 174 million in the age group of 13-21 year olds. A science student, he intends to work part-time with a BPO, but dreams of going abroad eventually. A cell phone of his own, Rs 4,000 monthly pocket money, he sports a devil-may-care attitude, alongwith his latest pair of DKNY jeans. Marketing surveys like ‘Yousumerism’ by Ernst and Young, call him the ‘dabbler’ — surviving on allowances, but considering a part-time career in BPOs and the retail industry. Companies are targeting him for their latest range of products.
Parents aren’t being much of a help, sometimes compensating for lack of time with hefty allowances. To be a significant role model, the child has to feel that the model is good enough, advises Geetika Kapoor. Mohit, a Bhopal boy, whose father is a senior manager in a pharmaceutical company, claims without any sense of irony: “My father has told me that I can beat anybody as long as I don’t kill him. He can take care of the treatments.”
Counsellers, teachers and parents should help children with anger management, develop critical thinking and help them ask questions like “why am I doing this? Is it worth it to impress my friends? If not, should I make different friends?” says Kapoor. “But having given them these tools, you cannot turn them loose but have to keep the lines of communication open so that the youth can walk
back to you and at least say ‘I have done something I am ashamed of, can I talk to you?’”
Rocky, not rocking
Relationships are other casualties of a lifestyle of speed. The culture of changing phones and ipods is making it difficult for many young people to come to terms with consistency. “As a result, they are constantly looking for impermanence in their lives,” said Geetanjali Kumar, a child psychologist. Echoes Mayuri Saha, working in the BPO sector of Wipro, Kolkata, “I feel that the odd hours of working and unhealthy food habits have made us more restless. Though we adopt fast to the changed environment anything that runs for long is boring.”
Uttara Ray, associated with AMRI Hospital in the city, says a lot of youngsters drop in at her clinics over broken relationships. She cites the example of a 22-year-old girl who soon after marriage, got bored with domestic life.
“Longevity in terms of a relationship is something youngsters these days can’t seem to relate to. They are overly impulsive, have problems with self-image and have commitment phobia,” she says. Micky, a 25 year-old self-appointed love guru, offers a solution. “Don’t be in a hurry. Try speed dating. Our generation has no more time to wait for The Perfect One.”
Paramita Ghosh, Nivriti Butalia, Namita Kohli, Pallavi Polanki in Delhi; Madhulika Singh in Lucknow; Sarbani Sen in Kolkata; Disney Brar Talwar in Chandigarh; Utpal Parasher in Dehradun; Vanita Srivastav in Bhopal; Soumyajit Pattnaik in Bhubaneswar.