Let’s Talk About Teenage Violence: Safety is not another word for care, writes a school principal
In Part 3 of #LetsTalkAboutTeenageViolence, school principal Annie Koshy writes that a good teacher is one who is trained to observe and listen closely to what is being presented through a child’s behaviour.india Updated: Mar 21, 2018 09:02 IST
An older student allegedly slit the throat of a younger student in a private school in Gurgaon, in a bid to get exams and the parent teacher meeting postponed. A 14-year-old was found dead in a washroom of a private school in Delhi, and his parents have alleged that he was beaten to death by a group of students at the school. A government school teacher in Delhi was reportedly stabbed to death by two students in front of their classmates, after one of them was rusticated for low attendance.
We always tend to chronicle in gory details these deeds of our children, but rarely pause to record and mourn the passing of innocence and all that once epitomised childhood. They fail to see the link between the polluted landscape, the vanishing of parents from homes and the sad cries/acts for attention of children. Much like the parrot in Tagore’s Tota Kahini, society has had no qualms in suffocating children into high rise buildings, or in converting their play areas into glitzy malls and parking spaces.
Steps taken after the Gurgaon murder by the authorities only serve to highlight the popular perception that safety can somehow be bought for our children through gadgets, that the ‘bad people’ are the poor or the men. So both CBSE as well as the Directorate of Education issued guidelines asking schools to install CCTV cameras that cover gates and even classrooms, labs and libraries. The public demanded that female attendants should guard toilets, while female guards should be there at entrances. Parent representatives were roped in for safety audits of schools so that they could feel that they had done their bit and of course employees like conductors, drivers etc were banned from school toilets. In this manner, we all convinced ourselves that everything had been done to make our children safe never wanting to acknowledge that our streets are dangerous, that our homes are unsupervised and that our minds have been polluted. We had conveniently decided that ‘safety’ was another word for ‘care’.
If we were to truly care, we would sit up and question what is actually happening here. We would then see that we are facing challenges in attention seeking behaviours that are rooted in causing harm either to oneself or the other. It is important to understand that aggression and anger are also signs of complete helplessness. Anger is a natural emotional response specially when one feels hurt, powerless and when one thinks nothing else will work.
Human beings are social animals and every person has a feeling of accomplishment and self - worth when he or she is valued.It is time we, as adults, acknowledge that culture and society no longer sees the child but only sees his/her marks, the report card or the child’s achievements. We as parents and teachers both need to understand that focus only on academics doesn’t make for happy or whole children.
I remember once how two boys had got into a fight over a trivial matter like eating in the classroom and dirtying someone’s desk. The fight went outside the school and Boy A called in his elder brother to slap Boy B. This ended up in a fight where Boy A ended up getting a bad cut on the head. I called both students and their parents into my office to discuss the matter, Boy A’s father was mortified that his son had called the elder brother while Boy B’s elder sister turned up (both parents lived in Kolkata) to say that her brother would never do such a thing. She supported his behaviour, and even condoned it. She said, the other student had “hurled abuses about his mother,” and that her brother had fought to “protect the mother’s honour.” I questioned what honour there was in fighting? Why was it that both boys had to resort to the physical violence rather than have a discussion? The absence of the physical presence of the parents was deeply felt.
There is no substitute to the presence and love of a parent. When parents ask kids to walk back from school to an empty home, fend for themselves and access unsupervised, unlimited time on the Net they are looking for trouble. When parents substitute study time at home with tuition time and when consequences are not discussed but substituted with punishment, society needs to sit up and take notice. When parents cheat or hit each other, when the words they use in conversations are inappropriate, they need to know that behaviours are being wired deep into the psyche of children.
It is true that a child spends a large chunk of his time in school and within school he happens to spend time with his teachers and peers. However, the teacher and the school are only a support in the upbringing of the child.
Teachers try to get an understanding of a child’s life scenario by analysing the child’s ecological system: who are the people the child hangs out with, beliefs the child holds on to and so on. Schools know that if they do not work on indicators of helplessness, hopelessness, anxiety, anger or loneliness in a child, academics will also be affected. Teachers are specially trained to look out for sudden changes in the mood of the child, a sudden drop in the grades, or attention-seeking tendency through undesired behaviour like fights, anger outbursts, bullying and so on. They also look out for a child facing challenges arising on the home front such as separation of parents, loss of job or a death of a parent.
The boy at the Gurgaon school, would not have woken up one day and decided to do this. There would have been signs before it actually happened.
A good teacher is one who is trained to observe and listen closely to what is being presented through a child’s behaviour and speech so that there is an empathetic, critical response to situations. She will not wait for a situation to arise but will constantly work to make an environment where the child is confident to seek help when he or she needs it.
A child holds in himself or herself the tomorrow that we all crave for, where relationships are important and where the self exists only as part of a larger cosmos. It is not just the syllabus or the marks that will define such a child. It is our acknowledgement that until we as adults do not value the child and make a world that is safe and centred not around acquisitions but around the child, the world will not be a better place, either for you or for me.
(The author is Principal, St Mary’s School, Delhi)
This is the third of a five-part series, Let’s Talk About Teenage Violence. To join the conversation, tweet or post using #LetsTalkAboutTeenageViolence.