A journalist studies the lives of children and finds them troubled, addicted to social media, and often victims of cyberbullying and body-shaming
Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava’s book steps into the lives of India’s privileged urban teenagers and emerges with an alarming report card: troubled kids, substance abuse, internet addiction, cyberbullying, body-shaming, and mental health issues.
‘Overstimulated and entitled’
Granted, she is writing about a small segment of pampered urban adolescents. It is also not as if the teenagers have suddenly gone berserk on their own — the grown-ups who are responsible for them have. Overstimulated and entitled as the young people are, at least they have the excuse that they are still young; it is the parents who gift their children everything, from pre-teen swimsuit shoots to hair-raising trips to Goa, from expensive phones and Mini Coopers to lip fillers and breast implants. The parents have no excuse.
There is also the small matter of the world in which we live. Tolstoy said that the role of educating a generation is played not by school, but by life. Life today teaches young people to gaze blankly at 24-hour news cycles or into the mirror, and to obsess for hours on social media, all the while ignoring the world outside — pandemic, melting icecaps, growing inequality and more.
So, teenagers tend to get a bad rap, but they are still children. The teenage years are a time of sudden physical, mental and emotional changes. Hormones change with the onset of puberty. In social interactions, teenagers come under new kinds of peer pressure. They must manage additional schoolwork, looming board exams and career choices. They feel the weight of parents’ expectations. At the same time, they are tempted to take risks and try new experiences. Some of them suffer stress and self-doubt. They become conscious about body image. Through all these challenges, they are developing their own personality and perspectives on the world. Like awkward young birds, barely grown from chicks, they are taking their uncertain steps to the edge of the cliff — from where they must leap into the air and fly on their own.
Teaching them young
Parents can do a great deal to keep their kids grounded even in this age of rapid change. For a start, they can remain grounded themselves. They can talk to their kids regularly and convey positive messages — a hug, a fist-bump, or just showing up at a football match. They can also say no, often, and firmly, to absurd whims and demands.
Finally, they can also ask them to look around at other teenagers who are struggling in a very different reality: a young girl cycling to her village hundreds of kilometres away, with her injured father; another girl running after thugs who tried to steal her cellphone; yet another girl working with her family at a brick kiln in a faraway state, uploading photos on social media to appeal for rescue from modern-day bondage. They, too, are India’s teenagers.
Stoned, Shamed, Depressed: An Explosive Account of the Secret Lives of India’s Teens; Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava, HarperCollins, ₹399.
The reviewer is in the IAS. Views expressed are personal.