In the recent years I have been witnessing a rapid rise of conflict among children and their parents. These conflicts are leading to various behavior issues in the children and young adults. Many youth are seen to be frustrated, depressed, anxious and at times outright violent against self. Frequency of attempted suicides has increased over the years and many young people have perished. Postmortem psychological assessment of those who have committed suicides most of times fails to reveal the psychological issues. There are many instances of impulsive acts of self-harm.  A minor reprimand, scolding or interception has led to the drastic consequence like suicides.

The psychological resilience of our youth seems to have reduced to a bare minimum. They don’t seem to be able to accept anything which is beyond their liking. They seem to be all the time rebellious against the parents, the teachers and the society at large.  We are facing a big challenge of frustrated and angry new generation. The religious values and protective cultural norms are no more effective. I have been having lots of questions, and most of these are unanswered. What is the root cause for all this! Where are we going wrong and who is at fault? Seriously, it is high time that we did a psychological anthropological study to find this out, but still lack the capacity.

Being a Psychiatrist working at the National Referral Hospital, I have been faced with a lot of issues related to the youth and children. On many occasions I have been put in a dilemma to strike a balance. I Just sit and reflect! Someday my reflections may generate a hypothesis for a more scientific study.

Recently I was invited to a panel discussion for celebration of the Fiftieth Anniversary of Yangchenphug Higher Secondary School and I was one of the panelists from the adult-side. The topic for the discussion was “It’s my life. Let me have it my way”.  Very bold but a nice topic; it was the voice of the youth asking for their rights. They have been educated, they know their rights, they want freedom and they want to question and resist the age-old techniques most parents resorted to in order to discipline their children. While we agreed to the children’s view, we also quizzed them if they also knew their responsibilities? Sir Michael Rutland summarized this beautifully with an analogy of the driving culture that is evident in Thimphu. He said, the topic reminded him of the motorists in Thimphu where everyone thought “It’s my life. Let me have it my way”. He said, “If this was the case, there would be no traffic rules or policemen, people would be hitting each other and the result be disastrous!” He reminded the children to exercise their rights within a limit and to be cognizant of their responsibilities.

From this panel discussion I came to realize that while most of the children have now learnt their rights from the western perspectives, the parents have not evolved according to the needs of the time. To me, most parents lack parenting skills. We try to use the same old disciplining techniques that our parents used on us. We still believe that physical punishment is needed to correct a child; we still believe that we can impose our views onto our children and they will believe blindly. The most affected are those parents who are residing at the cities because most children back in the villages are still listening to their parents without much questioning. They still adjust to the village life and are not very alien to their parents in their views.

I can recollect those days when we were children how we were punished physically in every setting, from home to the school. We were made to “grow up” into adults much faster than the modern children. We are made responsible at a much younger age. We learnt a lot of survival skills that a farmer needed in life. Every child from the age of 8 or so had an assigned chore which was expected to be carried out without any cue or question. If we failed to perform our assignments, we would invite punishment. We grew up believing that our parents and our teachers had the right to discipline us! We believed that we deserved punishment if we deviated from our responsibilities, unlike the current generation that believes that they have the right “NOT TO BE PUNISHED”. In fact, sometimes I feel that those punishments “immunized” us to become mentally stronger and made us more resilient to stresses in life.  Of course, I don’t believe physical or corporal punishments should be used as means of “psychological immunization”.

On the other hand, we as parents do not realize that ours was a totally different life in those days. Most of us grew in the villages, for we didn’t actually have any cities until the last two decades or so. Therefore, we didn’t have the distractions that are prevalent these days, especially in the cities. We didn’t have social functions that attracted us; we didn’t have “downtowns” to hit after schools; we didn’t have internet, televisions or computer/video games to entice us; we didn’t have discotheques, restaurants or other hangouts, nor did we have the pressure of drugs.  The overall competitiveness in life was less tough, jobs were readily available and our needs were bare minimum.

Our children and youth are in a different world all together, they have all these; besides they also have the “rights” that most of us never heard of as children. Pressure to perform well in school is very high; they have to compete for limited seat available for scholarships. Many parents still are financially challenged to educate their children’s privately. They, therefore, pressurize their children further to exhaustion. Some parents still secretly wish their children to fulfill some of their unfulfilled dreams. The education system has become academic oriented and every child is expected to at least complete Middle secondary school.  We don’t acknowledge the fact that every individual is unique in his/her abilities and mental capabilities; we expect every child to be the same in intelligence and skills. We have a tendency to compare our children with the children of relatives and neighbours; we don’t mind demeaning them in front of their peers or embarrass them in the public.  We don’t realize that our children are more sensitive to these issues than we were when we were younger! We are highly judgmental and don’t communicate effectively with our children. When a child expresses that he/she is depressed, we try to ask “WHY?” rather than listening and trying to help. We sometimes even tell them to “die” if they cannot do what is expected of them. Children are not allowed to make their own decisions and parents impose their decisions onto them. We want to create the hierarchical boundaries in the family and refuse to take into confidence the opinion of our children thus alienating them further from us.  Our children have to fall back on their peers for a lot of things because we are too busy to sit with them and listen to them. Peers can be helpful but they can also be harmful, especially if they happen to be into drugs or alcohol.

While I fully acknowledge that the children are right in saying “It’s my life. Let me have it my way”, I also want to caution that rights without responsibilities can ruin anyone. An individual is but a unit of a society at large, thus an individual cannot exist in isolation. Society runs on rules and regulations, families have their own unwritten rules that a child must respect.  An immature mind of a child may not be able to make a correct decision; therefore, guidance from elders and more experienced people in their lives is necessary. There are multiple examples to prove that immature decisions are detrimental to a child and can ruin the life. These are manifested in the form of teenage pregnancies, delinquency, criminalities, theft, murder, substance use, alcohol use, gang fights, personality problems, etc., and the list can be exhaustive!

We need to strike a balance in order avoid conflict between the parents and children. There is no other way to improve our younger generation. Blaming each other is not going to lead us anywhere. The need of the hour for all of us is to reflect on how we deal with our children. The Home environment is the most immediate environment for a child. It needs to be peaceful, safe, friendly, accommodating, loving and caring and most of all very comfortable for a child. For a child the parents should be like friends, protectors, facilitators, teachers and confidantes. Our children have become modernized; they are more aware, very sensitive and highly impulsive.  As parents, we must not expect our children to revert back to our generation but we must evolve forward and learn parenting techniques that are practical and suitable to the current generation. We are the bridge between the old and the new generation and we must teach our children to be better parents to their children. We must help them grow mentally healthy so that at no point in time should they have despair and opt to leave this beautiful world prematurely!

Contributed by Dr D K Nirola