The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Smarter, sadder GenNext runs to stress clinics

Mumbai, Jan. 16: GenNext may be smarter, but not happier.

The after-effects of globalisation have taken their toll on the country’s young. Children constitute one of the fastest growing segments of stress-victims in the country. One major reason: lifestyle changes.

“The main reason behind children suffering from stress remains educational, related to performance in school, as it has been through the years. But more and more children are falling victims to lifestyle aspirations and running to stress-busters like us,” says Dr Mukesh Batra, who runs Dr Batra’s Positive Health Clinic, a well-known clinic for stress therapy.

In response to the growing number of child patients, the clinic has recently started a special programme for children. Meant to help them overcome exam fear mainly, the programme treats children for a period of four months, ending just before exam time.

At Rs 4,000 per patient, the course is finding a lot of takers, says Dr Batra. “There are at least five student patients every week,” says another doctor employed at the clinic.

The students are mostly from Class X and Class XII, when they face board exams. But sometimes parents bring along children studying in Class I or Class II, complaining of severe stress.

But that’s the tip of the iceberg — there is something more that’s bothering their minds constantly.

Though studies and demanding parents may be the focus, Dr Batra says the programme addresses another area of teenage life seriously: the effect of the images from the media and the Net and the deluge of information that may have made smarter kids but have left them asking for more and dissatisfied with life as it is.

“Western media has created icons for our children and teenagers. Take a serial like Friends. Teenagers here want to be like that, but that doesn’t happen in the Indian situation,” says Dr Batra.

“Or take dating. Due to the fact that so much space is given to dating in the Net, many teenagers feel that they are left out if they are not dating. But it is still something that is difficult to practise for many teenagers in the Indian context,” adds Dr Taher Kudrati of his clinic.

“There’s a complete disconnect between the media and reality and their values and their parents’. That leads to stress,” says Dr Batra, adding that fast food, another important element of the new lifestyle, is doing its bit, too.

“The caffeine in some aerated drinks and the artificial colouring of many fast food items causes hyperactivity in the body.”

“Now children know that they are suffering from depression and come to me,” says Dr Rajiv Mehra of the Institute of Alternative Medicines, who also says that his patients have become much younger over the past five years. “They know they are stressed. These words have entered their vocabulary. It wasn’t like that even five years ago,” he says.

Dr Mehra says that coupled with increased competition in schools and colleges, it is the changing society that is bringing children to stress clinics. “They are pressured by working parents who don’t spend much time with them. They eat junk food and food that’s chemically grown. They watch TV and surf the Net. The exposure makes them much smarter, but also sadder, disturbed. They don’t know how to handle it.”

He gives a grotesque example. “I had an eight-year-old mentally retarded patient who, whenever he saw women, would want to touch their bodies sexually. His mind wasn’t developed, yet his sexuality was at that early age. I don’t know what exactly caused it, but it could have been unregulated exposure to television,” says Dr Mehra.

Dr Anuradha, who also runs a stress-management school, says the reason that children and teenagers are coming to her more is because today’s youngsters are more geared towards materialism.

The answer, say the doctors, is helping them retain their perspective, something that they are trying to do — telling them everything they see they cannot want, not in their time and place.

They also tell the children to keep their focus and their sense of rootedness. “Whatever is happening around them, we try to help them stick to their priorities,” says Dr Kudrati.

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