The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Where stress stalks our students
- Competition, parental nagging key factors behind teen and tot trouble

Some attention is finally being focused on the academic burden crushing kids. Are we putting too much pressure on our children was the theme thrown up by The Telegraph School Awards for Excellence, on Saturday. The next evening, a montessori hosted a session on stress in children, from pre-schoolers to adolescents.

A gathering of teachers and principals, concerned about the rising number of cases amongst students, agreed that while there is a need to address this issue, solutions are hard to come by.

The speakers at the event, organised by Prerna Montessori, were clinical psychologist Zena Deb, psychiatrist Aniruddha Deb, Brendan McCarthaigh, educationist and founder member of the NGO Serve, and Nandita Agarwal, administrator of Prerna. Ayesha Das, head of the Loreto Teacher Training Centre, was moderator.

The reasons for distress and depression among the younger generation, toddlers and teens alike, was attributed to myriad factors, from peer pressure to parental nagging, a teacher’s scolding to competition. “Understanding and encouragement” was the common cry, with a call for “balance between control and acceptance”.

The key, according to the speakers, was not to spoil the child and avoid being overbearing as well. “What we often want is a model child, not a person in their own right. That has to stop,” felt Das.

McCarthaigh’s impassioned start-off comment, “Stress is when a student rings me up in the middle of the night saying ‘my parents are asleep but I really need to talk’; stress is when a student comes into my office looking for a painless way to commit suicide; stress is when parents tell me ‘our daughter has changed, and whenever we try to talk to her, she cries’,” seemed to strike the right chord.

Das bemoaned the fact that “you can’t start a paan shop without a licence, but a Montessori can be opened by anyone, anywhere”. Zena Deb pointed out that comparisons with others, family tension and even a “could do better” remark in a report card can do damage to a child, sometimes irreparably. Symptoms of stress in the little ones manifest themselves in, say, bed-wetting and nightmares. In adolescents, however, it can lead to addictions, including alcohol and drugs.

Things like playtime, private space and relaxation are important in maintaining a child’s mental equilibrium. “Don’t call the child ‘bad’ when he or she does something wrong. Instead, say ‘what you did was bad’,” said Zena Deb.

Stifling the curiosity of a youngster is inadvisable at any age. But amongst teens, going through the difficult period of puberty with physical, psychological, emotional and cognitive changes taking place in the body, “inter-dependence, not independence, is most important, contrary to popular belief. And personal time for introspection is essential, because the individual begins to think in the abstract. He has to adjust to himself and the world around him,” according to Aniruddha Deb.

The general consensus was on the fact that the Indian educational system is stifling, but both parents and teachers need to change their attitudes, for the sake of the children. “Considering the daily grind in our city of morning tuition, school, evening tuition and study time, where is the opportunity for the youngsters to do anything else' And then we complain about the future generation,” Aniruddha Deb summed up.

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