The two recent incidents of school-going teenagers slashing their wrists to commit suicide is a matter of serious concern to the affluent urban generation in particular and society in general. Such incidents are tell-tale signs of a societal problem that has been triggered by mindless consumerism and obsessive materialism.

Gone are the days when just sitting beside grandma, talking to her, reading to her and playing ludo or carrom with her on holidays was entertainment enough for the children of the 1940s and Fifties. Present-day kids are likely to smirk and think it is quite stupid.

There is no point blaming them. It is not difficult to understand what has changed their attitudes. In part this is because of television and the computer, the cell phones and the Internet. There is little or no meaningful recreation. They have YouTube, Facebook, Twitter. We hardly see girls playing hop-scotch or skipping outdoors. Boys are of course still interested in cricket, tennis and football but have jettisoned kabaddi, goli (marbles), sevenstones, etc. Most of them are busy with social networking sites, online games, and messaging on their cell phones. Many of the teenagers have their own cell phones: they are no more a luxury but a necessity.

It is common for children to attend schools that are 10 km away from home. Their evening programme of tuitions, sports, birthday parties, watching movies and so on need personal conveyance. So it has become essential to keep in touch with parents to arrange pick-up and so on.

Having been in the field of education for a long time, I have watched the younger generation closely. Of late when I listen to their interaction with parents and peers, the language is often offensive. Just as little children take delight in learning new words; teenagers like to keep their tongue on a roll… linguistically. If they hear certain words spoken by others, they cannot resist trying it out themselves. They need to be like their peers. We adults can do little or nothing about it. Being authoritarian in such matters will never work. They may not use these words in front of those who think it is foul language, but will not hesitate to use them when they are on their own. It has become a part of normal teenage communication. It is not right to say that the present generation of teenagers maintain a distance from their families. The pressure of school work and extra-curricular activities come crashing down on them every day and they hardly get enough time to spend with their families. Many children would rather stay at home and complete their assignments than attend weddings of relatives and other functions.

If they relax with their cellphones and computers for a while, we adults feel that they are wasting their time. Frankly, they face more challenges today than we did and they are more concerned about their education and careers than we ever were. The world around us has become smarter than it was from the 1950s to the 2000s. We ought to be smart enough to cope with the modern generation, which is more exposed to cutting edge technology. Though they will easily master new skills, the older generation can at least try to match them, at a slower pace. Frankly, girls today have more confidence in themselves than the girls of yesterday. Academically they have always been better than boys.

What is over-parenting? It is known as ‘snowplow’ in the West. Excessive anxiety about their daughters had caused them to withdraw themselves from many competitive skills that they were capable of. They were not allowed to develop the psychological resilience required to overcome the ‘pitfalls’ and ‘logjams’ of life. Over-parenting never helps. It is true that present-day parents get a bit worried about what would happen to their son or daughter when they go out and stay out late. I remember the one cautionary curb that our parents would place on us when we were in our teens. Whenever we ventured out for recreation or play, they would say, ‘Come home before dark.’

In fact, that was all that our parents told us. But today parents are worried about the personal safety of their children, about traffic, about road rage, stalkers, molesters, rapists. Why? It is because the recreational and entertainment activities of present-day teenagers are not restricted to playing cricket or football in the neighbourhood playground or just going for a walk or a jog with friends. They now go for movies in malls, eat out, attend birthday parties in swanky places. All this happens in the evenings and children can reach home only after dark. No wonder then that parents get rather over-protective. But, for the teenager this would seem like a pain. As it is, a teenager has to countenance a variety of anxieties. We as children wandered aimlessly during our summer vacations, watching the buffaloes and cows being milked in the vicinity of our homes, collecting leaves and flowers that were shed by the trees, climbing trees, swinging on a rope swing and so on. But today children have schedules to conform to even during their free time. They are required to spend most of their holidays completing their home assignments and project work, which involves spending a chunk of their time in front of computers, printers and cell phones.

The Pareto’s Principle states that “80 per cent of effects come from 20 per cent cause”. It means that unscheduled time, when one spends it the way one likes, brings the greatest creative insights. How many of us adults understand its implications for youngsters? On a given day youngsters should be allowed to spend 20 per cent of their time doing what they like. If they do this, they will be able to become 80 per cent successful in the other mundane necessities of life.

Children spend about eight hours in school where at least six hours are devoted to serious work. Back home by about 4 p.m., they have just about four or five hours to spend with the family, play outdoors and indoors, read something to their liking and finish their school work. If they have about 12 hours in a day from the time they wake up till they go to bed, some 10 hours are spent in school and on school work. In the remaining two hours they need to fill in home work time, family time, eating time, friends time, computer time, cell phone-time, playtime. What happens to creative time? They hardly get enough time to fantacise or imagine.

Creative energy requires significant mental resources. If a youngster is always worried about his school-work, projects and deadlines, his/her creativity will go for a toss. The process of producing something that is original and worthwhile will be relegated. This is what has happened to us. There is no point in blaming all and sundry for our poor performance in research. There should be some ‘me-time’ for everyone to deviate from the routine and do other things for a change. CV Raman, Jagadish Chandra Bose and Rabindranath Tagore were what they were because their “mind was without fear and the head was held high, where the clear stream of reason had not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit.”