Love your children, not their performance

Love your children, not their performance

Year after year, as board results approach, we hear distressing stories of students taking their lives because of the fear of failure. But what happened in Thane last week was really sad. When I first heard about 16-year-old Vijay Sharma’s brutal act of murdering his mother, I was shaken. The fact that he was from my alma mater St John only deepened my grief. Newspaper reports suggested that the reason behind young Vijay’s brutal act was a "row over studies" as he wasn’t interested in studying. When you hear such stories, you know it is time for an awakening. It is time to find out what is it about our education system that drives students to take such extreme steps as taking their lives or killing others. Perhaps the answer lies in our obsession with marks. A report on CNN.com says that when it comes to board results, "India is obsessed with the numbers, and some teenagers are so wracked by anxiety that they become ill, or worse." The report also quotes a study conducted by The Week in October 2003, which said that approximately 4000 students take their lives each year.

What creates such pressure on students? Peer pressure is one thing. But that can be handled, if parents are supportive. Unfortunately, many parents are as nervous as, or even more, than their children during exams. As a result they end up adding fuel to fire by constantly nagging and often applying undue pressure on their wards to become high achievers. This sometimes causes them to make things worse by being too forceful.

Yet, most psychologists opine that parents can play an important role in helping their children cope with the trauma of examination. According to Dr Rajan Bhosle (MD), a renowned counsellor, "Parents need to be as tolerant and supportive as they can at this difficult time. It is essential that parents repeatedly reassure their children that the love and treasure them and whatever their performance at the exams, this fact will not change."

There are countless examples of people without formal education who’ve achieved heights of success and parents must realise, and also help their children realise, that doing poorly in a particular exam does not translate into doing poorly in life. They need to be reminded that just because someone else is better in their education course, it does not mean that that person is a superior being.

Another issue is that of forcing career choices onto children. Studies suggest that parents often view their children’s career accomplishments as a reflection on themselves and as a material for the construction of meaning in their own lives. This is often where conflict between parents and children may arise.

Agreed, that most parents have their best interest in mind when they pressurise their sons and daughters towards excellence. But top psychologists advise parents to know when to draw the line. According to Jim Clarke, from irishhealth.com, "There is good stress and bad stress. Good stress keeps us alert to things we need to be concerned about, whereas bad stress undermines peace of mind. Bad stress has health ramifications, as it can cause headaches and anxiety and can lead to serious complaints developing, such as panic attacks or depression." Parents must ensure that bad stress is kept at bay. The solution, says Clarke, lies in proclaiming unconditional love.

Next week, a student-welfare NGO is organising a free seminar in Thane for those students who have appeared for the class X and class XII exams. Watch out for details.

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