For the last two days, my mood has been strangely introspective, to the point of getting disinterested in everything.
My son’s friend, who was a student with him at the same college, committed suicide.
Thereafter, we also heard news about campus killings in Oregon, America.
Although the real reason can never be known, people deduce all sorts of reasons for a young person’s suicide. One reason given was ‘parental pressure’. Also, that the day he took his life, he had said to one of the girls in his class, “I feel empty inside.”
Parents again. Oh, but isn’t this a question being raised all the time, that ‘parental pressure’, which itself has its roots in ‘societal pressure’, lies heavy on many students’ head when they do not come up to their parents’ expectations?
Most students deal with it, some can’t cope.
My son’s friend is (was) actually the older brother of one of my son’s classmates, with age-gap of only a year, and so they all studied together. Although both brothers are/were academically brilliant and both got along well, but in a way the younger of the two was doing better. And now that this tragedy has happened, people are quick to deduce that the older brother who committed suicide was probably not happy with his academic career, howsoever good it was.
That said, I couldn’t help probing further reasons for this unfortunate incident. Why did he feel ‘empty inside’? He had three loving siblings. He had both parents alive. Then where and why was the parental pressure? Is it that the child assumed there is pressure? Is it that his younger sibling was out-performing him and he felt left out? Probably, day-to-day comments and harmless little nagging within the families is not so harmless after all. A growing child, and a young person being consciously or unconsciously compared to others, loses his self-esteem and self-worth. I feel like hugging his soul. How lonely he must have been during his last hour or so!
Essentially, loneliness is a part of growing up. Late teens to early twenties – this is the phase when children are no more considered children, even if, due to their lack of life experience and not much exposure to the world, most of them continue to be a child at heart.
As they leave their teens behind, they are full of anxiety. Anxiety of behaving sensibly like a new adult, that of being a role model for younger siblings, pressure of performing well as per the societal or parental expectations, of getting admission into best possible courses, of out-performing others so as to secure a great job. Then there are issues related to a girl-friend, or of not having a girl-friend while others have. All this and more, while out-doing many others who themselves have similar mind-set. Each young person trying to excel in this rat race because eventually the fittest will survive.
While I was deeply brooding on all this, I shifted my thoughts to the other news, that of mass killing at the community college at Oregon campus. News about regular campus carnage in America is no more news for the international community. This time too, the culprit’s age-group is the same as in most other campus killings, and the victims too are mostly young students or else teachers.
Recent Oregon massacre, as the news slowly revealed, was based on hatred for organised religion. And quite like previous campus killings, this is also related to the frustrated youth – an acrimonious revenge of some sort, for it is strange that the shooter was at some stage enrolled in the same college. So it was about rebellion, about getting noticed. This too is about perceived or real societal pressure to conform (to religion), and it’s about retaliating and giving back pressure to the society. It’s as if the shooter is saying: Look you mean society!! I don’t believe in your dictatorial religious dogmas and pseudo-principles. I shun you. I have the power to kill you all.
As I mentally compare a young man’s self-killing to that of another young man’s mass-killing of others, both have similarities as well as differences.
Suicidal youth are the ones who have lost all hopes from life. Their needs are not being met. They’re crying for help but unable to say it, or else they do try to convey but no one pays enough attention to their feelings. Eventually, when they feel life is more unbearable than death would be, that’s when they escape life via one impulsive step. Likewise, the aggressive youth who finally resorts to a killing spree, he also conveys or protests spitefully via social media and other means, till one day he decides to take some rebellious action. As the Oregon killer said ‘He did not like his lot in life”.
Youth on the verge of a suicide assume they haven’t found their rightful place in the society and can never get it, hence they finish their life. In comparison, aggressive young men who kill others also feel the same, except that killers try to get their place forcibly, by attempting an act that would leave a larger statement behind. Both seek attention, one does it passively and the other aggressively. A suicidal introvert passively punishes the family and society by withdrawing from it; whereas the shooter does so aggressively by taking lives within unsuspecting campuses.
Taking one’s life via suicide, or that of many others…these are angry, unhappy, lonely, frustrated youth, not born that way but possibly they had been seeking attention since their early age as is clearly visible from the early life of this campus killer. Their mental tension and loneliness took root in their childhood, that is long before they culminated their anger or anguish in this extreme manner.
This amazes me as a parent, as I wonder if parents play any role in their children going extreme. At what stage do parents mentally lose contact with their child and why does this happen. Is it from the early childhood that some odd eccentric behavior goes ignored, or else when the child is 10, 12 or 15? Possibly more so after they turn 16 or 17, as that’s when they start to go out on their own. In a nuclear family, which is a norm these days, there’s no support from extended families, hence the pressurized parents are either too engrossed in balancing their career with family life; or busy looking after their younger kids while getting more and more detached from the older kid-turned-adult. The older ones thus grow distant from their families and soon their lonely voices go unheard.
Here the problem is, how much parenting is enough? There are parents who would like to be forever involved in their children’s life, but they face another ‘societal pressure’, one that reminds them that parents should let their kids be; should set them free, let kids grow up on their own. Over-caring parents are considered helicopter parents – over-anxious and too fussy about their grown-up child or new adult.
Well of course, good parents need not be helicopter parents but they should not be so unobtrusive or unavailable that if their child is feeling ‘empty inside’ they don’t even know it.
Likewise, parents of a teen, who is soon going to evolve into a monster with head full of bloody ideas like mass massacre, are either parents who are themselves party to such vile things or else totally ignorant about it. Either way, they are not playing any positive role in the lives of humans they gave birth to.
Throughout the life of their child, parents need to constantly sow seeds of ethical, moral and righteous living in their children. There’s no age for that.
Parents need to be present in their kids’ lives forever. There’s no age for that.
Parents need of watch out for signs of killer instincts in their growing children and youth. There’s no age for that.
There’s no age to fix things that have gone even slightly wrong. It’s better to mend them in time.
Copyright © 2015 Alka Girdhar