A couple of years ago, a pupil in a Delhi suburb brought a gun to school and shot his friend dead after a minor argument.
Another bunch of pupils kidnapped their classmate for ransom, but panicked and killed him when they felt they would be exposed.
Another pupil was expelled from school when he was caught sniffing his drug-laced neck tie in class.
I am saddened no end when I hear about juvenile criminals, bullying in schools, childhood suicides and child drug addicts. No sweeping statements can be made on the reasons for this sort of behaviour; this is the domain of sociologists and educationists, groups I don’t belong to. But to my mind, the common thread running through these incidents is faulty parenting — broken homes or parents being too busy to spend quality time with their children.
Much can be done at higher levels by experts running the government or the academies, but what can common people like you and me do at a personal level to ensure children don’t become so disoriented?
Parents compensate for their shortcomings with pocket money and gifts. This spoils the child, who knows the price of the gifts, but not their value.
Going forward, neither human values nor the value of material things in life matters. A sure shot remedy is to give your children quality time, not material things.
Talk to them for at least half an hour every day. It needn’t be some important discussion — just how the day went for them, about their school, friends, ambitions.
Of course, they should be encouraged to discuss their problems at all times, upon condition that you will not chastise them about the root of their problem, but instead brainstorm to find a solution.
Let children know that you are with them to help at all times. The love expressed should be unconditional, giving them the impression that you will love them no matter what. Avoid statements such as: “Son, if you do not do not do your homework mama will no longer love you.”
I have grown-up children — one in the late teens and one an adult — and I still kiss and cuddle them first thing in the morning and last thing at night and many times in between.
It is important to be frank with children, making conversation a two-way street, asking for their opinion, praising their achievements and encouraging them without sounding condescending.
Criticisms must be short, precise and non-judgemental. There should be no ambiguity regarding the rules of the house and about how far they can be stretched and under what circumstances.
Punish children if they break the rules, but make it clear that you still love them and will continue to do so under all circumstances.
Another important but often over looked habit is to eat the major meals of the day together and to make conversation during meals. Avoid controversial topics and keep the television and computer switched off during meals.
I often come across families where the members eat in different rooms, sprawled on the sofa in front of the TV or chatting on a computer or reading a book, barely noticing what they eat, much less appreciate the taste of the food. All conversation naturally comes to a stop and the children and the parents withdraw into their individual shells.
A very successful industrialist with a family conglomerate was asked about the strong bonding in the family inspite of hectic individual schedules. His answer — “We have at least one meal of the day together. Conversation related to business is strictly not allowed during meals.”
A further suggestion is to disallow violent computer games and TV shows among the children in the family. The fertile imagination of the nubile brain is very impressionable, no matter what the companies with vested interests choose to want us to believe.
News channels are replete with incidents of little children hanging themselves from the roof or throwing themselves from the top of high rises in the belief that superman will come and save them at the eleventh hour.
Watching violent movies and TV programmes, the impressionable minds of the little ones are made to believe that hitting out physically is the only acceptable solution or even a panacea for all the ills that exist in this bad world. Violence in the first instance, (as distinct from as a last resort) is portrayed as justified, something that has the sanction of society.
Lastly, look for telltale signs in your children — a child that is distracted easily, one who isn’t keen on going to school, one who has suddenly begun to ask for more pocket money, one who has begun to pocket money left around the house, a previously good pupil whose performance has deteriorated suddenly, one who cannot go to sleep or refuses to wake up without making a fuss.
It is very important to love your children. But it is equally important to let them know.
Dr Atul Kumar Mathur is a specialist surgeon based in Abu Dhabi.