Ask the Experts with Dr Amit Sen
Amrita Tripathi, Founder-Editor, The Health Collective
We’re in conversation today with senior psychiatrist Dr Amit Sen to take us through some of the most common stressors when it comes to child and adolescent mental health.
Dr Amit Sen, Founder, Children First
I think in India, one stressor that runs across all of childhood and adolescence is academics: education or the way education is viewed in our country. Schooling starts very early and a lot of our kids are not ready neuro-developmentally to engage with it in the way they are expected to by schools, by teachers, parents. A lot of these kids spend large amounts of their time trying to learn things, which perhaps they’re not ready for; at the expense of play time, building bonds, relationships, just being free and having fun. The pressure and expectations they keep rising as kids go from Nursery, KG to primary school.
The pressure starts very early, and even when a 3 year old is not able to do what they are expected to by a teacher, alarm bells start ringing. Parents start worrying, will start by disciplining or scolding the child. At the end of it, they might to really begin to worry about their future and take them to specialists and so on. It start very early. The system is to blame.
In our country, we start with academic learning way too early, and a large part of expectations is driven by rote learning. Hardly any flexibility and we see this right across primary school and as they get into secondary, middle and senior school, the expectations are higher.
Although the manifestations of that pressure is not seen so much in primary school — though sometimes they are, sometimes we see children for anxiety and behaviour disturbances only for academic pressure in primary school, but more often than not, they keep piling up. It’s like a dam bursting when they reach adolescence, and that’s when you begin to see depression and anxiety and a range of other issues, like substance misuse, so-called oppositional defiant disordered behaviours.
So it’s a relentless and eroding, oppressive system that we put our children through.
Relationships no doubt are key and the cornerstone of emotional and social development of any child. Again, because of some of the other demands which are placed on children, sometimes we see the parent-child relationship begins to be affected very early, in primary school.
The time that parents might have had to just be with their kids or play with their kids or be without pressure and anxiety is simply diminishing. As they grow up, other kinds of relationships become important, peer relationships, relationships through social media of various kinds. And those become extremely complicated and warped at times.
Although social media is a great thing, you find that for young people it becomes a central thing in their lives. How many thumbs up they’ve got, how many likes they’ve got… What kind of person they are able to project, who is bullying whom in social media, who is getting ostracised and so on. A large part of their waking hours are being spent just engaging with that.
And those relationships are so complex. And adults, because we have so little knowledge about this whole dynamic of the social media are hardly able to guide them; adults come down very heavily, take away gadgets of young people or admonish them. We have to accept that young people know so much more, has such a mastery over it that we can’t stop them from getting into it unless we come on the same side and try and understand it.
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