Two days ago, I woke up to the terrible news of the death of two children in a school in Karachi. Initial reports suggested that the children had decided to end their lives after their parents disapproved of their 'romantic involvement'.
I have been utterly depressed at the very thought of this incident. While the police are still currently examining the evidence, what follows is the inevitable question, who do we hold responsible for the incident?
The parents? The society? Media? Co-education? Gun culture?
This incident, however isolated and rare as it may be, cannot be ascribed to any one of the points mentioned above. Some of the points are valid, some invalid. The details are yet to fully unfold, but I think this is the right time to analyse the problems within our society, especially, when it comes to parenting.
1. ‘The co-education system is to blame’:
We are faced with the tragic deaths of two adolescents. We are being told by an overwhelming section of the society that this happened because a boy and a girl were left to intermingle freely, against our ‘moral values’. I do not want to take on the religious argument here. But let's look at this differently.
I have spent three years of my life documenting news from rural Sindh for a local newspaper. In these three years, I have always been surprised by how the majority of eloping couples (and ultimately ending up dead through karo-kari or honour-killing, or demanding protection from the courts), belonged to the rural areas, where there was no concept of co-education, working together, or intermingling with the opposite sex.
The people in these areas cannot so much as openly talk to a member of the opposite gender. Yet, they manage to fall in love to an extent that they leave their homes for it.
Who or what is responsible here? Obviously, not co-education. It is in fact the opposite – extreme gender segregation – that creates frustrations which eventually lead to these couples eloping; escaping from the lack of freedom to marry by choice.
Compare this to cities, where men and women are freer to interact and marry by choice, cases of elopement seem to be lower.
Way more killings happen in the streets, bazaars and in villages over petty disputes than in co-education schools. The argument that co-education causes such incidents is plainly false.
2. ‘The media is responsible’:
Various researches have evidenced that programs aired on television have an overwhelming impact on children. Parental advisory labels exist to warn parents against allowing their child to watch content which might potentially harm their mental development. But while parents even in developed countries do not follow this safety protocol as strictly as they should, in our part of the word, parents are altogether clueless even about the notion of such a thing as ‘suitability of content’.
Also read: Are you aware of your child's online life?
When I was in high school, the two most popular video games of the time were GTA: San Andreas and Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, which almost everyone of us had played. Both of these games were rated “Mature” and suitable only for people of ages 17 and above (because of the “Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs” that they contained).
Ideally, we shouldn't have had access to these games. But we did, and they must have impacted our minds in a negative way. After all, psychologists could not have set an age-limit on them for nothing. Young minds are affected by the violence depicted in these videos and therefore, parents need to watch much more closely what their children are doing online, and what ideas they are taking away from TV programs.
3. ‘Parents are responsible’:
To a large extent, yes. Having a gun at your home within your child's reach is irresponsible. In fact, having a gun at all, without a valid reason, is partaking in the poison of gun culture, a real and continuing hazard in this country.
Also read: Fake guns, real terrorism
Parents are also responsible for what their adolescent children watch or do online. I once saw a short video clip by the US Government which encouraged parents to keep computers in a place where they can be monitored by every passing family member. The video also encouraged parents not to back-off if their children argued for ‘privacy’.
Not just monitoring their child, parents also have a duty towards ensuring the well-being of their children beyond physical needs – their mental and emotional health, especially in this cataclysmic day and age.
Most youngsters my age and those 10 years younger, will have parents born in the 1950s and 1960s. These parents should recognise that the times their children are growing up in, are vastly different from their's. The media, the technologies, the schooling, the environment – everything is different. Suicidal tendencies in schoolchildren are much more prevalent now than before. Kids today hardly open up to their parents about their feelings, because emotional insulation has become an entrenched part of our culture; just possessing sentiments is a thing that's looked down upon.
Consequently, most children end up either harming themselves or befriending a sympathiser outside of their family, who could be a great or a disastrous influence.
My advice to parents is to understand and empathise with your child; his/her feelings and his/her thoughts and desires. If they say they love someone or will die or murder for someone or something, a person, a PlayStation, a laptop or anything, take it seriously.
If you have to turn down their request, be gentle and explain your decision. Harsh tones and indifference will only generate resentment in your child. Some children will submit, but the more audacious ones could resort to disastrous steps.
My heart goes out to the two innocent children of Karachi.
Khul ke gul kuch to bahaar apni saba dikhla gaye
Hasrat un ghunchon pe hai, jo bin khiley murjha gaye
While some flowers bloomed to a spectacular display
There is sorrow for the buds that wilted before they could blossom