During this lockdown, I finally got to be home with my son for weeks at a stretch (no travelling, yay!) and also took some time to catch up on movies. And the one that’s playing on the mind as I sit down to write this piece is the Taapsee Pannu starrer Thappad.
The protagonists, Vikram and Amrita, live in their plush South Delhi suburban home, dreaming of a life together in London. Vikram is busy nurturing his career and Amrita is busy nurturing him, their home, and his family. Then comes the thappad (slap) and it unravels their perfect life.
How did Vikram and Amrita get there? Vikram was so busy building his career, a star in his office, that he forgot to nurture his relationship with Amrita.
Amrita, the perfect partner, carer, and homemaker, didn’t realise or express when and where their relationship began to hurt.
Despite both being ‘achievers’ in their own ways, Vikram and Amrita failed.
I have no doubt they both ‘did well’ at school. I am sure Vikram learnt through his MBA all the tricks and skills to succeed at that high-flying job. I feel fairly confident Amrita was the quintessential quiet, obedient, all-round performer that teachers and parents adore.
But did anyone teach Vikram how to nurture a relationship? Did anyone teach Amrita how to say things that are difficult, to express her emotions and not lose herself in a relationship until that moment of violence? Was there anything in their school or college curriculum that could have prepared Amrita and Vikram for this part of life?
Our education system is currently geared to prepare our children for that ‘job package’. Although some would argue if it does that properly either? But who teaches them to deal with the stress, the anxiety, the pressures that will come with that job with the package?
Our adult life comprises essentially two aspects – the professional and the personal. The Professional in us deals with the business of livelihoods while the Personal deals with Self and what’s important to us in our life—people, place or things. Often, these aspects are hard to separate or distinguish. But while our education system prepares us ‘well’ for the Professional, when it comes to the Personal, we are usually on our own. Yes, with supportive parents, it is still manageable, but this is not the case with everyone, especially anyone who may be growing up slightly out of the mainstream.
Even with the best of support, there are some conversations that just don’t happen, for example, those around sexuality. I can bet the percentage of parents or teachers that have spoken to their children or students about sex is less than one. And here too I may be overestimating.
Continually, aspiring and pushing our children towards success, we find it hard to talk to our children about failure too. And then every summer, as the exam results are declared, the news cycle is full of grim reports on teenage suicides. Some of these happen over failed relationships or peer pressure.
What I find interesting is the outpouring of outrage to such incidents. Everyone wonders why such things happen and talks about the urgent need to help create a future that is safe for our children – a world where there are no rapes, no suicides, no violence in relationships.
But there is little, if any, conversation on how all of this is going to happen. How will we get to that wonderful world? Soon enough, the rage, anger, discussion, and desperation die down only to reappear when another incident happens. A classic cycle.
Working on Love Matters for over a decade and addressing thousands of queries from young people, every year, on issues that matter to them, I have realised that for people from the age 10 onwards, there is a gaping hole when it comes to information. Information that young people should get during adolescence only reaches them, if at all, in adulthood. And by this time they have already taken several decisions in life that they ought to have had more information early on—some with life-long consequences.
This is where life skills education for adolescents matters. Still, a fairly new concept in India, the relevance of life skills learning in schools has been recognized globally.
A life skills education prepares children to handle the ‘Personal’. It teaches them about respect, empathy, diversity, and many such values that are integral to a healthy, happy, and content adulthood. It also includes nuanced conversations on sex, sexuality, consent, bullying, peer pressure, dealing with stress, internet safety, and everything else young people today are faced with as they grow up—besides academics.
Dr Shishir Palsapure, psychotherapist, life skills trainer, Associate Fellow and Supervisor at Albert Ellis Institute, New York and founder of CORE programme for schools says, “Essential life skills are like shock-ups on your bike. They don’t repair the path but make your ride smoother.”
Like Palsapure’s work, there have been other efforts made in this direction. The Delhi government’s happiness curriculum looks at the social and emotional well-being of children whereas the Rashtriya Kishore Swasthya Yojana focuses on adolescent health issues including conversations on body autonomy.
However, there is still a need for integrating life skills education as a structured and much-integrated part of school curriculums to make it truly universal. There is also a need to involve parents as important stakeholders in the process because much of this education also needs to be reinforced at home There is a need to train parents on how to have those difficult conversations at home.
To that end, after months of hard labour, we have come out with a comprehensive and exciting life skills resource – TeenBook.We hope it will engage teenagers, and at the same time be of great value to educators and parents in India. We have developed this resource as a bilingual website named TeenBook, which contains detailed information on nine major topics that are of relevance to teenagers covering topics such as puberty, online safety, stress management, peer pressure and bullying, to name a few.
I hope for TeenBook to be available across India in as many languages as possible and to also actively shape the offline part of this process. TeenBook will also be a foundation for trainings, workshops and sessions for adolescents, parents and children to further facilitate the learning for adolescents and build capacities for the same among parents and educators.
The COVID-19 era has made a resource like TeenBook even more crucial. With the education system under severe pressure on how to just keep up with basic schooling, social, emotional and life skills learning is likely to be (unfortunately) put on the back burner. Even as the pandemic hits school students’ social or mental well-being, schools are likely to be even less prepared to cope with the non-academic requirements of the children.
This scenario is also a wake-up call for some of us who may feel that well we ‘sailed through’ just fine without having any life skills education and hope our kids will too. Unfortunately, the world has changed. Our children are growing up in a different reality, where they will have access to information and content that we did not.
Wouldn’t it be better if we got there before the internet does? Wouldn’t it be better if we taught them about life pressures, stress, consent and sex before they land on that dodgy clip and before any harm is done?
For our children to be truly successful in their lives we need to provide the space and resources for them to do that.
TeenBook has come to life with just that purpose. It aims to bring a mindset shift towards supporting our children with their emotional, social and behavioural health well-being and not just a single-minded focus on their academic or professional excellence. Are you with me on this? Do send in your thoughts!
Find out more about TeenBook here.