The controversy triggered by leaked lewd chats from ‘Bois Locker Room’, an Instagram group run by some teenagers, and the death of a 17-year-old boy in Gurugram, allegedly in connection with the incident, have raised serious questions about the mindset of youngsters, their use of social media and the way forward.
The Hindu spoke to a few psychologists, specialising in adolescent counselling, who narrowed down the reasons to lack of proper sexual education and gender sensitivity among teenagers.
“There are multiple episodes — the Bois Locker Room, a 17-year-old ending his life, and the Snapchat screenshot. Though we may feel they are all different, what comes out is that there is a complete lack of sex education, gender sensitisation and sensitivity among teenagers,” said Mahalakshmi Rajagopal, a psychologist who works as a consultant with some Delhi schools.
According to Dr. Rajagopal, while girls are imparted some amount of sex education when they start their menstrual cycle, for boys sex is often a “forbidden topic”. “The reason you have a boys room locker, where all these discussions are taking place, is because at that age they are curious and they haven’t been given healthy sensitisation about sex, women and things related to sexual health. Nothing has been provided,” she said.
Roma Kumar, a counselling psychologist at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, echoed Mr. Rajagopal’s views. She said it is common and natural to be curious about sex, especially when it is hushed up, and stressed on open and constructive conversations about these topics.
Dr. Kumar said misogyny is rampant in society, illustrated by “how people like to sexually objectify women and laugh on sexist jokes”. She said boys should be educated about the thin lines that separate banter and abuse. Even social media chat groups are fine, she said, if the members don’t slander each other and turn abusive. “As long as they are talking about sexual stuff, it should be fine because everybody talks about these things. We talk in a different manner, children are learning differently. But there should be some rules,” she stressed.
Taking the instance of even special needs children exploring their sexuality, Dr. Kumar said, “We can’t stop them, and we shouldn’t stop them because it’s a sexual energy that you are born with. But somebody has to be able to talk to these children in that manner, connect with them and also engage in conversations related to sexuality,” she said.
Learning from adults
In the absence of proper sex education, children are observing adults at home and accordingly developing their attitudes and patterns of behaviour, counsellors said. “A 17-year-old doesn’t suddenly start objectifying women. It builds up over time. Such children are either coming from homes where they listen to parents using these kinds of words casually, or they see and observe their extended families engaging in such casual exchange. So the children grow up thinking it is okay to objectify women. This then gets reinforced with their peers,” said Dr. Rajagopal.
Damini Grover, another counselling psychologist, agreed. “It’s a reflection of an already existing mindset,” she said. She also pointed out the role of Bollywood movies that engage in similar conversations between men about women. This, she said, comes from a “sense of superiority, an assertion of masculinity which involves thinking and talking about women casually”.
Taking the example of asking for consent, Dr. Kumar said, “We don’t take consent in our homes. We just order. It’s how we communicate to our children also. And they learn from the environment, how a man or the father is talking to the wife. And how the wife is connecting to the in-laws or to the husband.”
Still a stigma
Stigma attached to sex and sexuality has been a hindrance, observed counsellors. Dr. Grover said there is reluctance among parents to talk about sex and sexuality to their children. Because of it, a volley of topics, like exploring one’s sexuality, sex and its consequences, ideas of masculinity and femininity, consent, building relationships and treating partners are left undiscussed, she said.
Removing the sense of taboo is the first step, said Dr. Rajagopal. “We as a society must be comfortable to sit down and talk about the sexual act. We give the impression that it is a big secret and something bad. Even today the minute there is an intimate scene in a movie, parents tell their children to get up and leave. We have to get out of that sort of mindset. We should be able to have a healthy and open conversation,” she said.
“If somebody’s asking about masturbation or oral sex, talk about it. Tell them,” said Dr. Kumar, adding that parents too need to learn to deal with their children. “They shouldn’t stop children, but guide them,” she said.
Looking forward, Dr. Kumar said that there is a need for sexual education and not just sex education among children. Dr. Rajagopal stressed that apart from proper sex education and gender sensitivity among children, it is important to teach parents about such concerns and ensure a positive environment at home.
Dr. Grover asserted the need for social media education, given a complete lack of any kind of sensitivity training to children either in schools or at home. “It is part of a new way of living and there is a need to develop some rules around it. Future generations will continue to use these platforms and we need to understand how to use them responsibly,” she said.
Restricting the use of social media is not an option, she argued. As individuals grow older, the focus has to be on creating a sense of responsibility when using social media, she said. The ‘Bois Locker Room incident’ should act as a tale of caution.