SUNDAY MAGAZINE

Emotional landmines

SENSE OF BELONGING: Train children in alternative ways of conflict resolution. Photo: AP  



DR. S. MOHAN RAJ

Violent incidents in schools are on the rise. Can parents and teachers reverse the trend?

NEWS about school-related violence, be it vandalism or violent death have been coming in from various parts of the country with alarming regularity. It is vital to look at the risk factors contributing to violence and discuss preventive strategies.

Risk factors

Partiality and Victimisation: Some teachers classify their students into 'good', 'average' and 'bad'. Blatant partiality towards 'good' students causes frustration and anger in others. The 'bad' students are often victimised for any anonymous acts of indiscipline. The labels stick. One student of std. VIII resolved to shed his 'bad' label in the next year. But to his dismay, he found that his previous class teacher had taken the trouble of briefing his new class teacher. Exposure to violence: Exposure to violence both off and on the screen can breed violence. Students exposed to domestic violence either as a victim or as an observer are more prone to violence. Corporal punishment by teachers conveys the message that it is legitimate to hit someone if they make a mistake. When the student feels that another student has erred, he will resort to violence. Media also has a significant influence on youth behaviour. The incidence of suicide climbed in Germany following a TV series about the various modes of suicide. Glorification of violence in movies and TV programmes like WWF entice students to mimic the violent behaviour. Being teased /bullied: Students who are victims of bullying could become violent in an act of revenge. In most firearm incidences in U.S. schools, it is a victim of bullying who pulled the trigger. In India, firearms are controlled and thankfully, such incidences are negligible. But it is worth remembering that victims of bullying are emotional landmines. Learning as a burden: School and parents put undue pressure on students to deliver marks in the board exams. This is epitomised by certain residential schools, which have a daily schedule from 5.00 a.m. to midnight. Some children burn out. Some score high marks but at a tremendous emotional cost. One 'successful' student asked, "Is there a medicine to forget whatever I went through in the last three years?"

Prevention

Two main strategies would help in preventing violence. First is reduction or rectification of risk factors. Second is promotion of protective factors. Protective factors not only protect but also act as a buffer in the presence of risk factors. A confiding relationship: This relationship has to be nurtured by the parents by listening to the child whenever he/she has something to say. By actively listening and offering comments, the parent encourages the child to communicate with ease. A student in a confiding relationship is able to discuss any issue, including frustration, sadness and anger with parents. Counsellors and empathetic teachers can fulfil this role at school. Every school should have trained counsellors. Minor issues can be sorted out early, before they intensify. Unconditional positive regard: To nurture a sense of belonging to the family, parents need to show unconditional positive regard to their children. They should express love to their children for what they are. Conditional love ("You are my son only if you come within the first five ranks" and assorted variants of the same message) wrecks a child's sense of belonging and self-esteem. A teacher who expresses unconditional positive regard evokes positive behaviour and interest in students than one who relies on threats and punishments. For example, class XI A in one school was notorious for being 'unruly and unmanageable'. A new teacher joined the school and gradually Class XI A was seen to be quiet and well behaved during his period. By the time they reached Class XII, the class was quoted as a role model. Self Esteem: High self esteem guards against violence, emotional problems and suicide. A student's self esteem can be improved by unconditional positive regard by one significant adult (parents /teachers) and encouragement and opportunity to excel in some area. Every student should be recognised for his/her unique strength in whichever area he/she chose to focus on. It need not be restricted to academics alone. It could be sports, music, arts, writing, anything. School connectedness: This implies a sense of belonging to the school. It gives the students part of their identity and improves their self-esteem. The student's perception that a teacher is impartial and fair, is caring and compassionate, is available and shows love to all students unconditionally helps in shaping the student's sense of belonging to the school. Parents should also have a sense of belonging to the school. PTA meetings in the true sense can foster this. Most schools have sham PTA meetings where parents are expected to meet individual teachers to discuss the marks scored in the recent tests. Coping skills: Participation in sports and extra curricular activities help in improving one's coping skills and guards against emotional problems and violence. Coping skills can also be taught. Conflict resolution and anger management: Conflicts are a natural part of life and occur in schools too. At times, minor conflicts between students lead to violence. Students can be trained in alternate ways of resolving conflicts like negotiation and mediation. Students can also be trained in channelising anger in socially appropriate ways. The curriculum has provisions to impart these skills. But, in most schools this time is stolen for other 'important' subjects. In one school, the Physics teacher walked into a value education class for std. XI students. "Here is a summary of your value education sessions for the next two years." He paused and said dramatically, "Be good" and then announced, "From now on, Value education periods will be Physics periods". Joy of learning: Schools should provide an atmosphere where learning a new concept or learning a new way of doing a particular task brings joy. Parents too should ensure that their children enjoy learning. Once learning becomes a joyful activity, students would look forward to being in school and their sense of belonging would be high. Their vulnerability to violence would come down. The author is a Chennai-based Consultant Psychiatrist. E-mail: mohanpsychiatry@yahoo.co.in