As the novel coronavirus wreaks havoc across the world, the ongoing lockdown in India which is well in its third month has been especially hard for adolescent and teenage children and their working parents. As the latter find it a challenge to work from home and at the same time keep their young children engaged in constructive activities, the children on their part are feeling the negative fallouts of being cooped up inside the house, including emotional trauma. Psychiatrists have noticed a perceptible rise in the number of city teens and adolescents hooked to their phone screens, gaming, chatting and watching films, even as they remain tuned to their online schooling classes.
Prakriti Poddar, expert in mental health and director of Poddar Wellness, highlights the issues that are coming to the fore during this hour of crisis and suggests ways in which parents can foster healthy, wholesome relationships inside the home.
What have been your observations relating to behaviour of adolescent and teenage children during the lockdown?
This is a scary situation and parents have to really talk to the children about safety. Social and emotional development is very important for children of this age group and we had a couple of calls from parents complaining about the changes in the behaviour of their children ever since the beginning of the lock down period. Most parents cannot be 100 per cent to be with their children even at other times and that is why they have neither the bandwidth nor the emotional empathy because most of the time the day-to-day activities are outsourced to teachers, house staff.
So now it's very traumatic for them as everyone's at home all time. We have also observed that child abuse ratio has gone up during the lockdown, as has violence towards children. These are the reasons children are going from being happy to being upset about the lockdown situation. Self-regulation is not something that children are used to and not something they had to do for a long period of time. Now they are suddenly being pushed into the mindset of a grown-up.
You think boys behave more aggressively than girls?
The behaviours are inherently different and it is observed that the lockdown has affected girls more. This is because in the psycho social or socio emotional format, girls know how to build community at this age of adolescences and teens. So being inside the home adds a lot of trauma from the age of 11 onwards. Boys, on the other hand, learn how to formulate their self-identity and how they interact with other people. Children in this age group are not able to test their anger, aggression and skills, inside the house, and this has an impact on their minds because the role played by emotions during adolescences is huge.
Parents are finding a certain disconnect with their teenage kids?
At home, parents are not taking care of their children all the time. They are not aware of the kid's emotional issues which take place due to hormonal changes. Also, the kids are definitely not able to connect with their peers of the same age because of social and physical distancing and zoom calls are clearly not helping. Our helplines have been getting information that parents are feeling stressed about having children full time at home and are worried about not being able to communicate effectively with them. This is because they have no skills to do so since they were never taking active part in their child's upbringing to begin with.
It must be noted, that socialising is very important for teen health and this can be established within the family first, the initiative has to come from the parents. Parents have not taken up first hand attempt at discipline earlier on and now they are using violence because they have no control over the child. On the other hand, what happens if a child who is exposed to bullying and sexual abuse at home is locked down with the perpetrator?
The access to screen time for children has increased in the past three months?
Gaming is harmful for emotional health as it creates anger and tantrums. Too much exposure is not advised at all. Of course, with parents working from home and with arguments over the TV remote, exposure to mobile and laptop screens is on an increase. But even in an offline scenario, children who are brought up in an atmosphere where they are exposed to intimate partner violence, domestic violence, or constant fights between parents, will grow up with a lot more distress.
Also, do pressures of the closure of educational institutions and private offices have any effect on young minds?
Stress is very high right now. Young graduates who have been looking for internships, have no chance at it at least in the near future. This inability to get into the job markets plays high on the minds of the young and the rates of youth suicides is anyway very high in India. So, this in a way is an existential crisis for them and gets them into introspection, and even depression.
How do you think can parents build holistic wellbeing within the family?
We have training programmes on parenting tips and how they can best understand the child. One needs to be in the driver's seat and should be able to hold a conversation with the child. More importantly, it is when the parent is happy, that the child too will be happy. It is important to limit media exposure of children to fake news, and alarming content, and encourage them to ask questions, instead of dismissing their worries. Open conversation goes a long way.