BENGALURU:The strangest of myths and misinformation are being accepted by gullible minds of stressed out 15 to 17-year-old school students, discovered the Child Rights Trust. Earlier this year, the NGO received several calls from principals of private and government schools about high-school students, specifically 10th standard children, abusing whiteners, a solution used to erase mistakes in texts, which is also used on rubber tyres and cigarettes.
“We were shocked to receive several calls from principles and teachers. When we investigated further, we found out that these children believed consuming these drugs would help them stay up at night to study for their board exams. Around six of the 14 schools we are now working with to combat child drug abuse are elite institutions,” says Nagasimha Rao, Director of Child Rights Trust.
In the months that followed, new facts came to light. The kids would inhale the whitener directly, or put the liquid from correction pens onto their handkerchiefs. They also inhaled “solution” purchased from cycle repair shops or garages. Cigarettes too, they believe, help beat sleep.
“The children came from upper middle class and middle class families, where both parents work in the IT BT sector. The couples compensated for their hectic work schedules and lack of family time by giving their kids abundant pocket money. The children feel neglected to begin with and find that they receive attention from parents, only when final exams are drawing close,” explains Nagasimha, adding that academic stress is a front for several other environmental factors that affect the children’s mental health.
Since whiteners are easily accessible in stationery shops and used for correction purposes on notebooks, the teachers don’t recognise that their students are addicted to it, during class hours. Then the symptoms of began to show up and that worried them.
These include watery eyes, reduced social interaction, feeling low, loss of appetite, loss of interest in personal hygiene like giving up baths, increased memory loss, slow reactions to conversation, overall self negligence and isolation. This accompanied by children suffering stress, depression and other mental health symptoms, lack of trusted adults to talk, share and engage with, drove them to seek solace from drugs.
'Children miss their parents'
“It is wrong to assume that only children of government schools, coming from economically weaker homes, take to drugs. In my opinion, they have lesser academic pressure. They are pushed to the 8th standard by hook or crook, due to RTE rules. The parents too are concerned with their kids passing with minimum marks,” says M A Kha, Principal, K K English High School and Secretary of Bangalore South District High School Head Masters Association.
“With private school children, both their parents are working and undergo great deal of office pressure. They could have ego clashes, when they notice other students scoring more marks than their own. Children are always up for trying something new, so it is unfortunate but true that they go into a direction which is difficult to return from,” Khan says, adding that elite schools are in dire need of full time child counsellors.
Echoing a similar opinion, B Gayethri Devi, Principal of Little Flower Public School and President of Karnataka ICSE Schools Management Association says, ”It is the responsibility of school counsellors to ensure the well being of kids. What were they doing? If parents are busy and unable to provide required attention at home, the child must have access to a counsellor who can sit and talk to the child in a friendly way, without raising their voice or scolding them.”
Child Psychologist TS Chandrashekar, a consultant counsellor at Spandana Nursing home says, “I have seen cases of substance abuse among 15 to 16 year-old kids but it is not just due to exam stress. Consuming a drug of any kind, is not a sudden onset either but a process. Some of my patients say verbatim, I want my father or mother to spend more time and play with me.”
The psychologist explains that use of drugs may start as a mere curiosity or due to peer pressure. Then, they are hooked to the high. If they stop, withdrawal symptoms spring up. To tide over that, they get back to drugs again.
“I have come across addictions that are not recorded in literature. They may rub it in their handkerchief and inhale it. Some even take to cough syrup and it becomes a habit. What I feel is, peer pressure acts more than academics. Being part of a friend’s group, constant approval from peers forces them to abuse drugs,” Chandrashekar adds.
'Have friendly chats with kids'
Child psychologist TS Chandrashekar says, “The financial background of families have little to do with child’s well being. Quality time spent with the child, showing affection, eating together, cracking jokes and helping with homework play a bigger role.”
“The child should feel at home. If the father and mother are busy, and not interacting unless in a formal way, such as asking ‘how was class, how much marks did you get’ is not good enough. Children imitate, parents, teachers and friends. If all three influences are negative, one can't expect the child to be normal.”