What could push a child to the brink?

Updated: Nov 23, 2014, 18:00 PM IST

“What is the simplest way to die?”

Seeing my usually cheerful friend uncharacteristically gloomy, I ventured to question his new-found melancholy when this remark knocked the wind out of me. He teaches less-privileged children, and his peace of mind had been jolted by a 10-year-old boy from his class, who asked him: “Sir, what is the simplest way to die?”

Upon regaining some of my lost composure, I managed to ask, ‘So, how did you react. What did you say?’

“I was blank. I could see he was completely shattered when I looked into his eyes. I thought I could scare him into any such thoughts by saying it pains like hell,” he quivered back.

‘What was it? Did he not get his favourite toy or book,’ I asked, hoping and praying that it was one of the worldly objects that the child coveted; something that could be arranged.

“No. His brother is disabled and he can see his parents struggle every day. And God knows what else. He looks helpless and fed up.”

I spent the next waking day and sleepless night wondering what on earth could have driven a kid to such an extent. Anything between a failed relationship/marriage/business, mounting debts or illness can force grown-ups into thinking that their journey in life has hit a dead-end. People can be overwhelmed by life’s burdens. But I dare not imagine the trauma that a child’s innocent psyche may have suffered to trigger in him suicidal tendencies.

Sometimes the odds are indeed heavily loaded against some people. History is proof of those who made it despite facing countless adversities; and also of those who surrendered or those who had reached the point of no return.

But sometimes, as a society, we are blind to calls of help and are guilty of driving some of the lesser-resolute, to the brink.

Child psychologists say a sudden change in behaviour is a sign that a child is having difficulties. A child who suddenly begins to show signs of extreme anger, or one who turns reclusive all of a sudden, or one who cuts himself off from outer world, or inflicts pains upon himself – is a child who is struggling to come to terms with the expectations from him or is suffering from abuse (be it sexual, verbal, or bullying). A child who is subjected to something he/she wasn’t expecting will find it difficult to express himself to guardians.

Another grossly disturbing image I have come across is that of an advertisement on TV against physical abuse of women, wherein a boy right from his birth to his adulthood is repeatedly told – “ladke nahi rote/boys don’t cry.” What kind of a message is that supposed to portray? Agreed the issue at hand is tackling physical abuse of women, but why not find a better way than to amplify another equally-disturbing notion – that boys are not supposed to cry.

A child forced to suppress his fear, pain or suffering is a child who isn’t being taught to handle the emotions that life hurls at him. What is a boy to do when he is bullied or physically or sexually abused and he does not know how to react to what he has been subjected to? Tears, in this case, are his instantaneous cry for help. Noticing such a sign and helping a child deal with it can help him/her come to terms with what the society can inflict upon them. Failing to read or ignoring such a sign thinking ‘it will help make the child tough’ can have serious repercussions.

A child, who lacks support from his family in his formative years, is quite likely to return the atrocities inflicted upon him onto others. That is, provided he/she manages to bear the torment upon his/her innocence. Otherwise, there are bound to be other 10-year-olds who are broken to the extent that they feel they have had enough. 

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