Aggression in children can lead to tragedy.
Today in New Delhi a man killed another in a fit of road rage. Why did he do such a crazy thing? Lets see if the following article gives us some clues.
How much aggression is normal?
A bleeding knee. A bruised jaw. Or a broken tooth. All part and parcel of growing up.
Or is it? When disaster strikes, all our buried anxieties and niggling doubts spill over, threatening to make us view every little injury as an accident averted, making us question the very values on which we are bringing up our children. A little bit of rough and tumble is fine, we tell ourselves, but a line has to be drawn somewhere.
The tragic death of Soumen Das, an adolescent who was inadvertently pushed to his death by his best friend Netai Dey, has brought this into sharp focus. Netai may not be a killer or a criminal but he did land a few punches on his friend, causing Soumen to fall and hit a vulnerable part of his head on the sharp edge of a table. This bizarre accident has sent a chill down the spine of many parents. After all, almost all boys, and some girls, shove and punch one another and get into minor scuffles. A scolding parent or a stern teacher cannot completely subdue the exuberance of youth.
‘It’s quite natural to be a little rough,’ acknowledges Dr. Mira Shah, child counselor. ‘It’s just that we have become more conscious of it now probably because we have fewer children.’ This natural physical aggression should normally subside as children grow older and begin to understand the consequences of their actions. Not that it isn’t still lurking below the surface…humans are not yet that far away from their violent past. The still popular wrestling matches, bull-fights and rough games like rugby are all evidence of it. And ofcourse there are nations that still readily go to war.
Kids have not learnt control
Inspite of this however, adults usually learn to mask their aggression under a veneer of polite, civilized behavior. Small children cannot do that. They have to learn to do it.
Take an old case of a three-year-old boy from Blackpool, England. He smashed the head of his newborn sister against the settee, killing her instantly. The toddler reacted instinctively out of strong feelings of jealousy and anger, but was considered too small to have any ‘criminal intent.’ Or take the case of a six-year-old girl in Calcutta, who pushed a heavy earthen put on her friend’s foot, injuring her toe. This happened only a few days ago in the playground of a reputed school. But for an emergency surgery, the victim would have lost her toe. Once again, the tender age of the ‘culprit’ exonerated her from blame.
Unfortunately, when children hit out without understanding how much damage they can cause, their clumsiness and carelessness can result in serious injuries.
Are children getting meaner?
Not that all children are innocent. They can be unashamedly savage and insensitive and that is quite clear to anyone who has seen a four year old yank the plait of another till she screams in agony, or watched a 10-year-old pull apart a live insect little by little, enjoying to watch it’s death pangs. Dr Subir Ghose, who frequently treats children injured by other children, believes that violence amongst children is on the rise. ‘Today parents give more freedom to their children,’ says Dr Ghose. ‘Hitting and bullying seems to be becoming the accepted form of behavior,’ he complains. However he agrees that a certain amount of aggression in inborn. But at the same time he believes that aggression can be be properly channelised. ‘Productive hobbies such as sports and other outdoor activities are a must for children,’ he says.
Modern life can kill a child’s spirit
Is that happening? Are children getting the opportunities to channel their energy into productive activities? Not in India, they aren’t. What we find instead that children are being confined into cramped living quarters and driven out of playgrounds and parks by the advancing urban jungle. Every once in a while we hear of the already scarce parks being taken over by greedy builders and commercials complexes planned in their wake. And we all know that our burgeoning population has ensured that there are no quiet bylanes left to play on anymore. There is also the mounting academic pressure and the magnetism of the idiot box and computer games which has taken over our kids’ lives and enforced sedentary habits. Not only is the modern child becoming fat and unhealthy, his energy is dammed up. This can lead to serious problems like depression, anxiety and juvenile delinquency.
What’s the solution?
However, one cannot simply blame the outside world. There are ways in which parents can contain a child’s aggressive streak. Confides Dolly Khanna (46), mother of a teenage son. ‘When Nitin was a child there used to be complaints from teachers. I had to tell him continuously to be careful. I told him that he was tall and strong and he could easily hurt someone.’ Her endeavors have paid off because today Nitin is a disciplined and well mannered adolescent. Recently, when he was slapped by a cousin, Nitin did not hit back. To the infinite relief of his mother, he has learn to check his anger and does not get into fights anymore. This goes to show how important a parent’s role can be.
Netai Dey who killed his class-mated accidently was also a well-behaved boy – till he lost his temper and pushed his friend. ‘He should not be allowed to get away with it,’ says Anjali Tamhane, herself a mother of a 13 year-old son. ‘He was old enough to know better,’ she feels. Her own son Gautam is gentle and quiet. ‘This may be his own nature…but it could also be because I never used violence to discipline him when he was a toddler,’ she says.
Parents can show the way
Finally, parents are the role models. If a child is beaten regularly at home or sees his father abusing errant drivers and perhaps even hitting them, then a bad example is set. ‘Adult behavior is imitated by the child, and violence is seen to be solution to problems,’ says Dr. Ghose.
It could be biological
However, he cautions that in some cases, there might be physical cause. ‘If a child shows extreme aggressiveness and restlessness, I always advise a brain scan and an EEG. It is only when everything is normal that I recommend a counselor,’ he says.
What parents can keep in mind is that while a little rough and tumble is simply a manifestation of physical energy, a child should have become aware of the consequences of hitting out blindly by adolescence. He should be used to firm guidelines and be keenly aware of how his behavior affects another.
(This was published in The Telegraph, Calcutta)