I opened today's paper to read an article about four girls in Vellore who jumped into a well after their teacher scolded them. The teacher had reprimanded them for not doing well in academics and asked them to bring their parents to school the next day. Following the incident, the teacher and principal of the school were suspended. Incidents like this are becoming commonplace, and we are struggling to figure out what is going wrong.
Are teachers to blame for being too harsh? Are parents to blame for putting too much pressure on children? Are children of today somehow “faulty” for not being able to take correction or disappointment? There is even a theory that children are being overprotected and hence not able to handle what life throws at them. Does pinning the blame on any one party solve the problem? Finally, I think it is our responsibility as adults to reflect and ask ourselves “Why are children, including teenagers not feeling safe?”
Neuroscientists today, tell us that seeking safety is the most important function of the brain. We have always thought the brain’s main task is learning, processing, thinking or understanding. While all this is true, the first and foremost function of the brain is to ensure our survival. And hence, before anything else, the brain is looking to keep us safe. All other functions can happen only after safety needs are met. So when we feel unsafe it leads us to stop caring about survival.
Given this information, it is vital for all of us, adults, to question ourselves if we are creating environments in which each and every child feels safe- in school or at home. We think a lot about physical safety- we would not allow a child to run across a busy road or jump from a dangerous height. But do we give enough thought to emotional safety? What does this mean in practical terms?
It means having an environment where every child is free of fear.
Where children have caring adults they can turn to and are assured a warm supportive response.
Where they know that their feelings will be heard and understood.
When I read about the school teacher being suspended, even though I felt she could have been trained in how to guide and support children in a more constructive way, it was still unfair for the onus to be completely on her. Were there no nurturing adults in these children's lives who they could turn to? Their jumping into the well shows their utter desperation. They are giving us adults the message that they felt there was no one who could believe in them and support them.
Is it possible that in earlier times, large joint families and close communities provided children with a safety net? That there was always an older cousin, sibling or aunt to whom a child could reach out? Does the pace of our busy lives today, coupled with the pressure of a competitive world make it difficult for parents or caregivers to be emotionally available for children?
After all, every parent loves and wants the best for their children... But, are the children experiencing our love and care? There are no easy answers to the question of what will make our children feel completely safe but these are some points we could think about.
Author: Kesang Menezes is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connection in families.