• Bidisha Bhattacharya

Let's Talk Peer Pressure

Manav and Abhay live in the same society in Andheri. The two toddlers who just turned 5 have been moved to a regular school from a ‘full-of-play’ home. It wasn’t even a week, when Manav’s mother learns from other parents that they have already enrolled their children into the so-called extra-curricular activities like swimming, tennis and guitar classes. She hears the other mothers beaming with pride when they narrate the fact that their little 5-year-olds return late in the evening all-drained from the gazillion ‘pits’ they have been pushed into under the caramel-coat termed as “All-round Development”. She finds it more of a bane on the contrary and hence prefers not to fall prey.

Abhay’s mom, on the other hand, gives into the anxiety and enrolls her “only hope of overcoming her failures into success” in swimming and athletics. By the end of one year, Abhay starts getting irritable and develops a weird tendency of falling ill time and again.

She takes him to the clinic, where the physician blatantly rules out physical illness and refers the child for counselling. The counsellor post-session tells his mother that he is unable to cope with the dual pressure of performing well in academics and sports activities.

You must be thinking what this anecdote leads to. Well, this is the New India: the modern-day “nuclear” home, where the word itself is smoking out negative connotations. Today’s parents have surprisingly come under a weird pressure of seeing their kids achieving accolades right from the pre-primary school days and subject not only themselves but even the kid under the famously heard term, Peer Pressure.

When a child enters the pre-school age, parents unconsciously begin to compare their little one with his peer’s development. They pressurize the little kid to imitate his peers which successfully yet venomously sows the seed of comparison. The comparison keeps growing with time and eventually out-branches into different forms of insecurity with a major one being he beginning to consider himself ‘not good enough’. The pressure escalates hand-in-hand as the now-teen moves to higher classes. They now start being judged not only by their academic performances, but their looks too.

The teen now stops giving any importance whatsoever in his abilities and what he wishes to pursue as his career because his individuality was choked to death the very first day, he had stepped in an institution that supposedly bases itself on a secular foundation. He’s just a breathing ‘Alexa’ now who opts for subjects his friends have chosen and drives himself cluelessly to join competitive coaching classes.

So, what is exactly going wrong in the entire process that every single day this country witnesses an approximate number of 6.23 student suicides. What is it that the Indian parents are getting all wrong? Well, let’s travel back in time again.

Remember the first day your toddler tried taking his first step to walk. Must have been an unforgettable experience. Well what did you do exactly as he kept taking the small steps around your house. The normal tendency for a kid who begins to walk is either tripping or maybe getting hit by an object. There is nothing wrong in comforting the child but what went wrong there was HOW?

As a parent, your first reaction must have been admonishing the object or the floor for the baby’s fall and, bang, the child learns the First Wrong Lesson. He learns that some external matter caused his failure and not the fact that he’s still in his learning phase.

Scientific research over the last few years have discovered three main characteristics developed in childhood that help people succeed later in life: grit, curiosity and growth mindset. It’s highly important for students to migrate from a fixed to a growth mindset. When a student fails to score well, he should be taught to compare himself with self and that capabilities can be developed from hard work and focus and not by shielding themselves from failure. The more one focusses on oneself, the better one will become.

But is peer pressure the only form that has doubled the suicide rate over the years. Let’s introduce the new cousin who has its own set of contributions to the same: Virtual Peer Pressure.

Is it a normal sight for you to see your teenaged child’s head buried deep inside his/her smartphone? Well, you may not even know what is keeping them so involved that they aren’t bothered about what is happening around them. This is exactly what Virtual Peer Pressure is.  Showing their presence actively so that their peers accept them. And social media plays the role of the key villain in this whole plot of influencing a teen’s decision making power.

These online activities activate a teen’s thinking and behaviour pattern in a negative manner. They want to ape their peers only to be accepted among them and not necessarily because they believe in that thought process. For instance, studies show that teenagers who viewed and liked photos and snapshots of their peers partying with alcohol were more probable to mimicking the behaviour by indulging in alcohol and smoking themselves. So, it can be rightly said that virtual peers are far more powerful and influential than a teen’s real-life friends.

So what can really be the solution to overcome this? Remember the scene of the newly released film Mission Mangal- where Vidya Balan comes back home after a day’s work and finds her daughter missing in the place she actually should have been and instead was hanging out in a pub? It indeed was one of the remarkable follow up scene, when she asks her husband to change and goes to the pub and dances with her. The inhibition breaks, the daughter realises her wish to party and enjoy was not something to hide from. She realises that her parents have been through this precarious phase too but have chosen to be what they are today. This scene teaches a lesson that gets implied in many ways. Be your child’s best friend and first friend. Build so much confidence in the child that they would share all their secrets and keep their parents in the loop. 

I would like to conclude by saying, a bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking. This is because her trust is placed not on the branch but on its own wings. Give it a thought.

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