I met a 15-year-old who had gone for a school camp to Auroville, Puducherry. There she had stayed in a vegan community. Through discussions and watching documentaries, she got an exposure to the inherent cruelty of the meat and dairy industries. She was stunned to realise that she had had no clue about what the reality was behind the food she was eating every day. She came home and told her family she no longer wanted to eat any animal products, as she felt that not only was it inhumane but it was also a leading cause of lifestyle health diseases. Her largely meat-eating family found this difficult to accept, and they refused to support her decision. For a few days, she tried to manage her own food but found it too hard. Thus, her idealism was squashed and she went back to doing what had always been done, putting aside her own doubts and questions.
This incident made me realise that young people inherently have so much compassion. They are idealistic. They care about things around them and truly believe they can change the world. Do we as a society (especially parents) encourage and support this amazing energy of the youth or do we often squash it? Do we listen to what they are saying or do we dismiss many of the questions they raise as ‘just a fad’? Do we realise that some of the questions they bring up may just be what society needs for a better world?
Here are some real-life stories of the idealism of teenagers which most parents would have not encouraged (but luckily these did).
A friend of mine has a daughter Sheena who shaved her head (not for religious reasons) in Class 10. I thought that it was just typical teenage rebellion or a fad, and asked my friend why she had allowed her daughter to do this.
The truth was stunning - apparently, Sheena’s friend in school had a skin problem on her scalp and had been asked by the doctor to shave her head. Since the friend was feeling so self-conscious about this, Sheena had decided to support her by shaving her head too!
I also know of a youngster who, during the Chennai floods, wanted to volunteer to rescue stray animals who had been stranded by the flood waters. This meant wading through filthy water and trying to rescue frightened animals that might bite you. The dangers were immense, but his parents bravely took the decision to support him.
These stories and many more got me thinking about how much these young people care. They question the dominant paradigm and want the world to be a better place. Yet these are the years when we practically cut them off from society and require them not to be ‘distracted’, because we are so worried about their board exams, marks and making sure they ‘succeed’.
As a parent, I was wondering whether we are responsible for pushing them to be ‘inward-looking’ rather than ‘outward-looking’. We want all their energy to go into studies and tuitions, exams and personal monetary success, rather than in going out and actively participating in society through volunteering, taking up causes or other such interactions.
With these thoughts, I am dreaming of what the world could be if we freed our teenagers of the burdens of our expectations regarding academic success, and instead listened to them about the kind of world they wish for and supporting them in unleashing all their energy for change.
— The author is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organisation which empowers parents to build deeper connection in families. To know more about our programs and workshops, look us up www.parentingmatters.in