The internet is abuzz with the horror story about a 15-year-old girl who thought it was easier to face death than be suspended from school over her friendship with a boy from her class and building. Monali Mahala, a student of Bangalore's National Public School (NPS), had allegedly been chastised by the school's principal for hugging the boy on the school's premises. On January 20, NPS authorities allegedly called Monali's mother and informed her about the teenager's "objectionable behaviour" and that she would be suspended for a day and a half. The girl's mother, a manager with a nationalised bank, was also allegedly spoken to rudely. Mother and daughter returned home, and within the hour, Monali jumped to her death from her 10th floor apartment.
Before we debate over where to assign blame for this tragic incident, here are a few facts that are important to know.
1. The average dating age according to this study quoted in the Wall Street Journal is 12.9 years for on-time teenagers. 14.9 year for late bloomers and 10-12 years for early bloomers. "Early starters reported twice as many acts of abnormal or delinquent behaviour as on-time teens and late bloomers. Behaviours included lying and cheating, picking fights, truancy, disobedience and running away," says the article.
This raises the question, given the times we live in, what is the appropriate age to date, or to have friendships with the opposite sex? When do you expect children today to start dating if not in their teens?
2. We recently had Bollywood star Deepika Padukone share her experience with depression and anxiety. This is all in light of India reporting the highest number of suicides in the world. According to the World Health Organisation, young Indians are most vulnerable to suicide, with 35.5 deaths per 100,000 among those between 15 and 29 years of age. There are factors and sub actors that lead to a suicide.
3. Psychologists suggest that suicide is not necessarily an impulsive act. "It has gone through the person's head a couple of times," says psychologist and suicide researcher Michael D. Anestis in this article. "This idea has intuitive appeal. We've seen it in television and the movies - an individual was going along fine until something awful happened and, because in that moment they saw no other escape, they took their own life. This decision is portrayed as something that had not occurred to the individual until that moment, as though it suddenly dawned on them that this opportunity existed, that an answer had been revealed."
4. This is certainly not the first time that we have seen teenagers committing suicide. It brings me back to this article about whether are we communicating well and sharing our emotions enough with our children.
It brings me to certain thoughts that could have perhaps saved this life and maybe a few more:
1. We cannot afford to penalise our kids or pin them against a wall. It is time parents (and teachers) try and understand their children.
2. Let them taste failure and disappointment and learn from the experience. A lack of resilience is strongly associated with depression and suicide. Kids feel unable to handle situations and view suicide as an easier option
3. Boys and girls are bound to be attracted to each other in their teenage years. Are we ready to accept that?
4. You need to be part of their inner circle. Someone who they can trust and speak their minds too. Suspending them from school or shouting at them isolates them and I think we need to respect children more.