Bringing Up Children in the Age of Political Protests
With the recent incident at Bidar School, it is important to ask how deep will the impact be on the child?
On 21 January, Shaheen School in the Bidar district of Karnataka staged a play on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC). This play was performed by students of classes 4, 5 and 6. On 26 January, Bidar Police registered an FIR on a complaint filed by an ABVP activist. The complaint accused the school authorities of ‘insulting’ Prime Minister Modi and soon case of sedition was registered. Bidar police arrested a parent of an 11-year-old and the teacher-in-charge of the play; both of them were remanded to judicial custody.
As children we are often surrounded by people with varied political ideologies, while we can choose our peer group who share a similar viewpoint but we don’t have a choice when it comes to our family.
Should a child, who is still in the process of understanding and grasping the atmosphere around, be forced into choosing a side? Experts say a parent should be able to inculcate larger values, values of accepting differing opinions and asking important questions.
Bidar police conducted an interrogation in which they questioned students aged between 9 and 12 for hours for five times over 9 days. During the interrogation, students were repeatedly quizzed over the ‘anti-CAA’ play.
Child rights and Human Rights activists have condemned this incident and have called it a blatant violation of the Juvenile Justice Act (2015)
They say the illegal action of the Bidar police can have a long term mental health impact on the students. During the interrogation parents or counselors of students were not allowed in the room.
What Impact does it leave on a Child?
Shaheen Khan, MPhil scholar from TISS (Tata Institute of Social Sciences) in the field of psychology expresses her concern on the current political unrest, “we need to remember that children are not immune to political unrest and social uncertainty," she adds,
"While political unrest may not involve large-scale destruction associated with wars or genocides but repeated exposure to less extreme events may have detrimental effects on mental health, but also their general orientation towards the future.”
In a statement released by the child rights group, teachers and educationists mentioned:
Schools should be seen as the training ground for democracy where students can express themselves without being subjected to ‘police interrogation.’
Our Constitution promises the freedom of speech and expression to all its citizens including its children
“Long-term consequences of exposure to sustained political violence can take the form of PTSD, anxiety and depressive disorders,and culturally formulated expression of distress. We need to understand that children might not be psychologically mature enough, they may not be equipped to deal with the exposure to violence and for them, and the possible damage could be quite severe. Adults need to be there for children to build resilience and strength in them which will/can act as a counterbalance to the current political unrest.’’Shaheen Khan, MPhil Scholar, TISS Mumbai
Theory of Child Development
American psychologist, Urie Bronfenbrenner, formulated the Ecological Systems Theory of Child Development, in this theory he explained how the inherent qualities of children and the environment they have been exposed to influence their growth and development.
Bronfenbrenner’s ecological model organizes ‘context of development into five levels of external influence.’ These ecological levels are categorized from most intimate level to most external.
Annie, a renowned counseling psychologist said that the development of a child is affected by the political system of the country; she further mentioned that our country needs confident, free-minded and self-opinionated citizens but the media should be more responsible while reporting, as bigotry and prejudice can be an outcome of such incidents.
Annie stated that the interrogation by police will impact children and develop fear psychosis. The trauma can become recurrent in the child’s mind which can cause emotional disturbances like anxiety, guilt, shame, and a sense of insecurity.
With the current political unrest in the country and the recent incident at Bidar School, it is important to ask how deep and long lasting will the impact be on the child?
Dr Samir Parikh, one of the leading psychiatrists and the Director of the Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Fortis Healthcare, says that various variables impact the thought process of a child.
A child might differ from his or her family’s ideology, and it might change as the child grows up, this change of opinion happens because in today's era children are exposed to different social media platforms and television news, the child might form his/her opinion influenced by the narrative presented to them.
When asked about the Bidar police interrogation, Dr Parikh stated that interrogating children is against the law of the state and should not have been done without the consent of a parent or counselor.
Dr. Parikh emphasized that the society should work towards the development of a child’s mental health, the society should consider itself responsible towards children, they shouldn’t let their bias affect a child’s thought process.
How Can We Help a Child Who Has Undergone a Trauma?
A Child is not a pawn, and their brains are still at a developing stage and they primarily rely on information fed to them by adults. It is the duty of a parent and the society to treat children with respect and to provide them with the correct information without bias, the child should be able to decide his/her political inclination, parents should be able to accept and appreciate the difference of opinion, say various experts.
It is important to respect a child’s agency and build a sense of autonomy in them. When children are well informed, it helps in developing their self-esteem.
Children who have undergone trauma should be taken to basic trauma therapy depending on the level of trauma.
A professional or parents cannot force a child to recover from a traumatic stress but can play a major role in the healing process.
Parents can spend quality time with their kids, talk to them face to face, create an environment where the child feels safe to talk to and won’t hesitate while expressing his or her fear.
Question the child, do not force them to answer, but express their concern.
Validate their concerns, a traumatic event may lead to feeling of insecurity and fear, comfort your child, make them feel understood, acknowledge their fear.
Minimise the media exposure, excessive media coverage may create traumatic stress, prevent your child from viewing Television or social media.
Encourage your child to participate in sports and outdoor activities, this can help rouse child’s nervous system from a stagnant feeling.
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