We all want to believe in that rosy picture of healthy, happy children playing with each other, in complete harmony with nature and the world. So where do we go wrong? When does this innocence give way to pent up emotions like anger, guilt and regret? At what point do we turn these children into anti-social elements? All these questions and more came up during this Friday’s Chatting over Coffee, which discussed juvenile delinquency and the media influence.
In a society like ours, where childhood and innocence are invariably linked, what gives rise to crime among children? To identify the root of this issue, it is necessary to probe a little deeper into our concepts of ‘childhood’. This, either by stepping into the shoes of a child who develops his or her sense of self based on societal pressures and expectations, or even just by going back to our childhood days.
To begin with, a child starts forming an identity, a sense of self, by exploring the world around him or her. This child shapes himself or herself based on the very strong influences of family and society. He or she learns that he or she will have to live up to certain expectations. These expectations are set by the society and the family based on popular notions which may or may not be healthy for the child. But being commonly accepted, the child is taught at a very young age, through his or her interactions with people around him or her, that these are the ideas that the child must believe in. For example, a child who wants to be a bus conductor is taught that it is a ‘lowly’ job and does not fit in the kind of role the child is expected or ‘supposed’ to play in the society.
Though this may seem to be a very trivial matter, this hinders the process of the child developing an identity for himself or herself, and forming interests, passions and beliefs which form the basis for the child’s sense of self. When this sense of self is built on such a shaky foundation, is it any wonder that it comes crashing down at some point of time? A minor is always looked down upon as one who cannot take decisions for oneself. This kind of undermining the child’s status also builds up resentment in the child.
So how does this connect to juvenile delinquency? Its pretty simple. These societal influences are the ones that shape a child’s behaviour. So now we can say that if a child indulges in crime of any sort, a major chunk of the responsibility must be borne by the society itself. A few examples might give us a clearer picture.
Take the case of a child who is beaten up every day for no reason, or maybe small mistakes. This child grows up learning and absorbing the wrong idea that violence is the only way to react to any unpleasant situation. Unpleasant situation as in one which does not work out in the way we want it to. So naturally when the child does not like something, violence is going to be the path he or she turns to in an attempt to set things right.
Or say a child who is hungry steals food…
Or a child who is angry kills…
Now to examine where the media comes into this. In today’s context it is not possible to distinguish the society from its media. People in a society are simply blind followers of values, beliefs and ideologies that are propagated by its various media. The same holds true for children. Violent video games, movies, cartoons and the like cater to young, impressionable minds and implant value systems which we would consider quite inappropriate in them. Insensitivity to the value of life, to ethics, to ethical practices is held in high esteem by the media we encounter every single day of our lives. This passes on to children and invariably they end up believing in things that can lead them to get themselves involved in anti social activities. The protagonist in a movie might kill a villain and harp about this as a great achievement. Here the value of life is understated and not given due importance. Minor, everyday things like these build up, starting small but growing into something quit big and sinister.
How do we change? Change can come about only through conscious effort. A better approach by juvenile rehabilitation homes, less stigma, less of blind media propagated beliefs may be a start. Once again, it all comes down to us. The change starts within ourselves, and then moves on to family, community, society and ultimately the nation. Lets try to be a little less judgemental, a little more trusting, and learn to question what we think is wrong. Let us stand on our own feet and decide our own beliefs rather than let someone else do it for us. Then we can hope for a better place, a better world. Where childhood is still beautiful.