Is your teen fascinated with Death?

Having taken up this topic for the article, I did a bit of research online and found that teen fascination with death is a common phenomenon among youngsters today. Apparently there are Death Cafes that have opened up in different parts of the world where young adults can come and talk about Death and related issues. Apparently the ancient Egyptian approach to death with embalming and mummification in an area of special interest for these young minds.

I found it interesting to note that this fascination with Death according to one article by The Guardian comes from the fact that these days, we don’t talk about death with our children, we avoid talking about it because we are uncomfortable with it.

In the earlier generations, death in families was a common phenomenon where children living with their grandparents would see death at close quarters, illnesses and diseases were common and families often lost a child or two to diseases like tuberculosis or cholera; so children grew up seeing death around them.

Today, children for a long time do not understand the permanence of death. Look at the cartoons they watch, a character can be squashed or pushed down from the 20th floor of the building and it will get up, dust itself and start walking around. Further, video games are full of children shooting and killing the bad guys, so there is no sense of guilt, or remorse when you shoot or kill someone. It’s just a part of the game and you are doing it to increase your score.

It is only as the young children enter their teens and start taking interest in the real world around them – through news, the television shows that they begin to realize that death is different from how they have understood it all along. It is at this stage that they realize the permanence and definiteness of death. Now they look for ways to understand this very important aspect of existence.

When I spoke to my teen and asked him about his fascination for this subject, here’s what he told me:

  1. It does not fascinate me
  2. I am not scared of death
  3. All of you guys are scared of death, I can see it in your eyes.

I am not sure what is it that he can see in our eyes, but with due respect to his opinions, I wonder what is it that he has observed in the adults that makes him believe that we fear death. For as a family, we don’t.

Personally, I don’t think I have ever feared death, after all, whether you fear it or you don’t, you will ultimately die. And just because you are going to die, you cannot stop living. It is about making the most of your time here on earth. Everything stops to exist at some point in time: plants, animals, mountains, rivers… it is part of the cycle of the universe. Yet while they exist, they do their bit to make this world a little better.

As part of my research, I found that this sudden realization that once you are dead, well, you are just dead; this reality makes the teens question everything that we do and strive to achieve. After all, one day we will all be dead and how will anything we do make a difference to the world afterwards? This existential question is a difficult one to answer, and given that our entire culture is today built around the idea of ‘living for the moment’, there is no seriousness towards leaving behind a legacy. With so many young couples choosing to live together for a short while, not have children, the need to leave behind a legacy is just not felt.

The choice of living for today, for the moment, while it makes sense when one is trying to live a stress free life, can also tend to make one’s life a tad meaningless. When you have no purpose in life other than indulging your senses, you will soon find your senses over time become numb to the same stimulus. They do not get as excited over parties, drink, sex as they did when you began to indulge in these activities initially.

Then to find even more excitement for the senses, the youngsters begin to experiment with substances, unnatural sex and drink themselves senseless. It is in this space that a majority of youngsters find themselves, with no elder to speak to, no one who can guide them out of this quicksand. Some teens smarten up and realize they are wasting away their lives and talents and need to get their act together: at times to support their families, at other times to get their careers in order.

And then there are others who come from very comfortable homes, where they are not questioned about what they do with their time and money, there is no pressure on them to perform at the academic level, their future has been well taken care of by their doting parents – it is this lot that usually slides into the quagmire of decadent living, taking every pleasure to the extreme.

These are the youngsters who cannot think beyond the next party, the next shopping trip with their friends, the next international holiday… they actually begin to believe this is what all of life is. And the idea of death seems like a fairytale. Everything appears so perfect in their hazy world that for them even death is something to be experienced and probably to be awakened from the next day, with a bad hangover.

What can we do as parents of teens growing up in this world where everything appears ‘happy’? Well, I think we need to speak to our kids and understand what are their ideas of death and life. Understand on what basis they are forming their opinions, and see if we can introduce them to some realities of life and the practical aspects of how lives are built, of how families bond and depend on each other and the important role that each individual plays in his or her family, community and on a larger scale the society.

What the young teens today lack is the big picture, they fail to see how what they will do is going to fit into the world as it exists today. My son has told me things like, ‘your generation has messed up this world and now we will have to deal with this’. If this is any indicator of what teens today feel, I think it is our responsibility to help them explore and realize that the world is really a beautiful place. And while yes, there are lots of things not right – which may always have been the case, each of us has the power to make a difference in our own circle of influence, and we need to have skills, knowledge and the attitude to make the difference.

Merely getting fed up with all that is wrong and trying to escape from reality is not the answer. The answer lies in looking at this problem in the eye and having the guts to set it right. If you and I can help our teens understand and look at the world from this perspective, I think we will be one step closer to nurturing a generation that is more fascinated with life than it is with death.

~ Bharti Athray

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