Tag Archives: life

What’s happening inside your teen’s brain?

When my teen argues with me about mundane stuff like not-so-happening dinner, an extra five minutes in the bathroom when he is getting ready for school in the morning; it really irritates me. Here I am either at the end of a long day trying to finish dinner and wind up for the night; or at the start of the day, ensuring he and his brother reach the bus stop on time and all he wants to do is argue. Most of the time the argument is just a couple of lines from his side and a couple from mine, but it does bother me for he has never been the arguing type. I can’t help but wonder what’s up with him – I mean why can’t he just fall in line and do the simple things the way we do: be on time, have the meal without having to discuss it, take a bath in a jiffy… these small things really make me wonder how he is going to be punctual and organized in his adult life.

When I asked him what goes on in his head, he said studies. Not surprising, as he is currently in the middle of his term exams, and he said that was the only thing that was on his mind. This led me to check out what happens in the teen brain and the content that I came across was interesting as it gave actual scientific explanations as to why the teens behave the way they do.

Apparently, during the teens, an individual’s brain is making as many neural connections as the brain of a two year oldtoddler. So just like 2 year olds are prone to tantrums, and mood swings simply because they do not know how to control their emotions, the teens too are going through a similar biological development.

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According to an article posted by American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, adolescents differ from adults in the way they behave, solve problems, and make decisions. There is a biological explanation for this difference. Studies have shown that brains continue to mature and develop throughout childhood and adolescence and well into early adulthood. Here is what the article says about the teen brain:

‘Scientists have identified a specific region of the brain called the amygdala that is responsible for immediate reactions including fear and aggressive behavior. This region develops early. However, the frontal cortex, the area of the brain that controls reasoning and helps us think before we act, develops later. This part of the brain is still changing and maturing well into adulthood.’

As this part of the brain that enables decision making and logical thinking is still under development, teen behaviour is often seen as unreasonable. One moment they can be chirpy, happy and the life of the party and within moments they can change in behaviour and seem withdrawn and aloof.

As parents, we need to understand what these children are thinking and feeling. We need to appreciate that although the teen has almost grown to our size, they are undergoing changes that make them immensely vulnerable and sensitive. We need to appreciate that they are dealing with issues within that they may choose not to talk about and as parents we need to learn to respect their choice.

One of the most common mistakes parents make with issues of a teen, is to ignore the problem, and push it away as a minor phase that will pass. Look up the internet and you will find thousands of young men and women who have gone through the nightmare of being misunderstood, suffering from anxiety, depression, mental illness and most of these young people do not really know whom to reach out to. Telling their parents is usually avoided as they don’t want to worry their parents. And if the child lands in the wrong kind of company, this could spell disaster for the child and the family.

As parents, we need to make time for our children when we do not advise them, give the pep talk or quiz them on their performance in school. They are old enough to know what they want, but usually do not know how to ask for the same.

If you have a teen at home, please do not react to their sullen behaviour or sudden outbursts. Do not ask ‘what is wrong with you?’ even the young teen does not know why he or she is behaving in a certain way, and he / she is pushing the limits to establish new boundaries. Let your child explore new avenues and spaces physically and mentally and let him / her find his own area of comfort and joy.

~ Bharti Athray

Featured image credit: WTOP.com

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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

Are you lying your way through life?

There are those amongst us who are dying a little every day. I don’t know them when I see them but I do know it is a very large number. They are those men and women who are living their lives as lies – they let their dreams fall by the way side as they began to work for large corporates, for paid vacations, for stability. They gave up on their teenage dreams because they fell in love and decided to start a family.

It is so ironic, is it not, that you fall in love with someone because of the dreams they dream, because of the incredible life they see for themselves and yet, as soon as you decide to get together, you almost force the person to give up on that dream because it does not put food on the table each night. It is such a sad story, the story of so many many young couples, who today spend their lives waiting for the next holiday, the next big car, the next new gadget.

All of this because they are quietly dying inside. Of course, you will never know that when you meet them, they seem so happy, so perfect, with their jet-setting lives, you wonder what could possibly be wrong with such people. Yet pick up the papers and you will see, the star couple that till a few weeks ago was being celebrated as the perfect pair are now applying for divorce.

Leading CEOs and their illustrious wives are being accused of murder of their children… seriously, are these signs of a happy, balanced society? Personally, I think not. I believe somewhere in the race to get ahead, to look eternally young, to have the better phone and laptop, to have more followers than all your friends on twitter, you have built yourself a castle of lies and are now stuck inside it.

At this point, I am reminded of a serial I caught bits of recently: on Escobar, the Cuban druglord of the eighties. There is the part where he is on the run and he reaches his father’s home in an unheard of village. His father lets him stay out of courtesy, and there is a scene where Escobar tries to convince his father that he has become a great man. To which his father says, he is ashamed of him, of what he has become.

That is such a truth, it hit me straight in the heart. See, we go from day to day, moving around in our worlds, where we are all heroes to someone. Even Escobar for all his wrongdoings, had fans and people who swore allegiance to him till their last breath.

But this is a make-believe world, that we have created for ourselves. Our social media persona, our blogs, our instagram accounts – through each of these we choose what part of our personalities we want to show the world. The lives that we are living today are uni-dimensional, and so completely out of balance. Every aspect that we share about ourselves, our lunches and dinners with family and friends, the foods we make in our kitchens, the private moments we share with our children… it is all captured with the selfish objective of uploading the images on to the social media.

And those of us who do it regularly have figured out what gets the likes and what does not. To me, we are all constantly manipulating the outside world, put things out that we know others will like, these to me are half-truths. When I see pictures of lunches and dinners with family and friends on public media, I cannot help but wonder how such a private moment of caring justifies being shared with the world. Why? Why would anyone do that? Except to tell others that they hung out with so and so if that person is important, or just to get people to say, Oh Wow!

I have yet to see a negative comment on personal pictures shared, for the simple reason that what happens in your personal life, unless it is an achievement of some kind, does not really matter to the world outside. But uploading these images and getting people to put some silly meaningless comments, I feel one is trivializing the moment and the event. But then that is my perspective, and I come from a world where I had just a handful of friends who knew just some of my secrets.

May be my point of view varies because putting your life out there in the public domain to me appears crass. Most of my social media accounts do not even have my photo in the profile, as I find it embarrassing – I do. I come from the time when you let your actions speak louder than words, and today times have changed.

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Today, you can get shouting from rooftops, long before you have taken even a single step towards your goal. It is called ‘market testing’. And depending on how convincing your spiel is, you are sure to get a few likes, followers, some thumsup and such. I hope one of these days you will begin to realize that this false world is what is killing you. You may have a 1000 fans and yet not one of them may know your deep dark secret. You may have a hundred followers, but nobody you can pick up the phone and chat with when you are feeling low. So what are these people really worth to your real life?

I think those of us who gave up our dreams long ago and now look to this new world to give us acceptance, we absolutely need to figure this out. What are these fans, followers and comments really worth? Are we using these new counts to hide our own deficiencies? Are the happy pictures a cover up for the sadness the world feels inside? Is social media a true mirror of our society or is it just a mirage? Only time will tell.

~ bharti athray

My thoughts and reality

A wild thought races across my mind
A cheetah chasing the deer across the flatlands
I wait, close my eyes to focus on the deer
Yet the details escape me – What was I thinking?

They run faraway into the sunlit horizon of my mind
Till all I can see are two hazy forms running.
A little fuzzball, like a bear cub
Waddles over to the forefront of my thoughts.

My attention shifts, I can see better now.
It’s an idea to create, to do something interesting
To create a soft tactile pillow, soft to touch
Fun to play with. I watch the little bear cub.

Ever so slowly as it rambles around the grass
I see it changing shape, slowing down.
A soft brown felt pillow sits on my sofa.

My son hugs it tight
as he watches his favourite cartoon show
On a sultry summer evening.

~ Bharti Athray

A moment in time

A moment in time –
Hangs like a fine needle
On a long white thread.

I watch the needle swing,
Ever so lightly
In the gentle morning breeze.

The silence lulls my senses.

I take in the moment… the cars, the signal,
the honking seems to come
from somewhere far away.

The summer sun beats down
Upon the metal of my car, my heavy eyelids droop…

Suddenly the needle on the white thread
is thrown about.

A wild gust of wind seems to sweep
across my consciousness,

I shake my head, trying to come to grips with where I am.

The loud horns are
close behind me, the signal has turned
Green. I must move.

The single moment in time – it has passed.

~ bharti athray

A DAY TO FORGET

The little girl ran across the road, chasing a small brown puppy she had just fed. Cars on the road screeched as they swerved to avoid the little body running across the road recklessly. I stood at the bus stop nearby, my heart beating fast as I watched the girl narrowly escape accident twice. While the drivers yelled from behind their wheels, she crossed over to the footpath, and managed to get hold of the brown pup.

Her messy ponytails fell forward as she leaned to pick up the jumpy fur ball. She was scolding him for being naughty or so it appeared to me from where I stood. Slowly my heart calmed down, knowing the girl was safe. As the child continued reprimanding her little friend, completely oblivious of the chaos she had caused on the road, the onlookers slowly shook their heads and moved on.

The world returned to its busy-ness.

I wondered at these strange moments of life, where one wrong step, a second’s delay in braking from one of the many drivers could have changed so many lives in an instant. It could have become a day none of us there would ever forget, in a bad sort of a way. But it had not, the girl, her puppy and the drivers were all safe. And the sun shone pleasantly, making this yet another day I would soon forget.

~ Bharti Athray

MY SISTER’S BIRTHDAY

It was a wet wintry morning, with dew on my window sill. I looked out to see the morning joggers run around the huge ground across the road. I liked gray mornings, they made the day feel timeless. I watched and wondered what the day would bring, when I remembered it was my sister’s 50th birthday. Yes, I had forgotten, well, not forgotten forgotten, but kind of put it away at the back of my mind. And it had suddenly popped out at me.

I sat myself down at my table and pulled out my favorite black diary. I loved writing in it, a dear friend had gifted it to me.

The page looked up at me, like a little child waiting to be told its tale of the day. I smiled as I put my pen to paper, thinking back to the days when we were young, and fought over chocolates, shared candy and lies, kept secrets, and generally grew up at a time when television was a prized possession and channels showed cartoons for a precious 30 minutes a day.

I loved my sister very much, she had been a wonderful confidante to me during my growing years. Of the two of us, she was the prettier one, and she truly dressed for the part. I had grown up looking up to her, but I can’t remember ever envying her the good looks.

My parents always told us we were both special in our own ways. The memories, the chats over tea, the lazy summer afternoons during school holidays made me smile. I so wished I could be with her right now, but she was far away in another city, almost a lifetime away.

Sure, we had kept in touch and shared stories about our boys, but right now, today, I felt it was just not enough. Finally having committed the memories, the reveries and the sweet warm feeling to the pages of my diary, I proceeded to call her.

She was busy getting breakfast ready for her family.
“Happy Birthday, M.,” I wished her. She was pleasantly surprised to hear my voice so early in the morning. “Hey, B., how sweet of you to call. Thanks a ton, B, for calling. But listen, I am in the middle of breakfast,… may I call you back like in 30 minutes?”

“Sure,” I said and hung up. I smiled to myself, the dew from the window had gone, the window was clear, the sun shone brightly through the leaves. The joggers had slowed or so I felt.

I sipped my tea, took a deep breath, watched the lane around my home come to life. Before long, it was time for me to wake up the kids… the moment had passed.

She did call me back a while later, but now, I was rushing to work. We made promises to connect back soon, and I never did get around to telling her just how much she meant to me… then or now. May be, another day. Another birthday.

~ Bharti Athray

Image source: paulagatto.com