Mumbai: How safety worries are weighing down school-going kids

Oct 02, 2017, 08:23 IST | Pallavi Smart

While parents and schools are busy debating better safety measures on campuses, the children themselves have been ignored and are today a confused lot. A special report

"I was fast asleep when I felt a hand around me. Thank god, it was my father. There are so many lectures on good touch, bad touch, it gets scary and confuses us," says Rakshita (name changed), 10. The Std V student is among thousands of schoolchildren who are left confused by their parents' hyper-vigilance after the recent spate of crimes against kids.

Representation pic
Representation pic

Not being able to go on sleepovers anymore, or being allowed to crack jokes with the school bus driver might seem like childish concerns to parents, who are more concerned with protecting their kids. But psychologists have pointed out that this growing anxiety has left the children confused and overwhelmed.

Representation pic
Representation pic

Ever since the horrific murder of a 7-year-old at Ryan International School in Gurugram, and several other such incidents across the country, parents have raised the alarm about lax security in schools — a fear that is further hammered home by media reports. Several schools have tightened security measures, including making changes like excluding male peons from primary sections, keeping only female peons on duty outside students' washrooms, having teachers travel in the school bus with children, as well as posting few teachers to watch the children on the ground and in corridors during recess.

Increasing anxiety
Psychologists are worried that such an alarmist reaction had resulted in even children developing trust issues. Dr Harish Shetty, renowned psychiatrist, said, "We need to be cautious, but there is a thin line between caution and being constantly in fear. Are we creating a generation of paranoid adults?"

After the Ryan school incident, Dr Shetty visited schools across city and spoke to children as well as school counsellors, to get a better idea of children's state of mind these days. Dr Shetty shared the kids' responses on his blog and received tremendous response. "In a day, there were over 25,000 hits. While the safety of our children is important, we must ensure that we do not confuse or make them anxious."

Dr Seema Hingorrany, a psychologist who has also authored a book on parenting, said, "Parents are certainly getting more anxious and this leaves kids with growing trust issues. We have been getting more anxiety cases recently."

Educators speak
When mid-day visited schools in the city, the students reiterated the same concerns (see 'Children scared').

"Children can sense the fear, and they might start doubting everybody around them. That is why it is important that even when we are being cautious, it should happen without the child realising it," said Deepshikha Shrivastava, principal of Rajhans Vidyalaya, Andheri. At this school, male peons have been excluded from primary sections. "But we are making these changes very subtly. As expected, a few children asked us about the peons. We told them the peons were required for some other work," Shrivastava added.

There is growing anxiousness among Class IV employees too. "A few male peons who have been with us for over 20 years have told me that they will not touch a girl student even if she is falling," said Shrivastava, adding that these staffers have been counselled. The principal of another suburban school explained how this fear can prey on kids: "During recess, the primary students walk in queue to the canteen. While there are teachers supervising them, there are some patches where there is no teacher. One of the Std II girls complained there was a big man who touched her friend. When we counselled both girls, it turned out that they were just scared and thought someone was in the corridor."

Children scared

>> 'I reached school early for drama practice and was alone when I took the lift. Laxman mama was in the lift, as usual, to help the students. But that day, my teacher asked for him to hold the lift so she could enter. She accompanied me to the fifth floor and then went back down. It was weird; this had never happened before. Why did the teacher have to see me off when Laxman mama was already there?' - Std II student

>> 'We are going on a picnic, but which teacher and peon will accompany us? Will they be regulars or new ones? Which bus will we go in?' - Std VIII student

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