The world has made great strides in the last 100 years. Medical science has eliminated or controlled most of the diseases which caused death and disability. The expectation of life has more than doubled in most countries. Electricity and tap water supply have reached the remote villages in most countries. Engineering marvels of buildings, bridges, undersea tunnels, supersonic and space travel are now in private hands too. Communication and multimedia changes are so rapid that previous year’s models become vintage in a year. A formal college education is not a hindrance in setting up a business. Innovation with a business model becomes a ‘startup’. If it is good enough it becomes a ‘unicorn’. Disruption is the key. The list is endless.
The older generation clings to nostalgia, despite the changes for the better. Is it better, they ask? They long for clean and pure air of the fifty’s. Rivers and ponds are so clean that they could actually see the fish and pebbles in them. The villages had mud houses but there were no mounds of stinking plastic and thermocol waste mixed with leftover food. They had large families with relatives and a close circle of friends. In such social groups, each member had a few close persons to share their joy and sorrow, so important for stress release. Children spent their spare time playing outdoors with just one ball or a broken tile. This old generation feels that the present generation of children is missing out on important social and cultural interactions in many different ways. So what is the true social picture, let’s have a look.
Existing Environmental and Social Issues
In the 1950s, people saw tortoises in the Yamuna River and Gharials in Ganga River. Now, these rivers are just a mixture of industrial and city waste. Early morning was considered best to exercise but now it is the worst time because a blanket of pollutants settles down at night. Mountains of household wastes mixed with plastic and thermocol are seen in the periphery of metros, cities and towns. Children are growing up with allergies, asthma and chronic skin diseases. Despite a reduction in Infant Mortality Rate, there are premature deaths in immune-compromised children.
High levels of pollution are causing degradation of human life and have severely endangered the Planet P.C e360.yale.edu
Climate Change & Calamities
Numerous films in the last three decades tried to show the possible scenario of climate change but humans didn’t heed. Fossils fuel use combined with cutting down of forests built by Nature in the last many millenniums has raised the CO2 and temperature on the earth. The present set of international leaders have taken it seriously and have set deadlines for the changeover from fossil fuels to green energy. The aware younger generation has fear instilled in their minds. Fears of cyclonic storms with lightning, unpredictable weather, extremely hot summers, mudslides, and flooding. The world’s metropolitan port towns may go under the sea. This generation is in a silent rage. They are blaming our generation for the mess we have created, collectively on this beautiful planet.
Lurking Disabilities due to Lifestyle Changes
In the last two decades, our food habits have changed tremendously. With the introduction of maida noodles, we have now added burgers and pizza. Along with this maida base, we take processed cheese and or mutton/ chicken. A bottled drink is mandatory and is followed by a dessert whenever we eat out which is quite frequent these days. These high sugar, high salt, and ultra-processed foods have made the current generation obese. Effects are compounded with fewer outdoor sports. More time is spent either in front of the Television or Smartphone. Hence, they are also prone to early onset of fatty liver, prediabetes and hypertension.
Mental Health Maladies
‘Single child no cousins’ combined with ‘both working parents’ has left many a child lonely at home. The child has many fears and apprehensions which need resolution. There is no one to hold their hand. Their stress level remains high. These children, often take refuge in the virtual world of smartphones or tabs. Their addiction to blue screens appears to be a boon for busy parents. But it does alter the psyche of such children. Many remain in the realm of the virtual world and their interpersonal relationships become fragile. They may be easily be lured by fake friends on the Internet or by drug peddlers.
Covid Conundrum and Classrooms
The long periods of lockdowns resulted in the closing of schools and playgrounds. ‘Home classrooms’ combined with parents ‘work from home’ threw unexpected challenges in the family, especially for students of junior classes. The vast middle and the poor class couldn’t afford smartphones or broadband for continuing their studies. In many places, mobile data was simply not available. Drop-outs were high with poor families, where teenage children had to chip in the family income. Private kindergartens and ‘convent’ primary schools were shut down as the parents shifted their wards to free government schools. The government schools in many places were already short of teachers and infrastructure. Now that the schools are reopening, the children would need encouragement from parents and understanding from teachers of their mental status. The conundrum has also limited the children’s ability to view and gain first-hand knowledge from exhibitions, fairs, melas, dramas, Ramlila, Nagar-kirtans, and other such socio-cultural events.
International events, social media, and Google (internet search engines) appear to have increased polarisation in minds of children. [What is a polarised mind – It is a mind stricken with one absolutist point of view, to the utter exclusion, even demonization, of all other views]. Male vs female, upper-caste vs reserved categories, rich vs poor, and majority community vs minority differences appear to be widening. Social media and ugly debates on certain news channels widen the gulf in immature flexible minds. Childhood confusions slowly turn into prejudice resulting in biased adults, which is not good for them or for the nation.
What Can We Do?
Parents have a major role to play, here are a few things we can do to help.
Most of us are trying our best, but here are a few more ideas, buy less and in bulk, carry cloth bags to the market, bury kitchen wastes for making plant manure, donate old clothes and toys till they are of no use, bring your own water bottle, reuse plastics as much as we can.
Grow plants in pots or on the ground, even on the balcony or roof or next to window-sills to reduce air pollution. Take part in Tree plantation drives during monsoons.
Responsible Tourism and Travel
As a responsible traveller, carry your own bag to avoid littering in or out of any mode of transport. Take special care in remote areas and around water bodies.
Focus on Children
Spend more time with children, to help with their mental wellbeing. Be aware of their fears. Listen to them carefully, and note their expressions for any disturbing signs. Play games with children. Teach them the importance of spirituality and meditation. Encourage children to eat more fruits and vegetables. It is a bit difficult but not impossible. However, don’t force, else they may start hating that item. Keep a sharp eye on any change in behaviour, especially mood swings. It is a dangerous sign of drugs, porn or blackmail. Apart Encourage children to undertake physical activities. Outdoor games with other children, cycling or a family walk in the nearby park, depending on the conditions.
Our generation cannot absolve ourselves from the mess we have landed and are handing over to our next generation. We enjoyed our financial success by buying cars, refrigerators, air conditioners, furniture, and gadgets for entertainment. We kept disposing of and kept getting new ones frequently too. All this was supported by manufacturing industries. This has resulted in World Pollution and is also causing Climate change.
It is ‘Payback’ time now. Nature is demanding its pound of flesh. Either we give it now or irreversibly ruin our children’s future.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views of the Government of India and Defence Research and Studies