What is your politics doing to your children’s minds?

During my medical school days when I would visit home for vacations, my younger siblings, who were going to KG at that time, would flabbergast me with political questions. It was summer of 2009, when one day my little comrade with his quizzical looks, asked me about political turmoil and corruption in Pakistan which, of course was not less than a shock for me.

Probably, in his puerile mind, he wanted to know why in our country these occurrences were prevalent. He also heard of bomb blasts and certain people killing other people. I got worrisome, indeed, that what exactly was irking his mind.

I had to calm him down first to be able to recognize what was he thinking. It was revealed to me that he overheard his teachers discussing content of newspapers and related stories at school. I could not explain to him the literal meaning of these new words he learned that day. But for his understanding I made him imagine the bad guys in Superman Return promoting their agenda against the good guys.

Incessant political glitches and post 9/11 addition of terrorism have been daily news in our country. It is important for us to comprehend that hostile political environment can have profound impacts on adolescents’ brains and mental health. Needless to state here, understanding how humans learn and acclimatize to information both pleasant and hostile, from infancy to adulthood, a subject of equal importance.

Children learn their environments and selves, and grow into adults

A whole human brain, fully functional, intelligent, cognizant of environment and self, and sentimental, is not a complete package one gets at birth. Human brain goes through chronological and learning spectacles after birth till it contains all the information desirable to operate in this world.

Every day is like a new long lecture of absorbing and decoding information. Learning of the natural dogma of physical world, perception and expression are archaic psychological principles humans inherited through evolution. What the environment and society offer in the form of pleasant or hostile stimuli, and how the human brain perceives it, shape the overall behavioral disposition of a person. It is important to state here that unpleasant stimuli might have profound impacts on young brains’ functionality and perception of the world. The experience of traumatic information might leave firm scars on their inner world.

My generation born in the 80s and 90s

In a country like Pakistan where political downfalls, corruption, unemployment, religious intolerance and extremist skirmishes did occur over the last couple of decades, there impact on adolescents’ mental faculties and psychology, cannot be overlooked. Letting one generation lost to the separation of Bangladesh and Russia-Afghan war, my generation has also grown in a hostile environment of political irregularities such as impeachment of prime minister, coups, election fraud, failed governments, corruption and mismanagement of resources. Post Russia-Afghan episode, the hope for my generation born in the late 80s and early 90s, for a peaceful realm remained a hope only. Becoming nuclear power was a transient pride on the young minds of teenagers.

Soon the deepest abyss of terrorism, post 9/11 era, was waiting for us, like we were predestined for this to be engulfed by it, to pay for the sins of our forefathers. Like it was bound to happen and we were so easily allowed to grow in such unkind and tormenting milieu. There was no savior to tell us that tomorrow would be better. Our only ungodliness was to be born in such times.

We have experienced tragic news personally, indirectly, on TV, on social media, at home, in school, everywhere. I remember my hostel days when friends would gather in recreation room, called common room, and talk the bad news. Bomb blasts, the killings of innocent citizens, bad guys, corruption, tyranny, and the list could go on. Every time at the news of a bomb blast somewhere in the country, the despondent and melancholic faces would speak a million words.

In the end all would say, nothing can be done for this godless country. Some would say if a person like Abdul Sattar Eidhi exists, Pakistan and our generation still have a chance to live in togetherness. You can call it height of optimism to stitch the wounded generation with an old man’s superman-like capabilities. Majority hoped Imran Khan or our celebrated army could do a wonder. At least we have made a pact with time that hope was never lost!

Important to mention here, is that hostile environment has profound impact on mental faculties of adolescents. Adolescents are at a stage where they learn to understand responsibilities. They start setting up future goals and taking control. The brain has not learned everything at this stage and therefore, has a high tendency to rebel in place of a more mature response. Relentless hostile stimuli might lead to sub-clinical chronic depression and cognitive dysfunction which can disrupt performance in education and societal fabric.

For adolescent transition into adulthood becomes difficult in an environment of conflict. Understanding responsibility and becoming part of constructive social fabric get brunt. Disruption of mental faculties of adolescents might lead to poor utilization of power increasing tendency of wrong decisions and judgments in future. They are also susceptible to undervalue important things and get involved in harmful acts.

What friends from my generation failed to comprehend was that all those villainous events happening had actually affected them mentally. They were becoming rebellious and unempathetic at the same time. Their misery did not just end at ‘nothing can be done’ but it had everlasting effects on their mental functions as well. The future seemed bleak and they were forced to riot or become uninterested. The unwelcoming environment might have affected their cognitive functions and mental health. I think our generation could have done a lot better in all walks of life, had there been a relatively better state of affairs.

The last hurt in the form of Panama Papers showing several Pakistani individuals including the premier, involved in unembellished corruption, is another plot against the bruised ego of my generation.
The apathetic demonstration towards politics and country among American generation X or crybabies had abysmal reasons.

Breakdown of traditional family structure, more awareness of political rights via television, failure of governments to perform and in return government bashing, became the norms. More importantly there was an increasing trend in financial insecurity in post baby boomers’ era, due to the slipshod attitude of politicians. The change in political scenario shaped Americans’ behavior towards nationalism and politics.

Similarly in Egypt dissatisfaction among the youth can be observed, for obvious reasons of not inheriting a pleasant environment. Their discontent can be acknowledged and a revolution is in line in the form of youth taking over.

Firm resolve is the need of time

One thing is for sure that we have fought the worst times and grown into adults. We have become matured, not by the normal education process, but by abuse and torture.

Our political and governmental structures need to take us seriously and channelize our energies into more productive directions. It high time they realize to invest in youth’s education, development and character building.

They should also be bestowed upon more employment and growth opportunities. Our future generations also need to be prevented from going into the same acrimonious cycle of mental trauma and despair. These endeavors will help grow a cohort with sound mental health and cognition to excel in their expertise.

References:

1. Anita Thapar, Daniel S. Pine, James F. Leckman, Stephen Scott, Margaret J. Snowling, Eric A. Taylor. Rutter’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. August 2015, Wiley-Blackwell.

2. Ted Halstead. A Politics for GenerationX.The Atlantic. August 1999.

3. David E. Bloom. Youth in the Balance.Finance & Development. March 2012, Vol. 49, No. 1

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Farid Khan

The author is a medical graduate, currently doing research in clinical neuroscience and human behaviour. He can be reached at drfaridkhan@hotmail.com