Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Don't blame the kids!

Last evening, my friend Archana and I went to the pre-screening of Adrien Brody's new film: "Detachment." The movie, shot in just 20 days, will officially be released in theatres on Friday, March 16. But thanks to Archana, we not only got to watch the movie beforehand but also had the opportunity to hear actor Adrien Brody in person—he barely sat two feet away from us—at the post-screening discussion.

Brody is an incredible actor and eloquent man in person. No airs about him. Real. Sincere. Charismatic. And he is a native New Yorker—you can tell why I am biased.:-)

In the film, Brody plays Henry Barthes, a substitute teacher who drifts from classroom to classroom without making any real connections until one assignment opens up a world of emotion and passion for him. Brody stars in the film, alongside Christina Hendricks, Lucy Liu and James Caan—teachers in a troubled high school, and said he could relate to the powerful character thanks to his father, Elliot, who worked as a public school teacher.

I urge you to watch this film. It’s somewhat melancholic but real & emotional. The movie is the face of reality and our future. It doesn't matter whether or not you are a teacher or a parent; if you are a human being with any concern for the next generation, don’t miss this film.

Both Archana and I took the movie to heart. Maybe because she has a little kid at home and many aspects of the film scared her. As a parent, you want to protect your child from all kinds of evil. As for me, some of you probably know that I am also an educator. I have taught creative writing to people of all ages at schools and universities across the globe. But my recent classroom includes teenagers. I teach them poetry. And I can tell you poetry can reveal a human being's darkest secrets, troubles and reflect on their mental state.

The kids in my class mean a lot to me. Interacting with this age group has made me a different person. Given me a unique understanding of people and situations. Taught me patience and compassion on a level I could have only dreamed about.

As the movie began, in the first 10 minutes a student spat on a teacher. My friend turned to me, "Aren't you grateful for your students?" I replied in the affirmative. But I kept thinking about the act of spitting. A horrible deed, but was it an expression of something deeper?

I am of the school of thought that everyone has something to say. Sure there are exceptions, but majority of teenagers aren't out to get the world. They want to be heard. They are at that awkward age where everything feels dramatic. We have all been there. Hormones, peer pressure, parental nagging, teachers at school, and other outside influences—it's a lot to deal with at such a young age. Then there is rejection, conformity, anger, resentment, and the need to be somebody. By stereotyping them as monsters, we aren't helping anyone.

I want to acknowledge that most teachers and parents try to do their best. But times have changed. As my friend Jaya and I were talking, while our generation learnt to straddle a livable line between what the parents’ dreamed for us versus what we desired, kids today are different. We didn’t have mentors or role models growing up. There was no one there to guide us or discuss career options. Most people caved in and chose a career that their parents wanted them to pursue; a few fought for their rights. Even fewer went rogue. There was no emphasis on individual growth or thinking. Every milestone in life was about homogeneity.

Today if we want younger people to become good human beings, show them how to do so. Don't tell them via threats, screams, and slaps. Be the example. And definitely don’t compare them to others. If your kid is acting up, instead of screaming at them, find out if something is bothering them. If their grades fall, ask them what happened before you reprimand them. If they get into fights, there might be a deeper emotional reason behind it. Don’t assume because every child is different.

I wrote a dialogue, which I still stand by, in my novel Perfectly Untraditional: “Becoming a parent and knowing parenting are two separate things.” My friend Dona, a psychologist, after reading my book wrote back to me saying she was going to print those lines and put them up in her office for parents to see. She too works with teenagers and sometimes parents need talking to more than their kids.

If we want teenagers to listen to us, first we need to lend them our ears. Come to their level and respect them. They will make mistakes. And that’s fine. They are going to be 17 just once. But as adults it is our job to be there for them, without pointing fingers, if they fall.

What we tell people stays with them. I lost my Dada, paternal grandfather, when I was five. Even when he'd lost his voice and cancer got the best of him, he would leave me metaphorical notes. He was the first person who encouraged me to follow the arts. Decades later, I give his example at readings and in my classrooms.

If we could all influence just one person, it would be worth it. If we could inspire one kid to follow their dreams, you would have done a good job as a teacher/parent. If we could all encourage one child from not hurting itself, consider your time on earth worth a while.

More until next time,


Copyright © 03.13.2012

“No one is born a good citizen; no nation is born a democracy. Rather, both are processes that continue to evolve over a lifetime. Young people must be included from birth. A society that cuts off from its youth severs its lifeline.” Kofi Annan


Anonymous said...

Beautiful....I cried!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Very nice Sweta. I will definitely add this movie to my “to watch” list.

s said...

So true
Love it !

It takes a village to raise these kids. It truly is a challenge.