There is something palpable and alien, rearing and growing up in our schools.
It is the increasingly acknowledged phenomenon of dating. An entirely new and unfamiliar frontier for all concerned, this high school culture is cocking a huge snook at the hitherto acceptable definitions and parameters of teen discipline, safety and security.
What used to be spoken of in hushed undertones gets progressively audible as teachers, parents and staff members watch young people pushing the envelope, literally. Coming upon unexpected incidents of intimacy do not shock anymore and it is fairly de rigueur to have the educational spaces populated by dopey looking couples, shuffling in an invisible pink bubble, wearing school uniforms. It is as though the entire dynamics of the school system has swung from performance based self-worth to relationships oriented wellbeing. Watch that awkward spring to their steps and a shy voltage around them, you can’t miss it.
There used to be such a stigma attached to even a hint of these engagements in the past that one has to stop and wonder at the currently charged academic environment. What do these relationships signify in a time and space that is primarily earmarked for learning and value addition? How is this emotional maze impacting one of the most impressionable and vulnerable segments of our population? At a phase in life when they should be completely focused on their own development and growth, is it doing them any good to draw their self-esteem from amorous equations with other young people as wet behind the ears as they themselves?
I feel concern at this new-fangled world of relationships where closeness is illusory, based as it is on instant communication powered by text messaging and Google talk. There is no distance or breathing space to reflect on the friendship as the young lurch from one emotional strife to another, hanging out or hooking up. There is a real danger of jealous and controlling behavior being mistaken for love. And how about the other, gender based issues of unrealistic demands being made on either or partner? With the adolescent's need for autonomy and high dependence on peers, dating violence and sexual assault go unreported for the most part. As of now, there seems to be nothing in the way of their first line of defense moreover. Truth be told, we are all in a blissful state of denial, shaking our heads and saying that this problem is exaggerated.
It is not. There is a real, clear and present world of sexual hostility out there in our schools. It ought to be addressed with a stated policy on gender discrimination and sexual assault by individual institutions. We are not talking statistics and case histories here, these are real people, our friends, students, acquaintances and family members who are struggling with overwhelming emotions and pressures. The first thing to do is to call attention to it, to report it so that it does not go unpunished or unnoticed.
Too many young people are thrashing about in whirlpools of confusing signals with no clear roadmaps from adults who refuse to look their way from their spots in the sand. Schools have an obligation to promulgate policy, related handling procedures and necessary disciplinary action to deal with such incidents. Mere standing guard and physical vigilance is not good enough just as it does not help to call parents and engage in mutual blaming. These are civil rights we are talking about, the right of a student to receive instruction in a safe, comfortable and non-threatening space. Adults in charge of the young cannot use the excuse of having no knowledge of their adventurism to escape accountability.
Sexual harassment starts with standing in the basket ball grounds and rating the other gender on a scale of ten. Let’s acknowledge its existence and educate students on what is healthy and what is not;what is safe and what is not; what is empowering and what will damage them for life.
We have a new epidemic on our hands: the MYDS or the Modern Young’s Dating Syndrome!!