Change saves lives

Wednesday, 26 February 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

THE spate of suicides by students due to technology-related reasons has forced Sri Lankan society to evaluate its engagement with mobile phones and social media. It has called for a change of attitudes from adults and an effort to understand and equip youth to use technology responsibly. The first incident was of a 15-year-old female student in Kurunegala, who hanged herself after a photo of her posing with a boy was posted on Facebook. The incident has stirred up considerable controversy and serves as a tragic example of how bad a situation can become when it is not handled with care. The brief facts of the case as reported in the media indicate the girl was summoned by the male principal of her school and subjected to vicious verbal abuse, where she was asked to bring her father and publicly beg for his forgiveness. According to reports on the inquest, the student had then returned home, written a three-page suicide note and hanged herself. The fact that her parents were estranged and she had little or no contact with her mother probably served to exacerbate the situation. The photo in question appears to have been taken on a trip and was simply of the student posing with a boy. In fact the picture, which was seen as massively offensive by the principal, had not even been posted on Facebook by her but she had been ‘tagged’ in it by someone else. Is it such a huge affront that a 15-year-old girl be in a photo with a boy? Surely that is normal behaviour? Where does the puritanical line lie in Sri Lankan society and how severe should the punishment be and why is it directed more towards girls rather than boys? These are strong social undercurrents that are thrown up by this tragedy. Unable or unwilling to face the father and the stigma foisted on her, the student had then taken matters into her own hands, with tragic results. A few days later another student had hanged herself over a Facebook issue. A third death happened after a mother took away a student’s mobile, reportedly gifted by the boyfriend. In a fourth incident, a boy is in critical condition after he fell through the roof of his principal’s office while trying to retrieve a confiscated phone. Whatever adults may think, social networking through means such as Facebook and Twitter is here to stay. So are mobile phones. This means that parents and teachers need to find a humane way to set boundaries and teach youth, especially girls, the responsible ways of using these modes of communication. This also means that adults themselves need to determine the type and severity of how children can be held accountable for their actions. Traditional modes of upbringing are being challenged through such social changes and what is acceptable or unacceptable has undergone vast changes over the last few years. The lines between rules are being blurred as never before and adults are usually unsure of how to effectively tackle the fallout. It is a clarion call for change. This is not to condone or promote irresponsible, hurtful and malignant behaviour on social networking sites, but to urge adults to take a step back, learn, understand and engage with children so that technology can be a tool rather than a curse.