The pub kids of Gurgaon

Last Updated: Tue, Jul 16, 2013 14:43 hrs

Some might already have posted a Facebook update; others are probably contrite enough to lie low for a while.

In time, however, every youngster of the 100+ schoolchildren caught drinking in a Gurgaon pub will speak of it as a milestone.

It’s not often that a hundred schoolchildren are rounded up for drinking in India. A whole series of circumstances must have set it up. It could take years for some of those involved to get over this.

Consumption of alcohol and other drugs is on a spiral in India. This report shows India’s current status in drug trafficking. Latest alcohol data should be with us soon.

Perhaps we could try and understand why this happened. What does it mean when so many families are drawn into a drunkalogue they’d rather only read about?

1. The fun starts in the brain

The idea of fun shapes the lives of most youngsters. Parents, teachers and mentors look uncool because they lack the element of recklessness that makes frolic so appealing. But what enables them to perceive pleasure?

This conversation establishes the role of dopamine in helping humans feel good. Dopamine is the reward chemical in the brain. It is possible, just possible, that the dopamine system is in poor health among these pub teens.

This means they may not get a nice buzz with a cup of coffee; they’ll get it with alcohol. Or nicotine, other drugs or simply any activity that seems exciting to them.

It isn’t likely that the parents of these 100 youngsters know of dopamine or what it does. Going to a pub and drinking tops up the dopamine levels in these youngsters to an abnormal level. They love it.

2. Friends are a give away

Most substances enter a person’s life through friends. If friends drink, smoke, or do drugs, a teen is likely to do the same.
Children whose best friends don’t smoke or do drugs, or are teetotalers, tend to keep away from substances. Therefore, it is a good idea to know who a child’s friends are.

A single youngster is almost always embarrassed to say no to substances in parties. It gets easier when two of them say no. The more, the better.

3. Achievement in sport helps

Achievement and recognition release dopamine in healthy doses and help youngsters feel good the right way. Stadia are better places to be than pubs. But children won’t play unless they are taught and motivated to; and unless they are good at it.

Community work is a fine alternative as well. Teenagers can release great energy if they are taught how important it is to help, say, orphans, widows or the otherwise destitute. The idea of contributing to a nation – and being good at it – releases dopamine in right quantities.

Parents and teachers can help here. They may even be called upon to sacrifice. There’s no other way. When this doesn’t happen, pubs and malls become avenues to feel good.

4. Social media counselling is essential

Facebook says you need to be 13 to open an account. But it doesn’t ask if you’ve been educated about the pros and cons of social media. Youngsters swiftly create an alternate universe online.

The children at the Gurgaon pub came from many schools. They connected on Facebook and landed up there for what was described as a party with sex and smoke as the theme.

There’s nothing anybody can do once teens start off on social media. I used to see youngsters fill cyber cafes to check Facebook accounts. They don’t do it in such cafes now because they use smartphones.

There’s no getting away, either way, from social media counselling. The 11-13 age group is probably when the counselling must happen. What to post, who to connect with, what to share, what to be influenced by, and so on.

5. Parent time is better than parent money

Money is important. Mentoring even more so. Parenting is the toughest job in the world. Whatever they do will be criticised more than praised. But it is possible to spend time with children.

Going out and finding that casual neutral space is crucial. It helps have conversations without prejudice. Parents, especially the father, must share with children what happened with them. Not glorifying days of drink and drugs but simply the lessons learned.

Whatever parents do may not help, however, if the right amounts of dopamine are not released the right way. This means helping children excel at sport, outdoor community activity, anything. This takes time, effort and affection.

6. Pubs are social first, commercial later

The strange social fabric of Gurgaon – where women are sexually attacked every day and money is the principal yardstick – may play on the minds of pub owners there. It probably drives them to greed.

But pubs are social institutions first. They are meant to provide a place of relaxation for a few hours before men and women resume the hurly-burly of life. Barmen and pub owners can make out patrons the moment they step in.

A hundred youngsters at one time in a pub should immediately have alerted the owners. Instead of gleefully serving the teens drinks and providing hookahs, the pub staff ought to have told the children to stick to mocktails.

Any decent pub would train its staff in handling underage patrons. There are dos and don’ts for pubs. Presumably they were ignored in this case.

7. Schools could increase social curriculum

It is more important to learn social conduct than text books. The science and art of life are rarely taught as a major subject in schools. The focus is on marks, which has already led to 100 percent marks. They may be far behind in life skills.

You don’t need to sort everything out in your teens; there’s a long life ahead to learn. But it is important to teach life. The practicals of life are not limited to labs.

If we choose to overlook the story of the Gurgaon pub teens, we risk more trouble.

The police come in and they only know how to instill fear. They started to slap the children in Gurgaon and that is a sure way to erode self-esteem and distort personality.

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