This year the CBSE student counselling helpline received nearly three times more calls from boys than girls. The Central Board of Secondary Education’s (CBSE) annual outreach programme to help students beat exam stress takes off in February every year and provides counselling to students till April. However, students continue to call the helpline number even after the results are announced and then the counselling team tries to address their stress-related queries ranging from break-up issues, the parent-children argument to difficulty in memorising, nervousness, etc.
However the significance of the gender-wise break up of this data cannot be ignored. Why is it that more boys reached out for help than girls? Does this indicate a deep-rooted problem with the way we bring up our boys?
The toxic upbringing which boys receive in Indian society, ensures that they grow up firmly adhering to the idea of manhood.
They are conditioned to becoming rough and tough. They are consistently told to hold up “like a man”. Be it under immense pressure to do well in exams or find a job. Be it when they get rejected in love or suffer from mental-health issues. Boys are led into believing that real men keep their emotions in check and find a solution instead of asking for help. This attitude makes it impossible for men to open up to friends or family members in time of distress. But this stress does not stem singularly from the pressure to do well in exams. Boys in our country are buried under immense pressure to succeed in life.
Dr Apoorva Deshpande (MS (psychotherapy & counselling), MA (Clinical Psychology) has worked as a private counsellor, in Pune, for the past five years. She thinks that boys are more peer pressured to do well than girls. She says, “The stress and coping mechanisms in adolescents is highly humoral in mechanism. As girls tend to achieve hormonal stability relatively earlier than boys (based on puberty onset). That can be a reason for more stress-related issues in boys.”
“Also, psychologically speaking, boys are more peer pressured. This ultimately adds to the stress leading to more appeals for help more from boys than girls.”
Meanwhile, psychologist Meenal Varangaokar, who works as a counsellor at Gokuldham High School, in Goregaon (Mumbai) points out at the cultural influence which leads boys to believe in what counts as “manly behaviour”.
“Evolutionarily, males have been looked upon as solution seekers. So if they face any issues, they would want to get to the depth of the problem and understand its cause.”
Varangaokar continues, “There is immense societal pressure too, on men to perform well and do better career wise, so that they get better packages, as boys even today are considered to be the breadwinners in a family.” She also points out, “The availability of resources for boys could be more than girls.” Which would indicate that more boys have access to help, than girls do.
Whether it is the availability of more resources, peer pressure to succeed, or the toxic upbringing which shames those who seek help, the root cause of all these problems is our patriarchal culture.
The favouritism which society and parents show towards boys has made them believe that they are second only to god. They are to bring fame, money and good fortune to their parents. They are to realise those dreams which parents themselves failed to fulfil. They have been tutored to live up to the image of the ideal man so much, that they are afraid to ask for solutions. The barrier of shame stands between them and their peers. Boys cannot reach out to those who are closest to them, because they do not want to be chided for doing so.
These cries for help are a warning of decay in the way we bring up our boys.
We have ended up making them brittle, in an attempt to toughen them up. If a child is unable to reach out for help during his teens, we cannot expect him to do any better when he grows into an adult. Thus, instead of teaching boys to be solution seekers, or burdening their immature conscience with Gargantuan expectations, let’s tell them that it is okay to ask for help. It is okay to admit that you are afraid. Foremost, let’s teach them that failure is much a part of life as is success. And that one should not be ashamed of failure or inability to cope with life.
As Charushilla Narula Bajpai, Founder Director and Key Mentor of University Connection perfectly sums it up, “Let’s encourage this ability to seek help and guidance. It takes courage to admit to your weaknesses and reach out. Parents, teachers, counsellors, please take notice of your boys (and girls). Just keeping an open-door policy at school is not enough, building confidence among your students to be able to walk through that door is imperative.”
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own