“Even the Mighty can fall”- 7 July 2019

I have witnessed many a syndrome with teenagers, one of which I lovingly termed as ‘the topper’s syndrome’. It means when very good students who are always topping or competing for the first three ranks in their academic life, face failure for the first time they subsequently fall into a typical pool of emotional disturbance due to the trauma. The fall from grace in their own eyes is tremendous. The first ever failure is followed by feelings of extreme guilt, sorrow, anger, rage, anxiety, depression and total loss of confidence in self. It seems like doom for them. The manifestation of the disorder however may present itself in diverse ways. Some fly into a rage with simple provocations at home, some withdraw into their shell and lock themselves in their room, some go gallanting with friends overdoing it, some get into the TV and mobile-watching excessively. The parental reactions are equally full of shock and disbelief that their ‘topper child’ can fail. They inevitably dump their shock and rage onto the child and even get aggressive. The blame game starts and there is chaos in the family.

One parent got anxious when their child a 98 percenter dropped her results to 94% and in the subsequent examination to 92%! I wondered what the anxiety was all about. The parents reported that there was a change in behaviour, a change in the friend circle and increasing use of the mobile and social media. That made sense to me and realised that good parents do not wait for the child to fail but want to ‘stitch it in time’ before further damage is done. Early diagnosis makes for good prognosis for the corrective action is taken in a psychological way rather than other non-productive or counter-productive ways. Being alert to the small changes in a child’s behaviour speaks of good parenting rather than the belief that ‘things will be okay soon’.

Sometimes parents delay the process of counselling for as long as two to three years and by then the rate of failure has multiplied many times and the student stands at zero. From ‘hero to zero’ is a process of steady decline and can start with the initial failure from which they never recover and fall into a sort of maze from where they find it difficult to navigate their way out. The process needs to be reversed systematically and it is a slow process. Rohit was a topper till 10 Std and started declining in his performance from Std 11 when he joined a coaching/tuition class and met a girl. He further declined in 12 Std boards and missed his admission to a reputed college as he flunked or did not qualify for the entrance examination. He kept fooling himself that he will pass and do well in spite of innumerable warnings by his parents but the inevitable had to happen. He was also not clear of his future career goals and did not know his interest areas and neither his aptitude/abilities. He was over-confident about himself and his parents were only hoping for the best. However, miracles do not happen and the expected happened. He decided to drop a year and prepare again for the entrance exams and get what he wanted. But his good habits had gone for a toss in the last two years and putting them into proper channel was going to be a herculean task for all.

Whether it is a clear failure or a steady decline the syndrome manifested is similar. We see this failure or decline generally from 11 Std or from first year of college. A good student in school environment is safe, protected under the watchful eyes of the class teacher and is monitored and guided properly (by good schools or by a conscientious teacher of any school). The moment the child experiences ‘freedom’ by joining a coaching centre where the care and protection component decreases dramatically, some may not be able to handle it appropriately. They can lose their mind and become carefree and over-confident of their capabilities. A student was put through rigorous coaching from Std 9 through Std 12 where he did well and got his admission into a college of his choice. He failed in the first semester itself for he was ‘fed up with the regimentation for last four years’ he said! He wanted to freak out, bunk classes, watch movies and picnic with friends! He wanted a breather and was suffocated with the ‘prisoners routine’! He said his parents always promised him freedom ‘from next year’ which never came. He was rebelling to the best he could! There is a lesson here in this story to be learnt by over-strict and over-ambitious parents. A balanced approach is best where the child plays as well as studies.

We know of many great people who have fallen from grace after major achievements and success. To name a few- Amitabh Bachchan a celebrated actor who went bankrupt when he tried his hand at business, Sanjay Dutt another talented actor who served a jail sentence for his involvement in the 1993 bomb blasts, Deepika Padukone who suffered severe depression in spite of her successful stint, Lance Amstrong, the international cyclist who won seven medals for winning the Tour de France and was later stripped off of all his medals for doping, Tiger Woods the most respected and renowned golfer who fell from grace for his scandals. Many of them made successful comebacks after a bad period to gain the love and respect of people.

It is important to understand that the damage can be checked and reversed as they regain their lost glory at a point of time. Everybody needs a chance to come back and we must trust and respect their superior abilities to do so. However, the moral to remember is that even the mighty can fall, then why blame the inexperienced and innocent teenagers and youth. Give them enough chances to prove themselves.

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