Spoils of the New Age

For every nation, every new generation holds the promise of a better tomorrow. A popular cold-war strategy among nations is to target the youth of one’s foes to make them vulnerable to corruption and hence weaken it from the inside.

In the past decade, Pakistan has opened up to the new world order or the concepts of the global village, as many like to dub it. Although the boons have been many, it also has its fair share of banes, such as new family values which have led to the new age of the nuclear family where independent family units are so engrossed in the business of making money and holding separate jobs to provide modern-day comforts that they and up ignoring the ones they love – their children. Once left on their own devices, the young become vulnerable to all sorts of external dangers, the most prominent of them being mental, physical and drug abuse.

However, this is just one side of the picture. Even in closely guarded and monitored families, there can be no guarantees that the youth are in safe hands. Once they step out of the house for studies, recreation or just to meet friends, societal norms dictate the influences in their lives, which ultimately lead them to make choices of their own. Hence the adage that “A man is known by the company he keeps”.

But it is not just the urban landscape that throws these challenges in the face of its youth. Even in the remote villages of the vast continent of Africa there is a popular saying that goes something like it takes a whole village to raise a child.

The fact of the matter is that the youth of our day and age are faced by countless challenges and options which were not available to the generation before them even as recent as a decade ago. Thus, they find themselves lost, which their parents know nothing about, the only influence being that of their peers.

Salman Ahmed was a sprightly 17-year-old fresh out of school and looking forward to the opportunities and freedom that college life has to offer. He befriended a whole new bunch of college buddies, severing the umbilical cord that bound him to his other friends from school in order to be hand out with the cool crowd. Soon, life in the fast lane began to take tool on him his grades plummeted along with his health now that he was smoking pot, he started having confrontations with his parents who knew something was amiss and he was always asking them for pocket money. However, before he could reach the point of no return, his father discovered him smoking pot with his friends at a popular hangout and dragged him back home and kept him under a watchful eye. Soon, he was gotten admission in a foreign university and whisked off to the UK. And of episode? Well, till the last reports came in many ways.

But not all stories have such a happy ending. Murtaza plummeted to the depths of moral decadence by stealing money from his widowed mother’s purse to support his addiction. Finally, the day came when he sold some of her jewelry and was admitted in a rehabilitation centre to cure him of heroin addiction. He managed to break free and has since been missing for three years now. His mother and siblings have all but given him up for dead.

Youth today don’t respond too well to restrictions, which has become a parenting dilemma in the 21st century. Even when certain restrictions are followed by the younger generation, the threat of an impressionable teenager succumbing to peer pressure and entertaining anti-social habits in his lifestyle always remains.

A case in point is Azeem, a second-year F.Sc student studying in a reputable college in Karachi senior. “I started smoking when one of my seniors whom I considered my best friend forced me to take a drag from his cigarette while sitting in the company of some other boys gradually, he started giving me pot to smoke without my knowledge. When I told him the stuff I was smoking tasted funny, he would always say that it was probably counterfeit to ease my mind. Gradually, I could feel the addiction to pot taking control, but he insisted that it was nothing.

Then, one day, while we were all crashing at a mutual friend’s place whose parents were away, my friend took out some white powder and after taking a drag from it, told me to try it out. It was then that I freaked out and said no. He literally tried to force me to give it a shot but I managed to shake him off and have stayed away from him since then. I also admitted everything to my elder brother who understands me. He told me that I had taken the right decision and now I turn to him for advice on anything and everything rather than place my trust in a compete stranger”

While Azeem is lucky to have an elder to confide in and turn to advice, the fact is that many teenagers don’t have the kind of relationship where they can turn to their older brothers or sisters and specially their parents for advice. The biggest mistake they do is to trust a friend whom, in most cases, they have recently befriended and placed their trust in. Nothing can be more devastating. These friends are on the prowl for unsuspecting freshmen who can be lured quite easily into their web of deception and lies, thus culminating in customers who not only buy drugs from them but can easily be threatened or abused in the event or credit.

But some people know what they are up to. Like Aliya, a fourteen years old girl says, “I haven’t done any drugs but I know it goes on at my school. I’m not interested in taking any but I’m not bothered if others want to take them, it’s their choice. Maybe I’ll I’ve done it maybe three times since and It’s been quite fun, talking nonsense and laughing loads, but it’s not something I’d do all the time. As far as others drugs go, my mates have taken ecstasy and smoked weed, whilst some mates have taken speed and said it was a laugh but they couldn’t get to sleep afterwards. Most drugs that me or my mates have taken don’t seem any worse than getting drunk so I guess it’s just a case of being responsible and knowing your limits”.

Teenagers may be involved with legal or illegal drugs in various ways. Experimentation with drugs during adolescence is common. Unfortunately, teenagers often don’t see the link between their actions today and the consequences tomorrow. They also have a tendency to feel indestructible and immune to the problems that others experience. Using alcohol and cigarettes at a young age increases the risk of using other drugs later. Some teens will experiment and stop, or continue to use occasionally, without significant problems. Others will develop a dependency, moving on to more dangerous drugs and casing significant harm to themselves and possibly others.

Adolescence is a time for trying new things. Teens use drugs for many reasons, including curiosity, because it feels good, to reduce stress, to feel grown up or to fit in. it is difficult to know which teens will experiment and stop and which will develop serious problems.

The same holds true for girls, although they are subjected to closer scrutiny and restrictions by parents, especially mothers. Although the drug abuse is certainly there, a more looming threat is sexual abuse, which overrules every other factor. Whether self-inflicted of forced, physical abuse has been the turning factor in the lives of countless teenage girls who have had to change their priorities after suffering emotional turmoil in the wake of such carnal incidents. The use of drugs is increasing, especially among young teens. The average age of first drug use is 14, and alcohol use can start before age 12. The use of drugs and alcohol in high school has become common.

Such untold miseries abound in youth circles of today who hid nasty crimes from their parents either out of fear of retribution or shame, seething in their own juices of resentment and guilt and become victims of mental illnesses, destined to lead their adult life as disturbed individuals. No such infrastructure by the government exists in schools or colleges where these youth can turn to psychiatrists for analysis and guidance. Until then, they are destined to roam the earth as children of a lesser god as their trauma eats away at them from the insides, leaving them as hollow as termite-infested wood.

Main reasons for taking drugs and alcohol:
Teenagers at risk for developing serious alcohol and drug problems include those:

  • With a family history of substance abuse
  • Who are depressed
  • Who have low self-esteem, and
  • Who feel like they don’t fit in or are out of the mainstream

Other common reasons include:

  • Socializing with friends
  • Peer pressure, or the need to feel part of a group
  • Relaxation
  • Boredom
  • Curiosity.

Six ways to say “NO!” to drugs and alcohol:

  • No thanks.
  • I don’t feel like it – do you have any soda?
  • Alcohol’s NOT my thing.
  • Are you talking to me? FORGET it.
  • Why do you keep pressuring me when I’ve said NO?
  • Back off!

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