'Youngsters today have this constant fear of missing out. But life is long enough to do everything.'

The Story of a Suicide A multi-media project on peculiar struggles of the digital generation
Features Teen troubles Monday, August 08, 2016 - 15:28

“I am leaving. I am tired of fighting. I am tired of struggling to survive. I have finally made a choice today. Yes, I give up.”

These lines may be alarming, but are hardly uncommon among youngsters. Chennai-based Sriram Ayer, who writes these lines in the opening chapter of his book “The Story of a Suicide”, says that one in every three persons who commits suicide is between 15 and 29 years of age.

40-year-old Sriram heads the NalandaWay Foundation, an NGO which works with children from exploitative backgrounds by introducing them to creative arts, and hence deals with adolescents and youngsters on a daily basis.


Sriram Ayer


The digital multimedia novel “The Story of a Suicide” deals with the unique set of issues today’s youngsters face. “They have more access to technology and information than any of the previous generations, and they grow up much faster,” explains Sriram.

In a media release about the novel, Sriram writes that today’s teenagers are an “expressive, self-absorbed, independent, afraid, hurried, fearless, fame hungry, but surprisingly resilient” lot. And while the explosion of social media, internalisation of technology and the increased avenues for exploring sexuality have created new opportunities, they also come with complex and unique challenges.

Through the stories of Hari, Charu, Sam and Mani – all of whom are young first and second year students of college – “The Story of a Suicide” attempts to verbalise the struggles faced by teenagers today with relationships, adolescent depression, peer pressure, sexuality, cyber-bullying and cyber-stalking.

Sriram says that teenagers consume a lot more information than they need. However, most of it is limited to what they see on their social media feeds and WhatsApp circles. “Person-to-person contact is so little at times that kids have no idea how to reach out. For instance, they’ll send completely inappropriate messages to others over the internet, not knowing it is not right, and react violently when they do not get a response,” he explains.


Illustrations by Ghana, from 'Story of a Suicide' 


The situation is not helped by parents, education institutions and guardians who have never had to deal with children and adolescents with these peculiar challenges. For instance, gender and sexuality have become much more pronounced as issues to the current generation. However, Sriram points out that the older generation sometimes fails to rise to the challenge.

“Look at gender segregation in schools and colleges for instance. If people from different genders are not allowed to interact, how will they know each other’s issues?” he asks.

He also points out that while millennials are born into an era of technology and accessibility, the older generation is still struggling to make sense of it. “For instance, if I call someone, it’s natural to expect a call back. But a young person may instead send a WhatsApp voice note. And to an adult, it might not be enough. Simple things like these create a disconnect,” he explains.

Sriram suggests that the ideal thing for parents to do is to step back to let their children have a variety of experiences and have open conversations about them instead of anxiously controlling them.

In a time where ‘Google’ has become a verb, Sriram warns that despite the abundance of information online, there is no guarantee about its credibility. Therefore, accompanying each chapter of the novel is a ‘how do I’ section, which lay down a set of dos and don’ts about dealing with various issues in a non-moralistic way, says Sriram.

Since technology plays such an important part in their lives, Sriram wanted to ensure that “The Story of a Suicide” aligns with how youngsters access and share information. The novel, therefore, was released a week ago with custom illustrations and a chapter-by-chapter format online.

Sriram insists that the idea is to make conversation possible and for this reason, “The Story of a Suicide” is a not-for-profit venture. He is quite happy with the responses he has received in the first week, with about 14,000 social media and blogpost shares on the novel. The trailer of the project has over 300,000 views and the team is going to release a music video in the next few days.

In a month’s time, Sriram hopes to have enough responses and submissions to publish them on a blog and on social media, to take the conversation further. However, the advice he most wants to give teens today is to cut themselves some slack. “They have this constant fear of missing out. They should understand that life is long enough to do everything,” he asserts.

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