Stoned, Shamed, Depressed by Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava: Book Review
Stoned, Shamed, Depressed is a 2020 Harper Collins Publication by author and journalist Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava. The book discusses in a half-neutral but otherwise concerned manner the plight of Gen Z children, pre-teens, teenagers, and young adults who reside in India’s urban areas. Bhargava has done deep research on the subject. She has examined and studied various articles, both online and offline, and conducted many interviews. She has concluded that the elite and upper-middle-class urban youth have taken recourse to drugs, gaming, sexually abusing their peers, date rape, body shaming, vaping, alcohol consumption, and even plain murder to get through their lives. This is a concerning issue, and it is commendable that Bhargava took the initiative to chronicle the rise of the urban elite youth in India. It is brave on the part of Harper Collins to have published this book, especially for concerned parents and teachers. I gave this alarming but essential book four stars on Goodreads. It is a must-read for parents and teachers dealing with Gen Z children to take heed of the signs of depression, suicide, and drugging before we lose this generation of youth who would otherwise have been assets to the growth and development of India.
I bought my copy of the book in February 2021 from the Crossword Bookstore, Kemps Corner. Stoned, Shamed, Depressed, as the title indicates, takes the reader on a journey into the families of victims of date rape, sexual abuse, drugs, vaping, depression, gaming, etcetera. Bhargava has penned this book in a simple manner that is easy to read and can be understood by people who are not proficient in English. Stoned, Shamed, Depressed is a book of our times which discusses:
- Stoned: The drugs, alcohol, smoking, and vaping issues faced by the Indian urban youth.
- Shamed: The body-shaming they encounter, especially online on social networking sites and apps.
- Depressed: The intensive and obsessive gaming they indulge in which leads to depression.
Bhargava’s analysis of the cases mentioned in the book is very in-depth. She has taken the help and advice of several psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors to show her readers the seriousness of the addictions and hazards the youth of today face. The first part of the book, which talks about drugs, is very shocking and revelatory. You can see the professional investigative journalism done to place all the facts on the table. The book talks about the poor who take to drugs because of their poverty and harsh circumstances. But the rich seem to do so because of the following:
- Peer pressure.
- To relieve depression.
- To rid oneself from examination stress.
- Addiction to other forms of smoking or alcohol consumption.
- Introduction to the drug through a senior sibling or friend.
Gen Z, according to Bhargava, has been taking drugs like Meow Meow, LSD, Cocaine, Marijuana, etcetera, much more than the previous generations. This is a startling fact worthy of attention. Drug culture is everywhere, and one cannot even trust the neighboring shops outside schools or colleges as they too may be selling drugs and other narcotics to teenagers. Although the Government of India has banned vaping, there is still plenty of youth in urban India who manage to procure a JUUL easily and smoke or vape regularly. In certain upper-middle-class urban families, JUULs are gifted as graduating gifts to their children after the tenth or twelfth-grade board exams. These same urban parents also give their children alcohol parties, drug parties in holiday homes in Goa, and money to buy drugs. However, this does not happen with every parent. Many parents are still concerned about their children’s lives. They would find this book extremely helpful in identifying the issues their children have to face in a culture that starts with smoking Pot and ends with tripping on Acid.
The second part of the book deals with body shaming, peer pressure, shaming on social media, and suicide. This forms the bulk of the book and is professionally written. It is important to note that the drug issues faced by Gen Z youth can make even Millennial’s look like fossils, as mentioned very tongue-in-cheek by Bhargava. It starts with allowing social media to dictate to a child early in life what he should post to get more ‘likes’ on his social media page. Social media’s culture is damaging to a child and must be monitored by the parent or teacher, or elder in charge of the child. Gen Z is typically given an iPhone when they are mere toddlers to keep them busy while their parents do the office work and other business work inside and outside the home. Gadgets are the electronic pacifiers of this new section of children. Now they take their devices so seriously that they are ready to forgo real social interaction for a widespread presence online.
This part of the book, as said before, is bulky and deals with the following in great detail:
- Social Media addiction.
- Body shaming.
- Teenage suicide.
- Bulimia and Anorexia.
- Burnouts, mentally more than physically.
- Low self-confidence and self-esteem.
- Easy suggestibility.
- Pornography on the internet.
According to Bhargava, it is essential for teachers and parents to spend quality time with their children and be there as their support and not introduce them to social media at an early age. For this, parents themselves mustn’t be addicted to social media, which is something genuinely concerning because it is noticed that parents are as social media hungry as their teenagers, if not worse. Teachers, too, must watch out for signs of depression in their students and for tendencies to inflict self-harm. It is painful to read about young girls who starve themselves or turn themselves into Bulimia patients, even to the point of death, so long as they can get the perfect pout smile or wear the smallest size designer clothing. TikTok has been a terrible influence in the lives of our Gen Z children. There are even such dares on this site where if your waistline is not less or exactly as big as an A-4 size printing sheet, one is termed as obese. Another dare on TikTok is to see if one can balance little stones or marbles on one’s collar bones. If not, then one is deemed obese.
The third and last part of the book is the shortest and deals primarily with online gaming which has turned young boys and girls into living zombies. They seem only to want the meager necessities of the gaming console, after which they play for days on end, without food or liquids. Many gamers have passed away because of their addiction to these online games, making them live in a world far removed from reality. The games discussed here in detail are PUBG, Fortnite, Minecraft, Blue Whale, and Candy Crush. According to Bhargava, these games are detrimental to a pre-teen or teenager’s life and often lead to death by cardiac arrest, malnourishment, or heart attack, and suicide in case of Blue Whale. The author has asked parents and teachers to monitor their children’s screen time and keep a check on the bots they click when they are playing their online game. Gaming is addictive, maybe even worse than drugs and alcohol. It creates a virtual life of violence for our teens, making them forget the world around them to the point of death. They play these games because they have not been introduced to better entertainment forms like reading, horse riding, music, football, writing, singing, dancing, cooking, and gardening. They need to be shown these options before their game consumes them. Bhargava notes that these games posit that children cannot access their games, but it is evident that the game was created to get children addicted to it.
Stoned, Shamed, Depressed is an excellent book to read and professionally written. However, there are several typos in the manuscript and sentence construction errors that are difficult to overlook. Yet, the book is still educative and a must-read for parents and teachers. Get a copy for yourself today. I was interested in reading this book at the earliest because of several factors:
- I have lost a friend who was a millennial to the Blue Whale game and peer pressure. His death was one of the first traumatic incidents that happened in my life. The ‘then’ children responsible for goading him to his death have gone on with their lives without being punished. My friend was on the chubbier side and was always body shamed by his peers. He was fourteen years old when he passed away from this life.
- I am a tutor, and most of the boy students I interact with are gaming addicts. They are mainly addicted to Fortnite, PUBG, Grand Theft Auto V, League of Legends, and Blue Whale. When I interact with them in class or read their compositions, I can make out that they live 24/7 in the world of their games and so are unable to study their coursework. As Bhargava rightly mentions, some miss school throughout the school year, preferring to stay in their rooms and play games. A few of my boy students play Fortnite, which has sexual content in the game that shows in the disturbing compositions they write. They are like living zombies, and some of them are already insomniacs or have disrupted their sleeping patterns. I regularly counsel these boys to get off their games.
- Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and several lockdowns, gaming has become the only way children and teenagers can keep in touch with their friends and work together. Thus, gaming is now on the rise with teenagers who always liked gaming and those who are depressed. I have noticed several extroverted children who have spent their whole lockdown gaming Fortnite or PUBG, and now when online classes have started, they cannot cope with their schoolwork. Some of the younger students, because of several hours spent gaming, have forgotten how to spell simple words or do mathematical tables or concentrate on online lectures.
As a teacher, I wanted to be educated about the lives my children were leading. The story in Stoned, Shamed, Depressed is not pretty, and the sad part is that every hour one urban Indian teenager is committing suicide. We need to do something about this issue as soon as possible for the sake of our students. We need to bring some hope into their lives even during this pandemic, which games, drugs, and social media cannot ever do. Try picking up this book by Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava at the earliest to see what the urban elite teenagers are doing in their bedrooms. The issues discussed here are serious and should be tackled to the best of our ability. If this is the privileged lot’s situation, I can imagine the middle class, lower-middle-class, and the poor’s plight. Get this book. It is easy to read and is engaging.
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