A recent report on mental health status of adolescents in South-East Asia revealed that Bhutan has the highest number of (24.6%) smokers in the region.
Bhutan also has the highest number of adolescents using other tobacco products at 29.3% followed by Timor-Leste (27.1%) and Thailand (14%).
Despite complete ban on tobacco sales in the country, tobacco use remains high among 13-17 year-olds, which constitutes 9.4% of the total population.
About 24.2% of adolescents in Bhutan currently use alcohol. Bhutan also has the highest number of adolescents currently using marijuana at 12%, followed by Thailand at 5.3%.
Sri Lanka tops the list in terms of multiple substance use by students aged 13-17 (26.5%), followed by Bhutan (20.3%) and Timor-Leste (9.5%).
Youth in the region are getting initiated into alcohol and tobacco use at increasingly younger ages than ever.
The data in the report are from the latest round of the global school-based student health surveys implemented by the member states of the WHO South-East Asia region.
Now, if this is not alarming, what is?
Everybody knows substance abuse is bad. Then why this trend? Are we advocating enough? And if we are, why is it not working?
Research has shown that youth resort to alcohol and drugs to rebel, if they feel they do not “fit in.” They also do substance abuse if they have feelings of emptiness and worthlessness. Many times, it also starts with experimenting after which they are hooked for life. The fact that drugs and alcohol are easily available in the (black) market exacerbates the already dismal situation.
Why would our youth feel like misfits in society or be plagued by low self-esteem or feelings of rebellion? Has it got something with how our value-system has shifted over time?
More Bhutanese than ever are literate, well-to-do, and even affluent. We possess posh cars, buildings, and five-star resorts. Mega hydropower dams are being built one after another, tourism sector is going great guns as they say, and people are becoming more fashionable and social media savvy by the day.
What then ails our youth? This younger generation which is supposed to be a beacon of hope for the country?
One prime cause and an unpleasant reality that stares starkly at us is the acute scarcity of appropriate role models including parents who inspire. Yes, we do have a few heroes and we can derive many life lessons from them.
But our youth seem to be more fascinated by glamour idols than by value-driven personalities. In this age, character seems to hold little value. Dolling up, dating and having a good time seem to be the mantra that sways. Nothing wrong in all this if we do not miss the bigger picture along the way.
That is why it is so important for families to impart the right values to children: if that means cleaning your own room weekends, cleaning up after you are done eating, taking out the trash, not littering on parks or surroundings, spending money mindfully, not feeding your mind with cheap literature, movies or songs and yes, not keeping in wrong company (peer pressure is also influential in shaping up youth).
With popular cinema sensationalizing crime, violence and sex, and social media preying on tender sensibilities most often than not with junk content, we should not be surprised that youth are being led astray.
Show us a teetotaller especially in Bhutanese media, which claims high moral ground, or in the film industry, which is gaining popularity, and we can vouch spotting a unicorn.
Things like this affect our youth. For lack of role models in the country, they may start looking outside, and their pursuit is again often misdirected.
An ordinary person can become extraordinary if he possesses a sterling character. Add to it talent, hard work and maybe charm, and our youth will not be looking for role models elsewhere.
Also, recently, we have seen a slew of youth movements growing especially in the contemporary arts like dance, parkour and art plus not to forget, budding entrepreneurship.
The important thing is to support these creative and innovative sides to our youth. Nothing feels so bad as being given up on. The society, schools and authorities can play a major role in helping youth by providing them the right platforms.
Let us not give up. Figures can be startlingly scary. But they can be countered. Start by being the person you want posterity to become.