By Kavya Arjun, Grade 11
Renée Watson, Ashim Ahluwalia, Jane de Suza and Dhooleka Raj broke all taboos during their panel discussion Changing Times, Changing Values held on Day 1 of the Neev Literature Festival. The session saw four powerhouses, highly acclaimed in their respective fields, offering their perspectives on the complexities of navigating teenage life. Delving into these complexities may be considered risky—specifically the messy parts that nobody wants to acknowledge—but the panellists were intent on throwing light on these unspoken subjects.
The discussion took different directions, but strongly and continually highlighted the value of art and its ability to help an artist express their ideas and thoughts. They stressed that in a world where teenagers feel like they don’t have enough power and agency, art becomes power. All four speakers had their own unique connection to the arts, whether it was through writing or filmmaking, which allowed parents in the audience to understand just how powerful it can be for children to connect with an art form and express themselves through it.
Notably, the discussion talked about the aspects of a teenager’s life that are often glossed over in mainstream media. They candidly spoke about the increasing rate of anxiety in teenagers, and the role of pressure from parents and teachers in building up or aggravating these mental health issues. The speakers were unguarded when they spoke of their own personal experiences with their children or children they knew, which created a sense of trust between them and the audience that is often lacking in such discussions.
As a teenager, their thoughts on how media consumed by teenagers, distort their views of the world and of themselves was particularly relatable. It was interestingly said by one of the panellists that being on social media is almost like ‘being two places at once.’ It allowed the audience to envision how much the digital world has evolved even from a few years ago, and how that evolution in digital technology has created an irreversible impact on teenagers with access to it. The panellists mentioned that they wanted their art to have realistic portrayals of real teenagers as opposed to the over-glamorized content that seems to be warping the minds of teenagers globally. It was incredibly refreshing to see adults embrace the authentic experiences of teenagers, and to acknowledge that not everything is perfect all the time. It is important for this message to circulate because as humanity continues evolving and growing, we must embrace our flaws and work on them rather than squash them away in a dark corner never to be addressed.