Raising troubled teens


  • Education
  • Sunday, 30 Jan 2005

RECENTLY Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek said that in five to 10 years’ time, suicide would become the country’s second biggest cause of death after cardiovascular diseases. I am sure that many people find this hard to believe. 

We read about students committing suicide in Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore and we take comfort that there are few reports of such deaths in Malaysia.  

This gives us the impression that our youth and adults are generally happy and mentally healthy. We have probably been lulled into this belief by the lack of reports of suicide in newspapers.  

According to a member of the Befrienders, the number of suicidal callers has gone up over the years.  

The organisation receives about 50 calls per day and about half are from depressed people or those contemplating suicide.  

Suicidal teenagers are apparently more reckless and self-destructive. Some psychologists believe that reckless drivers, jaywalkers and those who expose themselves to unnecessary danger or lead reckless lifestyles may be intent on killing themselves.  

Therefore accidents, especially those due to recklessness or negligence may, in fact, be undetected suicides. In addition, there are children and teenagers who contemplate committing suicide but do not have the courage to carry it out. 

Depression is one of the three most frequently cited reasons among teenagers who attempt suicide. Although the majority of depressed youths are not suicidal, teenagers who suffer from depression are more likely to commit suicide than those who are not.  

Troubled girl-boy relationships, the feeling that no one cares, problems at home, low self-esteem, and feelings of hopelessness arising from the inability to live up to expectations increase a person’s vulnerability to depression.  

Generally, this feeling arises from a sense of being overwhelmed by stress (for instance from a breakdown in girl-boy relationships) and having neither the personal nor social resources to handle that stress.  

Personal resources include positive self-esteem, communication skills and confidence in handling stressful situations and control over one’s environment. Social resources include having sensitive, responsive and reliable friends as well as a supportive family.  

Teenagers who are lonely, have difficulty in relating to people and feel that they are not good enough are vulnerable to depression. Some parents become worried or annoyed with their children for having friends, as they fear their friends will influence or mislead them.  

Parents must realise that good friends are their children’s social support and can help them handle stressful situations. Friends lend a listening ear, stand by your side and provide support as you struggle with problems. Children need social competence skills; it is important now and later in life for them to get along with others and establish warm and intimate relationships. 

In his book All Grown Up and No Place to Go, David Elkind, a well-known psychologist, points out that today’s children encounter a multiplicity of unusual stress related problems that tax their ability to cope., 

He says: “From every corner of society our children are faced with forced blooming. If a child does not read by the age of four we label him or her a failure. Television and the movies tell our young teens that sex is in and childhood is out. These pressures and others are overwhelming our children.” 

Parents, childcare providers and preschool teachers place too much importance on academic skills related to reading, writing and mathematics and pay little heed to social competence and mental health. Nowadays, three-year-olds are given homework daily and have tests twice a year! Even though, the fine muscles in the hands of many three-years-olds are not well developed, they are required to write the alphabet on ruled lines.  

In the first week of the first semester, some three-year-olds were given five pages of writing to complete. They had to write five pages of one letter of the alphabet. No wonder some of them cried when they could not form the word properly and their fingers as well as their heads ached.  

Some preschool children go for tuition to help them with Bahasa Melayu, English and Chinese. One preschool teacher has two tuition sessions: one from 3pm to 5pm for one group of four to five year-olds and another from 7pm to 9pm for another group of four to five year-olds. 

When children are tired and deprived of rest and recreation, they are very vulnerable to stress and depression. When pressed to achieve at a young age, they may become prone to personality disorders.  

Many young children and teenagers feel unloved as they believe that they are only worthy of love when they are achievers. Youth who have this feeling tend to do anything to attain love and attention and in their adolescent years, may turn to substance abuse to escape this negative self-concept.  

Distressed children tend to act aggressively towards others. Aggressive and unpopular children are often excluded or even rejected by their peers. Exclusion or rejection increases aggression and anti-social reactions.  

Their aggression, low self-esteem and anti-social tendencies increase with age. By the time they attain adolescence, these feelings reach a threshold and explode. Hence drug addiction, bullying, fatal bashing and murder are becoming more and more common among schoolchildren these days. 

Unless parents, childcare providers and preschool teachers have the knowledge and skills to help young children regulate their emotions, resolve conflicts and handle stress, we will have a growing population of mentally-troubled youth who develop into adults with more severe problems. 

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