Be positive, not pushy

COUNSELLING

Be positive, not pushy

When 11-year-old Neha Sawant killed herself earlier this year because she was told to concentrate on her books and skip dance classes, it made parents, educators and counsellors ask themselves what is it that pushes youngsters like Neha to take such an extreme step?

Invariably, academic pressure is blamed. But adolescent specialists, psychiatrists, behaviour therapists and counsellors believe it is the lack of life skills in some cases, or the lack of tolerance to stress in other instances that leads to disastrous consequences.

Time of transition

Adolescents today live in times of great change. A child of 10 is already undergoing physical, mental, behavioural and social changes. The emotional cushioning of a joint family does not exist. Most parents work long hours. Technology, which often doubles up as a baby sitter, gives children easy access to both good and bad information. Display of violence through the internet and television is alarming. The definition of success has also changed.

Adolescence (10-18 years) is a period of transition. It is the time to acquire life skills like the ability to cope with stress, solve problems, take decisions, thinking critically and develop empathy. The transition is a period fraught with challenges as teenagers need not only parental support but also the support of their peers.

Movies often depict unrealistic characters and achievements, causing teenagers to develop an altered sense of reality.

Dr Harish Pemde, Professor, Lady Hardinge Medical College, says: “Media discipline should be practiced by parents. This includes keeping the TV and computer in the living room, monitoring internet use, and keeping a discreet tab on reading material. Such measures can ease the transition phase.”

‘Praise, don’t ridicule’

Behaviour experts explain that in many cases, the lack of communication between parents and children leads to  stressful situations. Tensions on the home front can only worsen matters. Dr Yamuna S, a well-known adolescent expert in Chennai, says: “Parents need to understand the adolescent’s pattern of study. They need to accept their child’s strengths and weaknesses. It is important to consistently praise the child’s efforts and not worry about the outcome. Parents should encourage teenagers to  improve their academic scores without  comparing them with their siblings or peers.”
 “An adolescent who directs his/her anger against others is not happy within himself,” says Dr Yamuna. “He or she may be depressed or could have been subjected to corporal punishment.”  We need to equip our teenagers with the right ideals and vision to guide them in the right direction.

Tips for parents

*Be honest and direct with teenagers.

*Let them express their feelings without fear. Understand them before guiding them.

*Listen to their views and respect them.

*Acknowledge and appreciate their achievements — small or big.

*Give them the confidence to confide in you during difficult times.

*Be sensitive to changes in their behaviour and teach them to cope with a crisis.

*Respect your teenager’s need for privacy.

*Provide answers to questions regarding sexuality, physical changes, marriage and career without hesitation.

*Impart media  literacy. Teach them how to filter out the wrong information.

Early intervention is the key

Suicides among school-going children seem to be increasing at an alarming rate. Who is to be blamed for driving young people to take their lives? Succumbing to academic pressure and high parental expectations are some of the common reasons cited by psychologists.

In today’s competitive world, a child is expected to compete with her peers in the classroom and emerge a winner. In addition to being weighed down by exams and tests, a child can also feel crushed under the weight of parental ambition. Parents often want to fulfil their dreams through their children. Wearing blinkers, they push their child to excel academically even when the child does not have an aptitude for studies but is talented in music, dance or sports.

Stress arising from the inability to cope with academic demands, relentless parental expectations and a sense of personal shame may drive a child towards depression, or worse, suicide.

School counsellors and teachers play an important role in identifying school-going children who are at risk. Timely intervention, in the form of counselling and parental education, can save precious lives.

An important aspect of intervention would be to first assess children, who are suspected to be depressed or suicidal, using psychological tests.

Often, adolescents are more vulnerable than younger children.  Peer pressure, body image issues and perceived or real academic failure may combine with inadequate parental and school support to create a cocktail of emotions that the onset of puberty only makes more pronounced.

There is hope for children and adolescents who seem to have fallen through the cracks in the school system. There are scientifically-created tests that can be used by psychologists, psychiatrists and school counsellors to determine if a child or adolescent is emotionally vulnerable to depression. The Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) is a test that can be administered within minutes. The results can be interpreted quickly to determine if a child or adolescent is suffering from depression. The Beck Scale for Suicide Ideation (BSS) is used to assess an adolescent’s thoughts, attitudes and intentions regarding suicide. Both are scientific tests used globally by mental health professionals in a variety of settings, including schools.

Dr Nitin Anand

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