Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Are Parents And Teachers The Main Cause Of Children With Mental Problems?

There has been a staggering increase — over 300 per cent — in children seeking psychiatric help over the past four years at a local hospital. Doctors at the Selayang Hospital saw 285 children in 2002, 354 in 2003, 543 in 2004 and 1,079 last year.

Kuala Lumpur Hospital child and adolescent psychiatrist, Dr Toh Chin Lee, said stress at school and parents who constantly quarrelled could be among reasons for the increase in mental problems. "At KLH, we see a lot of children and adolescents with problems and the most common cause is stress at school and at home."

Dr Toh said the examination-oriented education system had led to pressure from parents to perform at school. "Even if parents say they don’t pressure their kids, children can pick up on their parents’ high expectations and, in turn, set high expectations for themselves. When they fail, they take it badly."

Another reason was bullying by teachers, said Dr Toh, who added that there was a small group of teachers "who actually are the cause behind mental illness in students". "Teachers who physically punish a student for the smallest infringement may have good intentions but actually cause problems in the child."

He said children were often the victims when parents fought. "Sometimes when parents fight, they use their children as allies. Whether the conflict is mild or severe, it can affect the child in the long or short term," he said.

Another psychiatrist said the large number of child mental patients could also be due to greater awareness of mental illness among parents and doctors.

**** I'm sure that most of us must have at least suspected that parents and teachers are partly responsible for the stress which children have to endure day in and day out. However I didn't realise the extent to which they contribute to mental illness among our kids. The solution is of course fairly obvious. Parents should sort out any marital discord or strife or at least keep it at a level that is not perceptible to the child. Arguing or fighting openly in front of them is the worst thing you can do for your marriage and more importantly for your kids. Remember children these days are precocious when compared to a few decades ago and they can sense parental bad vibes quite easily.

Another area which parents should be very cautious, as Dr Toh rightly pointed out, is piling the kids with pressure to perform and forcing studies on them to the exclusion of everything else; no recreation or social life. This is a sure recipe for disaster and mental illness is a logical consequence of this unbridled parental ambition.

The stress that teachers put on the pupil and thereby contributing towards the mental unwellness of the child is a little more difficult to overcome. The mental state of the teachers themselves should be taken into consideration. If they can be reasoned with and made to accept that a stress-free child is a healthy child it'll be good. However if they subscribe to the "spare the rod and spoil the child" philosophy then perhaps a different approach may be required including enlisting the help of the Principal to curb the teachers propensity to spank and bully pupils.

Our Health Minister Dr Chua Soi Lek, a medical doctor, had a few tips for parents to identify children needing psychiatric help:
• They are disobedient.
• Do not want to go school.
• Have trouble mixing with siblings and friends.
• Have speech problems.

So parents, think about all this, and do what you feel is the best for your children. No one can make that decision for you.


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