Child psychologists have called for more research into the mental health of students, in the wake of recent reports that several teenagers in east China's Zhejiang Province had deliberately hurt themselves in protests against their parents or to simply vent their stress and anxieties.
Xiaoqiang, a first-grader at a junior high school in the provincial capital Hangzhou, kept banging his head on the wall when his parents demanded he stay home to study the whole of the six-week summer vacation. "I'll die right here in front of you if you don't let me out to play" was all the 13-year-old had to tell his parents.
Though Xiaoqiang was not badly hurt, his grief-stricken parents failed to understand why their son had suddenly become "insane".
Five other teenagers were hospitalized this summer at the Litongde Hospital in Hangzhou with similar mental problems. Starting with trivial issues -- such as their parents turning down a request for a new computer -- they had reacted wildly, such as smashing the television or threatening to jump from their high-rise buildings.
What triggers their irrational behavior?
Zhu Xiaohua, a psychotherapist with the No. 7 People's Hospital in Hangzhou, said children around 13 and 14 years old were still underdeveloped physically and mentally, and they desperately sought attention from their families, teachers and peers.
"However, they tend to think they are grown up enough to make their own decisions," said Zhu, also member of a national committee on children's mental health. "If their parents neglect these changes and continue to treat them like kids, they may get hurt and confused and even lose control of their behavior."
Improved parenting could help solve many juvenile psychological problems, said Miao Jianyun, an official in charge of children's work at the provincial women's federation.
He cited the example of an 11-year-old girl whose parents were not happy with her excess spending. But instead of blaming her, the girl's parents put all the family's cash in a certain drawer, where anyone of the family could take as much as they needed, but had to make a note each time of how the money was spent.
After a few months, the girl not only learned to avoid unnecessary spending, but also reminded her parents when and where they could have saved.
"When the child is involved in the family's financial management, he can learn to budget properly, have a better sense of responsibility and become more mature," said Miao.
Poor parenting, on the other hand, can affect children's mental health, experts say.
Xiaoli, a 16-year-old girl, was fed up with her parents' endless quarrels and cut her wrists in protest. Fortunately, her parents found out in time to save her life.
Teenagers were the most sensitive and fragile members of the family, said Zhu Xiaohua.
"They get hurt easily by such conflicts as quarreling, tense family relations and the divorce of their parents," he said. "Most children would simply cry or refuse to eat as a way of protest, but some may go to extremes as to hurt themselves or commit suicide."
Democracy, mutual respect and better communication within the family were important to children's mental health, said Zhu, who insisted that parents should "bow to look their children in the eye and treat them as equals".
To help parents maintain a caring and loving home environment, the provincial women's federation and education department have tailored special training programs for parents of pre-schoolers and primary and secondary school students. Nearly 95 percent of the local media have special columns to promote proper parenting skills.
Schools and communities, on the other hand, should also help children solve their problems in time to ensure their mental health, experts say.
(People’s Daily September 9, 2002)