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Children Face Tough Competition at an Early Age
Taotao, a 15-year-old boy, was so frustrated with school, he could hardly bear to enter his classroom. Seeing the teacher hand out class exercises made him fall into a depression.

Following the recommendation of a psychologist, the boy's parents temporarily suspended his education.

"This is a typical case of a child becoming sick from pressure," said Xu Zhening, a consultant with Shanghai Scientific Cultivation Base, which specializes in child psychology.

About 40 percent of the children being treated by the organization suffer from problems related to studies - truancy, inability to study and problems adjusting to school life.

Telling Figures

A survey conducted by the center in 22 major cities said the incidence of childhood psychological disorders is about 13 percent in China. The figure in the US is over 20 percent; in Japan about 14 percent.

Another survey by the Ministry of Education revealed that one-third of children from six to 14 years suffer from maladjustment disorder. It has interviewed about 20,000 children nationwide.

"The problems these children are facing cannot simply be attributed to mental disorders," said Su Songxing, director of the Institute For Youth Research, Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

"The problem becomes more serious in a big city like Shanghai because most children are under increasing educational pressure. They face high expectations from parents and fierce competition from peers," said Du Yasong, a doctor from Shanghai Mental Health Center, who specializes in child behavior research.

The reasons for their poor study habits is not a low intelligence quotient (IQ), according to experts.

"Children have problems adjusting to a heavy study load," Su said. Children usually do two to three hours of homework every day, not to mention the additional studies arranged by parents. A report said US pupils only do 2.5 hours of homework a week.

The pressure comes mainly from the family, Su said. An outstanding child is believed to bring honor to the whole family.

Many Symptoms

When children are forced to deal with tough competition at too early an age, they are not able to adjust to it. Such academic pressure results in psychological problems, Su said.

He cited the case of a child who suffered from anti-social behavior. The child caught hold of a good reference book, but did not want his classmates to know about the book. So he disguised it and hid it in his desk.

"He thought this was a clever way to compete with others," said Su. "But it's not a healthy form of competition."

The problem of rude, unsociable and "hyperactive" behavior is common among children of this age, and such behavior disorders are found in 17 per cent of children accepted for treatment in the Shanghai Scientific Cultivation Base.

Xu Zhening described a case where a boy refused to talk at school. His classmates called him "dummy".

After several visits, Liu Yuefang, the chief consultant of the base, was able to get the child to speak.

When he was in kindergarten, the boy was naughty. So the teacher punished him by sending him to an isolated room. "At the beginning, I felt scared, but gradually I became used to it and talked and played by myself."

Emotional problems, such as loneliness, dependency and anxiety, account for 13 per cent of those treated.

"Apart from academic pressures, I think the key reason leading to children's maladjustment is the unscientific educative methods used by both the school and family," Xu said.

More Encouragement

Under the influence of traditional Chinese culture, both teachers and parents are reluctant to praise children for their achievements.

But when children do something wrong, adults have no compunctions.

Xu said it was common for a parent to scold the child even after getting 99 per cent marks in a test. Why not 100 per cent, is the question instead of praise for the 99-mark achievement.

"Such touch appraisals can make children feel inferior," Xu said.

"In fact, children's psychological disorders are a problem of the family and society," said Xu.

There are more than 20 centers providing psychological therapy for children in Shanghai.

"But when it is suggested their child needs some psychological therapy, most parents first reject the idea," said Xu, "In China, many feel ashamed to admit a family member has a mental problem."

(China Daily HK Edition August 1, 2002)

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