Lend an ear to teensGet ready for another disheartening piece of news to start your day. According to a report released by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, our children’s stress levels from studying are the highest among countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), while they are also the least happy.
The survey, conducted for two consecutive years, shows that our children study an average of 49.43 hours a week - far longer than the OECD average of 33.92. Their relative happiness stands at just 65.1, far below the OECD average of 100. Asked if they are happy with their lives, just one in every two students said yes. One in six said they feel lonely or do not feel a sense of belonging at all.
It would be difficult to dispute the argument that most of this stress and unhappiness results from parents who pressure their children to study harder and harder while neglecting the mental health of their offspring.
As a result, the suicide rate among teenagers in Korea has skyrocketed. According to the survey, the number of elementary, middle and high school students who committed suicide last year exceeded 200 for the first time, a whopping 47 percent increase compared with the previous year. The reasons for the suicides vary, from domestic discord and low test scores at school to trouble with romantic relationships and bullying at school. About 29 percent killed themselves for unspecified reasons.
Adults around these children, therefore, failed to notice the signs of their anguish. Needless to say, the indifference by adults both at home and at school to the mental health of these children contributed to their deaths.
In this situation, the best medicine is prevention based on active communication between parents and their children. Too many parents shut the door to dialogue at crucial moments when their kids are undergoing drastic changes both physically and mentally. So parents should first open their hearts to help their kids overcome these personal challenges. Schools can - and should - play this role for students who don’t have parents, as should local communities and governments if need be.
Therefore, we need to increase the number of counselors at schools as well as reinvigorate the existing telephone-based counseling service available to juveniles. It just so turns out that counselors have dissuaded many students who are standing at the crossroads of life and death from committing suicide.
If only one of the three groups - parents, teachers or counselors - extends a helping hand to these desperate souls, we can prevent many children from making a terrible decision.