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Teenager mental health study urged
( 2002-09-24 10:00 ) (1 )

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 protest against their parents or simply to vent their stress and anxiety.

Xiao Qiang, a first-grader at a junior high school in the provincial capital Hangzhou, kept banging his head against a wall when his parents demanded he stay home to study the whole of his six-week summer vacation.

"I'll die right here in front of you if you don't let me out to play!"

That was all the 13-year-old had to tell his parents.

Though Xiao Qiang 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 reacted wildly, doing such things as smashing the television or threatening to jump from their high-rise apartments.

What triggers such irrational behaviour?

Zhu Xiaohua, a psychotherapist with the No 7 People's Hospital in Hangzhou, said children around 13 or 14 years of age are still underdeveloped physically and mentally, and they desperately seek 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 a member of a national committee on children's mental health. "If their parents neglect these changes and continue to treat them like little children, they may feel hurt and confused and even lose control of themselves."

Improved parenting can 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 chastising her, they put all the family's cash in a drawer, and any member of the family could take as much of the money as they needed, but they had to make a note each time on 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 money.

"When the child is involved in the family's financial management, he or she can learn to budget properly, develop 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.

Xiao Li, 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 are the most sensitive and fragile members of any family, said Zhu.

"They are hurt easily by such things as family quarrels, tense family relations and divorce," he said. "Most children simply cry or refuse to eat as a way of protest, but some may go to extremes, hurting themselves or even committing suicide."

Schools and communities, on the other hand, should also help children solve their problems to ensure their health mental development, experts say.



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