Hong Kong’s youth are facing an unprecedented mental health crisis. Children grappling with mental health challenges is at an all-time high, researchers warn. The coronavirus, school closures, social isolation, uncertainty over the future and more have mentally exhausted them.
Unfortunately, home is not always haven for a stressed-out student. With parents and children overwhelmed by the constant changes over the past year, conflict is inevitable.
In school, teachers’ mental health is deteriorating, too. A recent study shows Hong Kong’s teaching staff are feeling helpless and hopeless, which makes it even harder for them to support their students.
What can parents do to help their children during these difficult times? Here, IMI Psychotherapist and Certified Counsellor Eugnice Chiu shares some of the challenges that students face, and simple ways to reduce their stress.
Stressed-out students: academic, screen, social angst and more
Academic stress. During the pandemic, many children have felt increased internal pressure to work harder and longer to achieve better grades. There is no benchmark: they don’t know how they’re doing, and they don’t know how they compare to their classmates.
Accustomed to having their days scheduled for them, self-paced learning can be a struggle, too. Self-discipline and self-motivation can be hard for children to muster up.
Added to that is the overwhelming pressure some children feel from their parents.
“In Hong Kong some parents are so focussed on their child’s grades, they don’t know how to converse and connect on matters related to their child’s mental, social and emotional health. Now that they’re at home with their children more than usual, they focus on the one thing they know – their child’s school grades. This adds more stress to the already-stressed child,” says Eugnice who is skilled at supporting family with relationship or communication issues.
While there are parents who focus on their children’s overall wellbeing, time is now an issue. Parents may be juggling home and work commitments while navigating homeschooling and online learning. With all the fears and uncertainties surrounding them, they have their own stresses and pressures to contend with, too.
Screen stress. With more time at home, a lot of kids don’t know what to do with themselves. Many turn to their digital devices, allowing them to connect with others in our socially distanced society. In this way, their screens are a source of stress relief.
The challenge though is when screen use goes too far. Many children don’t have the self-discipline to know how or when to detach from their devices. With social media and apps designed to use psychological tricks to continuously grab attention, tweens can easily become addicted to their screens. Excessive screen use can exacerbate a sense of loneliness and – in particular – cause a disconnect between kids and their families.
Constant screen battles can be stressful for parent and child. Arguments ensue and children withdraw.
Social stress. Many of the youth clients that Eugnice has met with recently speak of their loneliness. They’re struggling to make friends. And they’re experiencing more communication challenges and conflict with existing friends, particularly online. Naturally, this can cause kids more stress and angst.
Simple strategies to reduce teenagers’ stress
Connect as a family. Eugnice encourages parents to spend quality time with their children, checking in not only on how they’re doing academically, but mentally, emotionally and socially, too. “The key is to carve out quality time to listen to your children; actively listen rather than commenting and giving suggestions. When children feel seen and heard, they’re more likely to feel safe, which will help to reduce their stress,” Eugnice advises.
Connect with friends. Eugnice advises that screen time is not always a bad thing, particularly when children are unable to connect with peers and socialize in the way they used to. “Quality time spent on screens can benefit children, particularly when engage in conversations with friends. Playing games and maintaining contact with friends online can improve a child’s mental state.”
If possible, Eugnice adds, parents can learn what games their children are playing and join in. This way, as game mates, they connect with their children and develop an understanding of their interests and language.
Create a schedule. Help children create a daily schedule. Give them the space and freedom to come up with a schedule and then help them to fill in any missing elements that will create balance in their lives. “A daily schedule should go beyond studies, screens and routines; it can include time for art, reading for pleasure, and time with siblings, for example. Exercise, stretching, outdoor activities, simply relaxing, and an appropriate sleep schedule are also important to release energy, balance screen use, and alleviate emotional and psychological stress,” Eugnice advises.
We hope these strategies help to support your children’s wellbeing during these unusual times.
If your child is struggling with stress, anxiety and overwhelm at this time and would like a safe, supportive and non-judgmental space to share and be supported, please get in touch. To schedule an appointment with Eugnice, call +852 2523 7121 or contact us here.