Childhood is supposed to be a carefree time when kids can just be kids. However, in today’s society, children feel more pressure than ever before to be perfect. From academic expectations to social media, kids struggle to cope with the high standards that they feel they need to meet. This pressure often leads to stress and anxiety, which can have severe consequences for both the individual child and society. It’s time for us to start paying attention to the mounting pressure that our kids are under and figure out ways to deal with them.
In the last month, I’ve heard of two school-going kids who have died by suicide. It is enough to send any parent into panic mode. We try to give the best for our kids and want them to excel at every stage to secure their place in the world. But are we giving as much emphasis on their mental health? In our quest to increase their IQ (Intelligence Quotient), are we neglecting their EQ (Emotional Quotient)?
The scary statistics of the increasing number of kids dying by suicide
Suicide rates among young people are on the rise globally. Studies show that depression is one of the leading causes of suicide among young people. Other factors include unmet needs and expectations, focus on success and productivity, lack of coping skills, and a sense of a lack of belonging.
According to The World Health Organisation (WHO), suicide is an emerging and serious public health issue in India. Nearly two in every five women in the world who kill themselves are Indian, according to a Lancet study (a UK-based medical journal). That means almost 40% of the world’s total number of female suicides take place in India.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), a total of 1,53,052 suicides were reported in the country during 2020 showing an increase of 10.0% in comparison to 2019.
Out of that staggering number, 11,396 victims of suicide were under the age of 18.
‘Family Problems’, ‘Love Affairs’ and ‘Illness’ were the main causes of suicides among children (below 18 years of age). COVID-19 and the resulting school closures, social isolation coupled with anxiety among elders have further aggravated the issue.
However, even pre-pandemic the situation wasn’t ideal. In 2019, according to an NCRB report, at least one student died by suicide every hour in India. Child rights activists point out that many students struggle to find avenues to vent their anxiety, which makes stress management more difficult.
However scary these numbers are, it becomes even more grave when we realise that these are on the lower side. India does not systematically collect data about causes of death. Just about 20% of all deaths are medically certified, making it likely that the suicide rate in India is highly under-reported.
It is important to note that this data also does not include information on attempted suicides. Individuals who attempt suicide are the most vulnerable to subsequent suicide attempts. The data available is not comprehensive, especially in case of individuals under the age of 18.
The deaths of younger children are often classified under accidental instead of suicide as most of them won’t have assigned the reason for killing themselves. Kids under 13 might not even realise the permanency of death, making it even more difficult to figure out their true intentions. Inadequate data or research into these cases makes it difficult for social organisations to plan and take the required steps to prevent it
Emotionally strong adults are made in their childhood
The world has changed rapidly in the last few decades. The world we grew up in is almost unrecognisable now. There are added pressure points in the form of social media, exposure to more adult content in the form of entertainment, and more competition in every sphere of life.
The seeds of emotional strength are planted in childhood. A recent study looked at the relationship between the emotional strength of parents and their children and found that the emotional strength of parents was a good predictor of their children’s emotional strength. Individuals who had supportive relationships with their parents and felt like they belonged in their community were more likely to be emotionally stable as adults. They also found that individuals who had faced adversity during their childhood but had persevered, were also more likely to be well balanced as adults.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to keep children emotionally healthy in a stressor-filled world. We want our kids to be strong enough to deal with challenges on their own. To achieve this, a lot of us let them face big problems independently or force them into situations they’re not comfortable with so they learn faster. I’ll give an example of a parent forcing their toddler into the swimming pool so they overcome their fear of water. Did they end up removing the fear, or ensuring the child remains fearful?
Do we spoonfeed and handhold every step of the way then, does that work? There’s a thin line between these two methods, and it differs for each child. Some kids might need more support than others. We as parents need to make the effort to know our kids better and what works for them.
Raising emotionally healthy adults
Children are constantly learning from the adults around them. They learn how to deal with their emotions, feel and behave based on how they see the adults around them react to different situations.
The first step in raising emotionally healthy children is to talk about feelings and emotions openly, without judgement. Children need to know that it’s okay to feel sad or angry and that they’re not alone in these feelings. The second step is to identify what feeling a child might be experiencing at any given time—sadness, anger, fear etc. The last step is to teach them how they can behave appropriately in the situation like talk about their feelings with an adult or friend, take a walk, or do something else that helps calm down.
It is also important that we discuss every feeling that crops up and figure out ways of dealing with them in a healthy way. If someone is sad, instead of finding ways to make them happy, just let them feel their emotion. Support them and be there for them if they need you.
Often, we think our kids, especially teens, can handle their emotions and we being ‘cool’ parents, haven’t put any pressure on them on how to live their lives. But often, pressure sneaks into an impressionable mind from various sources. Peers, society in general, and even some of our reactions and language we use around our kids
I know of people in their 20s succumbing to mild depression because they cannot cope with the pressure of adult life and the expectations they carry on their shoulders. Their parents have tried their best to tell them to ‘do what makes you happy’, but have also shown in their actions that they value success and productivity above all else. Inadvertently, these kids have picked up on that message and know that no matter the words of support and encouragement, they need to produce specific results to prove their worth to their parents and society. We need to sit with our emotions and expectations and make sure we’re not giving out mixed messages.
Helping our kids manage their mental health
One of the most important things you can do as a parent is to raise emotionally healthy children. This means teaching them how to regulate their emotions, set boundaries, and handle difficult situations. It also means teaching them how to be kind and compassionate to others.
Some of the ways we can do that is by
- Being a good role model by getting in touch with your own emotions and talking about them openly
- Providing a safe and stable home environment
- Teaching kids how to regulate their emotions. For younger kids, it is important to first help them identify their emotions—angry, upset, sad, happy, excited. Teach them how to deal with these emotions: Being angry is ok, hitting someone because you’re angry is not. If the child does feel like hitting something, give them a safe space to do so on a soft toy or punching bag.
- Encouraging kids to express their feelings without fear of punishment or judgement.
- Acknowledge their emotions. Don’t dismiss their fears as trivial. What might seem like nothing to you, might be a big deal for them.
- Do not shy away from uncomfortable emotions. Understand what triggered them and together work on the best way to deal with them.
- Discuss your expectations in an open conversation where the child can tell you if they feel pressured by your expectations or someone else’s
Suicide prevention Helplines in India
- Find more information on Suicide prevention at National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Lifeline) at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or text the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741). Both services are free and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All calls are confidential.
- Another organisation that has a helpline is Aasra: +91-9820466726
- The Health Collective has a list of State-wise helplines for India