Its nothing new that children, particularly teenagers, undergo a lot of stress ahead of the examination season.
Students in the UAE, aged 14 to 18, said they are 'dreading' the upcoming examination season. "I am not at all looking forward to the upcoming December holidays. All I am going to be doing is preparing of the final exams," said Jayanth Manohar, a Grade 12 Indian student in Sharjah.
From depression to anxiety, children in high stress-situations are now acting out, especially students from the Indian communities.
Following the most recent incidents of 15-year-old teen Ameya Santosh running away from home and a 16-year-old teen committing suicide in Sharjah, Khaleej Times speaks to students, counsellors and a few parents to ascertain the exact cause of stress and how to avoid it. Though the two incidents raised alarms in the student-parent community, it also sparked a meaningful conversation about child security and adolescent mental health.
System change puts students in a flux
Two main reasons students are citing include monthly practice examinations in preparation for the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) Grade 10 and 12 examinations, and the abrupt scrapping of the Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) system by the CBSE.
Fifteen-year-old Imaz Ahmed, a student of GEMS Millennium School, Dubai, said: "I face stress every day. It is mostly due to the upcoming board exams. Parents are putting a lot of pressure to get high grades, and it seems like however much you study, it is not enough."
In Ahmed's case, he says the scrapping of the CCE system may have complicated matters for students such as himself. "In school, they keep saying your entire future depends on it. Every month, there is an exam. Even though it is helpful, and you can keep practising to improve your scores and weak spots, doesn't mean it is not difficult," he said.
As exam season fast approaches, students are combatting high-stress levels in school as well as their personal lives. "Mind you, students, are not just dealing with exam stress. We have to face bullying from peers and seniors, poor treatment in classrooms if you don't get high marks, etc," said W.C, a British curriculum student (name withheld at request).
"I am overweight, so I get bullied by my classmates. It is very demotivating to come to school, and perform well when you are facing such issues," she added. WC's mother, Jenny, also a school teacher, said, "As a community, we are not helping children tackle the issues that would prepare them for the future workforce. We are burdening them with more issues and insecurities, and many of it is beyond their understanding."
Parents burden kids with high expectations
Dr Mona Youssri, a licensed family counsellor at the Dubai Health Care City and student counsellor at GEMS Wellington Academy - Silicon Oasis, explained: "It is very important that parents review what they say and do to try to motivate their child to achieve high grades. A lot of parents just can't accept that their child is not a high achiever. They keep pushing in this direction which causes them to miss their child's real talent and creative abilities as well as negatively affect their self-esteem.
"When the child has evident exam anxiety like throwing up or being unable to answer questions out of fear, the first thing parents should do is to acknowledge the feeling and support the child in figuring out. It requires problem-solving step by step. A response like "Tell me more about what's going on with you, what do you think you can do about this? How can I support you? What do you need?
"If parents are not pressuring the child and the child is still anxious, they need to get external support from a counsellor who will work on the child's cognitive behaviour and automatic thoughts that are causing the anxiety.
Is it easy for parents to spot anxiety, stress in kids?
Signs of stress are usually clear to parents, but they are usually normalised and blamed on the teenage phase.
Dr Mona Youssri, a licensed family counsellor at the Dubai Health Care City and Student Counselor at GEMS Wellington Academy - Silicon Oasis, said: "When it's clear the child is not sleeping well or sleeps too much, we just say that's how teenagers are. The most two significant signs are changes in eating or sleeping habits. Also, any change of behaviour like becoming extra silent or shut-in or becoming explosively angry. Parents should also check on their teenagers in bed and see if they have been crying."
Babu Rangarajan, student counsellor - Boys, GEMS Millennium School, Sharjah, said:
"Parents can identify by the change in children's behaviour, facial expression, changed tone, changes in mood, changes in academic performance and changes in sleep and food habit."
Swathi Satheeshan, student counsellor at GEMS Millennium School, Sharjah (Girls), said, "Children act out in many ways such as severe mood swings, easily crying, complaining of chronic physical alignments when there are no actual scientific traces or preoccupied with worries etc."
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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