Family, an emotional safe haven

November 26, 2023 | 05:08 pm PT
Giap Van Duong Educator
Late one evening a parent called me frantically and said: "Teacher, please help my child. He won't listen to me. He wants to quit school and become a hermit."

It was not the first time I got this call for help. I received similar cases from friends, acquaintances, or even strangers on the internet.

In online forums, I have seen many similar instances, and they are worsening in terms of both numbers and seriousness.

The common factor in most cases is that the children were uncooperative, unmotivated and had negative thoughts, and the parents could not find a meaningful conversational approach.

The parents then attempted various strategies, advising, intimidating, crying, and seeking for help, all in vain.

But before these crisis erupted most of these children had cheerful lives, with normal physical and mental well-being. They then became depressed for reasons unknown.

Once we sat down with the children, we saw that under the one-dimensional behavior was an emotional roller-coaster inside each.

Some slight cases were merely disoriented, others were clinically depressed and needed treatment, and some sought closure through suicide, failed and tried again.

According to a report by the Ministry of Health, 15% of the population has mental health issues.

UNICEF says 29% of children and teenagers need mental-health assistance, and in Vietnam, this is equivalent to three million children.

This is an unbelievable figure that is slowly but surely destroying many families. Its impacts are indisputable.

How can we mitigate the damage that this mental health crisis brings to ourselves, our families and communities?

Though not a psychiatrist, as an educator, this is a question that has engaged me for several years.

After many years of working with children and families I realize that before experts can come to the rescue, each family needs to take a first step in protecting itself from these issues.

Families need to be the emotional shelter for every member, especially children.

We were all born into a family which we did not choose. We later get married, some without understanding all the hardships of family life and marriage. It is the same for all of us.

Consequently, most of us do not learn how to properly manage and take care of a family. We typically let family life take its own course, mimic the manner our parents managed the family when we grew up or apply corporate management lessons from our professional life to our personal life, without fully comprehending the differences between them.

While the first way disorients the family, the second suffocates the people in it and the third dehumanizes us.

The third way carries the most risk since families are not logical and transactional like a professional organization, and are where we nurture our emotions.

Families should be where we feel listened to, not where we receive criticism. If we are open to sharing our emotions and listening to others without judgment, families can be a happy place to return to after a day in our chaotic society.

If your children still live with you, create a safe place for them to share their emotions. If the children live away from you, create a place where they can return and simply relax. As people, we do not need moral lectures every day. Sometimes we do not need a solution; we just need to be listened to.

After many years as an educator, I feel that teaching lessons to children, needed as it may be, should not be the only conversation you have with your children.

Parents should refrain from cramming children with life lessons, should not attempt to sneak in some hidden messages and should not be long-winded with their lessons.

Children learn from parents, teachers, friends, and society. They learn lessons in their own way. Parents, besides being an educator, should also strive to be a friend to their children.

Families should be where we can safely return to.

*Giap Van Duong is an educator and former researcher at the Temasek Laboratories, National University of Singapore.

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