Children And Adolescents Need Our Help

Depression, self-harm and suicide are on the rise.

‘ Children are human beings to whom respect is due, superior to us by reason of their innocence and the greater possibilities of their future.’ Maria Montessori

Six-year old Ricky came running to the front door to greet us. His knee length, silky black hair tied in a loose ponytail left me in awe. ‘Come here Christina! Mommy has to finish making a patka with my hair!’ He announced proudly, pulling me by the hand.

The essence of Indian spices filled the family room as we sipped a cup of tea and began to catch up on the latest happenings.

I was happy to see that Nilu’s English had greatly improved over the past year. Moving to a foreign country is hard enough. Not being able to communicate becomes isolating, more so when you have school age children.

‘So, how are things going in your new school Ricky? Do you like it?’ My little friend lifted his eyes and showed a thumbs up. The joy I felt in knowing that Ricky was off to a good start in his grade one class was unattended when his skinny thumb turned down. His mother froze. Her eyes filled with distress.

‘Why honey? What’s the matter?’ I asked.

‘Ricky, tell Mommy what’s happening at school.’

‘Kids are hitting me.’ Ricky answered.

‘Did you tell the teacher sweetheart?’ There was a pause.

‘She said it’s a recess problem.’

I was Ricky’s age the first time I experienced bullying. A few older kids tied me up with a skipping rope and abandoned me in a dark, cold stairwell in a nearby building. Many episodes followed throughout the years. Once a child becomes afraid and insecure, self-esteem plummets. This creates fragility and makes for easy victims of injustice and abusive behaviors. In my case, events climaxed in grade seven, when seven classmates assaulted me. Over thirty years have passed, yet memories of the emotional and physical pain remain vivid. With love and very good professional help, one learns to cope, to build a normal life, despite the endless inner and invisble struggle to put scars into the right perspective, to accept them as an event of life that has made you a human being capable of great empathy towards those in need.

However, for all those who manage to survive bullying , there are many who do not. Being young prevents one from realizing and believing that life can and will change, that things will get better. Parents, teachers, teenagers and children must be educated to recognize and act but, first of all to care and look out for each other.

An article published in October 2016 by The Guardian entitled NHS Figures Show Shocking Rise In Self-Harm Among Young, states:

‘The sharp upward trend in under-18s being admitted to hospital after poisoning, cutting or hanging themselves is more pronounced among girls, though there have been major rises among boys too. Experts say the rise is shocking confirmation that more young people are experiencing serious psychological distress because they are under unprecedented social pressures.’

Words that scream for our attention, that proove adult inadequacy when it comes to safeguarding our youth’s well-being.

In my homeland,in Canada, the Canadian Mental Health Association reports suicide to be the second leading cause of death among youth between the ages of 10 and 24. In Italy, where I live, nearly 500 young people take their lives every year.

A fact sheet released by the World Heath Organization called Adolescents: Health Risks And Solutions testifies that globally:

‘Depression is the top cause of illness and disability among adolescents and suicide is the third cause of death. Violence, poverty, humiliation, and feeling devalued can increase the risk of developing mental health problems. Building life skills in children and adolescents can help promote good mental health. Programs to help strengthen ties between adolescents and their families are also important. If problems arise, they should be detected and managed by competent and caring health workers.’

In an endless quest to gain insight and knowledge about this worldwide plague, I stumbled upon an interesting document, an ‘Engagement Paper’, published by the Ontario Ministry of Education (Canada). It defines well-being as:

‘…a positive sense of self, spirit and belonging that we feel when our cognitive, emotional, social and physical needs are being met. It is supported through equity and respect for our diverse identities and strengths. Well-being in early years and school settings is about helping children and students become resilient, so that they can make positive healthy choices to support learning and achievement both now and in the future.’

Given the valuable information and the good intentions communities around the world show in wanting to promote and prompt the well-being of children and adolescents, something is not jiving.

Maybe we do not fully understand the causes which are leading to a rising population of youth affected by mental health disorders that often manifest themselves through tragic events of self-harm, suicide or attempted suicide.

There is a missing link between what we understand to be the well-being of a child and the fact that, despite our knowledge and efforts the situation continues to worsen.

It is not enough to write about what is right. It is no longer enough to tell others and ourselves ‘how things should be’. It is our responsability to go a step further. It is necessary to believe in what is right and act accordingly. How? By pursuing the same value-based goals every single day, at home, at work and in society.

Parents, teachers, community leaders, everyone must recognize and have the same moral and cultural issue with any type of violence or abuse that poses a threat or is an obstacle to a young boy or girl’s serenity, happiness, state of physical and emotinal health, and, ultimately, to their lives.

Children need love, laughter, kindness, stories, books, nature, animals, music, colors and play. Children need our time on both sunny and rainy days.

Ricky, the little boy I wrote about at the beginning of this post, is doing well. His mother and I decided to speak to the school principal, whom was receptive to our concerns. The bullies’ parents were called. Together, we were able to find a solution.

This cooperative approach saved a boy who would have otherwise, most likely, lost faith in adults, continued to live in fear, disliked school and grown up with low self-esteem, thus creating the conditions that often lead to substance abuse. It is not difficult to imagine the scenario of depression or other forms of mental illness that Ricky might have incurred in later on in life.

The collaborative spirit also helped the bullies understand their behavior was wrong, that they were causing pain and suffering in another human being. A lesson learned on empathy early in life. Hopefully it will guide their future actions.

The last time I saw Ricky he was running out the side door of his home: ‘Hi Christina, I’m going outside to play with my friends! Bye Christina!’

He’s going to be ok.

The following links are for all the young boys and girls who feel afraid, sad, alone and empty. I promise you that things will get better the moment you start talking to someone about what you are going through, no matter what it is. Reaching out is hard, I know. But don’t give up on life and on yourself. There are people who care about you. Even though I don’t know you, I am one of them.

Bullying Canada Youth Helpline

Child Helpline International