Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (March 24, 2016)
As we hear the devastating news of yet another child committing suicide in Hong Kong, it really is time for us to wake up and face the issue at hand. As of the first week of March, there have been a total of 19 students who have taken their lives since the start of the academic year. That is 19 too many.
I recognise that there are different reasons and circumstances in each case that may have led to such a drastic and depressing choice made by each student. It could be due to external pressures, mental and emotional issues, poor social connections and a myriad of other issues. People choose to take their own lives because they feel like they have no other way out, nowhere to go and no one to turn to. I don’t assume to understand the reasoning behind each person’s choice nor can I offer a simple solution but, I do challenge us all to think – as parents, educators, policy makers – what matters most?
If we were to ask new parents who are cradling their baby in their arms what matters most for their child, I think many would say that they would like their child to be safe, feel loved, be protected, one day be independent, and be happy. Fast forward to being a parent of a child in primary school, what matters most is probably what grades he gets, how piano practice is going, what secondary school and university he will likely get into. Fast forward further, it’s probably thinking about the work she will do, the amount of money she will make and whether she can buy a house.
It’s probably the same for educators and policy makers - expectations, benchmarks, goals, achievements matter more and more with the student’s age. With that, pressure mounds on the student, and without a proper emotional and social support system for him, some may snap.
At the end of the day, we all want our children to succeed, however we each define that. And we need to ask ourselves: what is success and what matters most? In my book, 3 things matter most:
Having children know their sense of identity is so important and that is where their confidence and self-worth come from. They need to have self-awareness and know their strengths and weaknesses. They need to know what they are good at and what they are not so good at. They need to know what makes them unique and one of a kind. They need to know their character strengths. They need to know that their identity and value doesn’t come from what they can DO but who are ARE. Because your abilities and achievements can change and is comparative to others but your character and identity are what makes a person unique. Yes, we need to raise children that are resilient and can stand failure but they need to know that we are their champions and support them. We need to let children know this and that they are more than their grades, school ranking and achievements and that our love for them is unconditional.
It saddens me when relationships are compromised for the sake of achieving certain goals. That parent-child relationships are severed because the parent is so goal focused on getting their child into a certain school that he has overlooked the precious bonding and need for conversation between them. Relationships take time to build but the investment is always worth it. Relationships matter more than achievements and the time it takes to cultivate them is never time wasted. Through building relationships – between family members, between friends, with others in the community – it helps us to grow in empathy, gratitude and resilience.
I think one thing that helps a person look beyond herself is knowing that she has a greater purpose; that life is not just her own but that she is part of a greater community that she can and should contribute to. If life is just about achieving personal goals, it’s much easier to overlook the value of one life. But if there is a greater purpose of contributing to the community and the knowledge that we were made to make a difference in society, then life is not a selfish pursuit. This should be reflected at home, at school and the education system as a whole. We should be educating our children to be people who care about the community.
19 deaths of students since the beginning of the academic year is 19 too many. The issues are complex but let’s start by showing our children in our society that what matters most is them knowing their sense of identity, having strong relationships and knowing that they are important to us as a community.