Let's not make our children sick with drive for success

Yesterday's commentary ("Is the drive for success making our children sick?"), highlighting a study done in the United States, reaffirms the concerns we have today regarding how the drive for success is making our children sick.

The results of the US study are alarming: 54 per cent of students studied showed symptoms of moderate to severe depression and 80 per cent had moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety.

The study reflects the concerns of educators that they are sitting on a time bomb which may explode soon, with serious consequences.

Many students studied highlighted school as the main source of their anxiety. Many of them are caught up in studies, homework, sports and other activities to help them qualify for scholarships or courses of their choice.

The situation is no different in Singapore.

On the ground, we are seeing more students visiting doctors with symptoms of stress, anxiety, insomnia and depression.

The US study also found children as young as five suffering from migraine and ulcers.

We are also seeing more teachers and parents affected by this development.

Teachers and principals are caught in a vicious circle of driving students to achieve success, with parental demands and anxiety in the background.

The result is that anxiety and depression also take a toll on our educators.

Young adults moving on to university or entering working life are also not spared.

A recent study has found a great percentage of doctors in the US suffering from depression; imagine the healers needing healing themselves.

We need to pay heed to this development and time bomb in our society.

Parents, educators and the authorities must be mindful of this and make necessary, even small, changes so as not to aggravate the situation.

Unnecessary programmes and unnecessary stress to get good statistics would mean a high price to pay, with regard to the health of all concerned.

For instance, when the five-day work week was introduced, some institutions and companies insisted on their staff coming back on weekends for extra work, even bonding activities.

What they really need is a break from their work.

Why are parents spending so much on tuition, extra-curricular activities and enrichment programmes, with children deprived of sleep and developing a distaste for so-called education, homework and more assignments?

Let us not ignore the findings and trends from the US study, supported by Singapore doctors' observations on the ground in their clinics.

Quek Koh Choon (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 05, 2016, with the headline 'Let's not make our children sick with drive for success'. Print Edition | Subscribe