Low sense of control a factor in students' stress

Rising levels of anxiety, depression and other mental-health issues in our students point to the damage that an overemphasis on academic performance has wrought (Not easy to change mindsets in efforts to cut stress: Indranee; July 12).

In the book, The Self-Driven Child, authors William Stixrud and Ned Johnson attribute such mental health problems to a low sense of control.

When parents foist unnecessary tuition and enrichment classes on children and dictate their every activity, they are essentially denying the children the opportunity to do what they find meaningful, as well as to succeed and fail on their own.

Research on motivation has suggested that a strong sense of autonomy is key to developing the self-motivation that allows students to pursue their goals with passion and enjoy their achievements.

When children feel controlled, their motivation drops or becomes fear-based, which is detrimental to them developing the independence and self-motivation essential to eventual success in life.

When free play is replaced by organised enrichment programmes, children are denied the sense of autonomy in directing their own games and how to play them, leading to a loss of sense of control.

Due to packed schedules from school and tuition, as well as ubiquitous smartphone use and social media engagement, students are also not getting the sleep they need. When students are tired from lack of sleep, they experience a loss of sense of control as they will be more easily stressed and have reduced coping mechanisms.

Parents must refrain from rushing to fill free time with enrichment activities.

Downtime is not laziness and is essential to reflection and processing daily events.

Children thrive and grow when they feel challenged, but not threatened.

Personal pastimes are important, as are opportunities to develop their interests, even if these do not seem to contribute to higher grades.

The sense of autonomy and mastery in activities they love will filter through to other facets of life.

Maria Loh Mun Foong (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 16, 2018, with the headline 'Low sense of control a factor in students' stress'. Print Edition | Subscribe