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Emotional Orphans!
Sep 06, 2019
Mayr Family

Emotional Orphans!

By Stacy Sun

Chinese teenagers are emotional orphans

The other day, I received a message via WeChat, which cost me a night of sleep. It was from a father whose 13 year-old son had attempted suicide several times. This father and his wife had been living in unbearable pain and fear of losing their boy, and they asked for my professional help.

This situation prompted me to interview as many Chinese teenagers as possible about their lives at school. I wanted to find out what made them think about killing themselves. Here is what I’d call a typical story about what’s propelling these dark thoughts.

I’ll call the 14 year-old boy in my story Leo. After more than seven sessions together, I built trust and security with Leo. He started to feel very relaxed and talkative. Without me asking, he said, “you know I tried to kill myself, right?” I said, “yeah, your father told me about it. Do you want to tell me your story?”

“People think I tried killing myself because my girlfriend broke up with me, but that’s not true. Girls are not that important to me,” he said.

“Oh, so what was it then? ” I encouraged him.

He sighed and was quiet for a few seconds. I could feel him trying to gather his thoughts to make a summary.

“At first, I was mad at my mom. She was always making plans without telling me, controlling me in the name of love. My weekends were filled with afterschool programs that I didn’t like at all. I felt so tired and never really rested for an entire week.

“And do you know what we do at school? We practice for exams almost every day. I hated this so much, and I lost patience with what my teachers told me to do. One day my math teacher made me stand in front of the entire class. She insulted me with the most ugly words, said I will be less than a cleaning person when I grow up. I almost wanted to kill her. After she did this, other teachers started to treat me terribly too. They kept talking about me or other kids in their offices. To get back at them, I stopped listening to them completely. But then they started giving my parents trouble. My dad beat me a few times very hard. I tried to fight with him, but he was always more powerful than me. One day I tried to jump off our seventh-floor window. He was really scared. That was the first time I felt like my dad was afraid of me. Since then, whenever I want to fight back, I use this to get his attention…”

“I get it,” I said. “It sounds like a power struggle. You finally found a weapon to protect yourself. I understand now. But what if you accidently jumped off from the seventh floor and ended up killing yourself?”

“I thought about that too. My life is really no fun though. Nobody understands me or cares about how I feel. So if I died, I wouldn’t regret it either.” His face filled with sadness and despair.

“I looked into his eyes and asked with compassion, “you’ve never felt loved or cared for by your parents emotionally? Not even your mom?”

“What do you mean by loved and cared for?” He asked me innocently and looked confused. It was clear to me that he had no idea about loving and caring emotionally.

“All right, let’s do this,” I said as I passed him a pen and a piece of paper. “Please draw whatever you think loving and caring emotionally look like. Don’t worry about your drawing skills. You only need to listen to your memories about love and care, and draw them out here.”

He took the pen and breathed a big sigh before starting his drawing. After ten minutes, he handed over his paper. I only saw a woman cooking a meal. The drawing confirmed my guess that he indeed had no idea about love and care other than being fed…

I asked him, “when you felt insulted in school, did you try to get support from your parents?” He said, “I did, but they were on my teachers’ side. They thought it was my fault that I wasn’t doing what the teachers told me to do. They blamed me for disappointing them. After that, I gave up. I know they will never understand me or trust me…”

This story best represents the collection of experiences I’ve heard about from the kids I interviewed. So many lonely hearts are longing for love and emotional care, like orphans. When these kids felt their feelings were not important to their parents and that no one else could help them either, they tended to give up on themselves. The idea of ending their lives became a way out.

I also interviewed all of the parents of these kids about the emotional support they show toward their kids. They would say things like, “I do not really understand my son. I spend all kinds of money on him for afterschool programs, and I’ve done everything for him—drive him to school, then pick him up, cook for him, sometimes even do his homework for him. What else does he want?!” It became very clear to me that these parents did not know how to love or care emotionally either. They could not give something they do not have or haven’t experienced themselves. Since this is how they were brought up by their parents, this sad chain directly affects the Chinese family education system.

After finishing my research, I created a workshop that teaches parents how to communicate with love, care, and emotional support. For example, they think about how to feel what they feel without doing everything else, to listen and validate their children’s feelings with compassion. This is how they can start to heal those broken hearts. The workshop has been a success, with positive responses from both children and their parents.

By the way, the boy named Leo is getting ready to go back to school with a strong heart like never before.