Thursday, April 03, 2008

On happiness & the role of education

Artichoke’s latest post featured the NZ Herald report of a 17 year old Takapuna high student suicide, brought on by bullying at school and a discussion on the role of schools in shaping children’s attitudes to happiness.

I read the post just as I bid farewell to my 20 year old travelling back to university in Wellington. She had returned to Christchurch the week before to attend the memorial service of an ex-school mate & university peer who had taken her life just before Easter. Youth suicide rates in NZ are nothing to boast about. Compared to other OECD countries, NZ has the highest suicide rate for young men (15 to 24 years) and second highest rate among young women. This in a small country, blessed with an enviable lifestyle, purportedly egalitarian society, high literacy rates and low unemployment. WHY!

My daughter & I had a good chat about the consequences of her friend’s suicide and strategies she could use to help her and her wider group of Wellington friends deal with the loss. My daughter was sensible and maintained great equilibrium throughout. At a late stage in our mother and daughter chat, my son joined in (a rare event in itself!) and chipped in with advice from his pharmacist friend. The advice was along the lines of how every individual had highs and lows as part of the natural order of how our bodies worked. Prescription drugs that control depression sometimes make the cycles of emotional highs and lows more intense. Therefore, it was more worthwhile to talk about things when one was feeling bad rather than to pop a pill and hope things become better. We all resolved to keep in touch much more and to vent when required so that frustrations with work, study or friendships did not become bottled up. All in, the chat brought us all closer together and will be something I will remember as a parent.

The bulk of Artichoke’s post was on happiness and the role of schooling in helping young people grasp the concept of happiness. The post ended with the several questions including “the role of technology in helping students define happiness “ & “what happened to belonging”.

To the first question, I would add “ the role, in particular, of mobile phone technology” as this is the ICT tool that most young people in the 15 – 24 age range use. What use can mobile phones be towards helping young people seek help sooner for their angst? How can mobile phones keep tabs on young people (who are at risk of committing suicide) without becoming invasive? Can mobile phones be used in a sensitive and positive way to help young people through their bad patches by offering on-call ‘buddies’ like the ones that are now offered on land line phones and through voice via Youthline.

With the second question on “belonging”, the role of mentors for young people, especially for young men is extremely important. One of the things I found in my research on young people becoming bakers was how young people have an affinity to being lead / mentored to by other older men. This could be in the form of the bakery manager / owner, the bakery supervisor or in many cases, the senior apprentice. These ‘older’ role models show young men who are entering the workforce, the way to become men (for better or worse). So learning about happiness needs to be a societal force, something along the lines of Bhutan’s “happiness index”? & schools can at best, assist in the process.

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