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SPECIAL REPORT: Parenting styles, media content could trigger suicide amongst children

The other push factors include depression, anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder-PTSD, high levels of stress, physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect.

With the advancement in technology, children have constant access to the news on TV, radio and the internet. And while this should be good, often bad news is thrown in their faces constantly and it’s processed in real-time.

Physiatrists believe that this could be one of the factors that are fueling suicide amongst teenagers, even though there is no clear-cut or simple answer as to why children commit suicide. The other push factors include depression, anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder-PTSD, high levels of stress, physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect.

Events like these are known to destroy brain cells as explained in the book, ‘Saving the Brain’ by Victor Hoff. In the book, Hoff says that if these conditions are present while a person’s brain is developing, they wreak havoc on their upstairs brain- the location where a person’s thinking, processing, logic, and analysis take place.

He adds that when the upstairs brain has damage or deficits, it increases the opportunities for a person to react with their downstairs brain- a part where a person’s fight or flight response resides.

According to the writing, there is no reasoning in the downstairs brain, but only reaction-which can cause a person to push past their normal survival instincts and commit suicide.

Similarly, child psychologist, Roselyn Ngorok, explains that it is possible for children as young as six to commit suicide when they feel neglected, unloved or not listened to. Ngorok says children endure a lot at the hands of parents who intend to criticize or punish youngsters for every mistake. The discussion follows two events over the last week where two children committed suicide in Wakiso district.

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The first was a Senior Four student identified as Emmanuel Okello, who allegedly terminated his life using a rope after his father put him in a school that he did not like, while the second was a six-year-old Maureen Nantume, who allegedly hung herself after being forced to return to a village school as educational institutions reopened their gates after two years of inactivity.In both incidents, parents said the shocking deaths happened after they had an argument on the choice of schools.

Kampala Metropolitan Deputy Police Spokesperson, Luke Owoyesigyire said preliminary investigations indicate Nantume was going to be taken to a village school in Buikwe district, a move she openly protested in the presence of parents.

Nantume’s suicide has left many people asking questions on how a six-year-old could have the courage to hang herself. But Ngorok thinks words that parents use when speaking to children especially when they are at fault could ignite such actions.

The anger according to Ngorok, keeps piling within the child’s mind until he or she cannot contain the insults anymore.“If you are a parent who scolds at children or uses words like you are useless, the children realize that they are not loved. They conclude that since I am not loved and I am useless, let me kill myself. But that comes when they have ever heard or watched people killing themselves,” Ngorok explains.

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Literature also shows that with teens, more than any other age group, suicide is usually an impulsive act. Teenagers tend to be more impulsive because the prefrontal cortex in their brain is not fully developed and does not become fully developed until around the age of twenty-five. The brain’s prefrontal cortex is responsible for higher processing skills such as logic and reasoning.

Ngorok says since many parents’ financial sources were affected during the COVID-19 lockdown, they need to politely explain to children that they cannot afford to keep them in the schools they want. This Ngorok says would help to reduce incidents of parents being seen as dictators and disrespecting children’s decisions.But she adds that parents need to look out for signs such as social isolation.

“The child stops playing or associating with peers, he or she becomes bored, loses interest in children plays and daily activities. When such signs are detected, parents are advised to always be fast at assessing their conduct towards children and try to engage them in a calm situation.”

Ngorok also advises parents to control the TV channels that children watch and explains that watching horror movies could trigger incidents of suicide or even killing colleagues in an attempt to practice what they have watched.


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