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Call for access to school counsellors for all young

Challenges include learning how to listen to teenagers so they will talk about problems.

The problem of depressed and confused teenagers identified by the Global School-based Student Health Survey (GSHS) could be helped by having dedicated support in every school, according to a school counsellor.

"Gathering data to have an idea what students struggle with is a first step," said Rebecca Williams, who called for counsellors in all schools. "We need to know this, we all know these problems exist, but we don't talk about it. We need to address these issues and find solutions."

Ms Williams, who works at Greenfield Community School in Dubai, said counsellors could also help to educate parents on how to cope with rebellious teenagers.

"I run a parenting workshop on how to talk to teenagers so they'll listen, and how to listen so a teenager will talk," she said. "It helps parents."

Angela Hollington, the school's principal, said the challenge was to really know the students.

"We have to get to know the students well, know how they behave, who has the potential to bully or be bullied, who has low self-esteem that we need to develop," she said.

The school had to work together with the parents, she said, especially when dealing with children in their adolescence - a difficult time for students.

"That's a time when kids are changing so quickly and rejecting everything that is the status quo. We have to make sure they know they are cared for, don't feel rejected, have counsellors to talk to."

Both teachers and parents could watch out for warning signs that might indicate an unstable mental state in a teenager, said Dr Philip John, a consultant psychiatrist at the Child Guidance Clinic in Sharjah.

"Common signs include mood swings, social withdrawal and sudden changes in behaviour," he said.

"Force the child to talk to someone who will not judge and who is able to listen, so they can get their problems off their chest."

Clive Pierrepont, the director of communications at Taaleem, the owner of Greenfield, said there were telltale signs that a child may be being bullied.

These, he said, included "a reluctance to go to school, torn books with no logical reasons or even physical scratches and bruises, signs of depression such as unusual and moody behaviour patterns".

Dr Fatma Abdullah, a non-resident research fellow at the Dubai School of Government, said that although keeping track of children during their teenage years was difficult, doing so was critical.

"As a parent, as a teacher, you have to be aware of the child and any changes occurring in how the child acts or thinks," she said.

Being in tune with a child at that age was not easy, but must be done, she said.

Rachel Jex, a school nurse, is mother to a 10-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son, who are students at the Dubai British School, which has a counsellor on staff.

"She makes herself available to children at all time, whenever they need to talk, and that is quite important to have someone like that," said Ms Jex.

A counsellor can help put things into perspective for parents, teaching them how to use the right words to form open questions that would allow a child to talk and feel safe to bring up a worrying topic.

"As a parent, you want your kids to succeed, but you also want them to be able to come to you and talk about anything; that's the struggle," she said.

hkhalaf@thenational.ae

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