Exams make teenagers suicidal

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The Independent Online
Children as young as seven are so stressed by school work and exams that some of them consider suicide, according to a report published today.

Mounting pressure for academic success has made school work the number one worry in children's lives.

A survey report entitled Stressed Out, which was produced for the charity ChildLine, pinpoints parental pressure, fears about the future and the lack of anyone to talk to as key sources of stress among pupils.

The majority of children who called the charity's helpline in distress over their schoolwork were aged 14 to 16, but ChildLine has had calls from some pupils as young as 12 who were already afraid of not getting into university. The youngest caller was seven.

One girl, called Susie, tried to hang herself because of the pressure of GCSEs before ringing Childline last year. Others were in tears when they called, many had played truant to avoid stressful work and 13 said they were contemplating suicide.

More than 1.25 million pupils are preparing to sit exams this summer. Of the 17,004 children who called ChildLine about problems with school in 1994-95, just 196 were primarily concerned about work and exams - far less than for bullying, abuse or relationships.

A survey of 1,000 children carried out for the report found that 79 per cent worried about exams and schoolwork "more than about anything else in their lives". John Hall, the report's author, said the figures suggest many children are able to cope with exam pressures with the help of friends, teachers and parents. But he added: "The children who call ChildLine are the ones who feel unable to share their worries with anyone else or who have tried and found their listeners unsympathetic.

"These are children for whom the pressure has become unbearable, and many feel their whole future hangs in the balance. They describe feeling out of control, panic-stricken, overburdened and overwhelmed, often saying they cannot cope any more. Many say that they have little support and that they feel unable to confide in those around them."

Parents with high expectations can make matters worse when what they see as encouragement is interpreted by the child as yet more pressure to succeed.

One tearful 15-year-old girl told ChildLine that her mother had told her she would have to leave home if she failed to get straight A grades in her GCSEs.

Others said their parents put pressure on them to achieve what they themselves had failed to achieve at school.

Violent schoolboy, page 5