Twenty nine per cent of students sought help, but 38 per cent of parents needed assistance to overcome anxiety. One exam-stress helpline run by the Sheung Hui Diocesan welfare council said almost 1,500 parents had sought counselling during 1997, peaking sharply during exam weeks. This is more than double the 600 parents who sought help in 1996 and the 466 in 1995.
A number of parents were very emotional. "Many of them cried a lot, and felt worried about the future of their children," a council spokesman said.
Hong Kong secondary-school principal Lau Yuet-fun, author of a curriculum guide for maladjusted children, said many children responded to pressure by being rebellious, running away, isolating themselves, throwing tantrums and in some cases turning to drugs. "The Hong Kong community is very competitive. Children feel even just standing still they are going backwards, such is the pressure to perform," she said.
The Hong Kong situation mirrors concerns in China where parental expectations and entrance exam pressure have led to a rise in adolescents with mental disorders. Surveys have shown that parents are pinning all their hopes on their offspring and worrying unduly about failure. Parents transmit their panic feelings to their children.
A survey reported in the official Yancheng Daily News found 11 per cent of 900 children at three middle schools displayed serious psychological symptoms of panic.
Many parents in both Hong Kong and China take leave from work just before their children sit important exams so that they can prepare their offspring, the newspaper said. "If the youngster must stay up all night and study, the parent does too," it said.
The official China Daily reported last year that ambitious, stressed-out parents in the Northern city of Tianjin had ordered oxygen tents from nearby hospitals just before examinations. "They believed oxygen would alleviate their children's examination pressure, improve their intelligence and help them achieve high test scores," the paper said. It added that psychological support was becoming increasingly important to help students cope with such stress. Almost one-third of the country's universities had set up counselling centres.