Photo/IllutrationVolunteers counsel children through chats on personal computers in Tokyo. (Provided by Childline Support Center)

Summer is a vital time for children struggling with such school problems as bullying, strained relationships with classmates or teachers and issues concerning their academic performance and future courses.

They can take a healthy respite from the stress of school life and seek advice on these issues.

As the end of the summer break and the beginning of the second semester approach, troubled children tend to become gripped by anxiety.

Each year, Sept. 1 is the day that sees the largest number of suicides among people aged 18 or younger.

Students in trouble should be encouraged to take action to deal with their problems during the vacation period. They should be advised to take some time to compose their minds and then take the plunge and tell someone about the issues dogging them.

It is the responsibility of adults to create an environment that makes such students feel comfortable about seeking advice. This is vital for saving precious lives.

First of all, it is important to make children aware that there are ways to find adults who are willing to help them deal with problems they do not want to discuss with their parents or teachers.

They can turn to telephone helplines, such as Childline and 24-hour SOS dial for children, or counseling services and expert advice services operated by local bar associations and municipal boards of education.

Parent-teacher associations and neighborhood community associations can help by, for instance, spreading information about these helplines and services over the Internet and distributing leaflets about them in such local community events as summer festivals and fireworks displays.

Adults who receive requests for help from such children should first listen carefully to their stories and try to feel and understand their pains and struggles instead of rushing to confirm facts and provide advice or guidance.

“The enactment of a law to deal with school bullying has made Japanese schools more willing to pay attention to what parents try to tell them (about the problem),” says Chieko Sakurai, a professor at Kwansei Gakuin University. “But children, the ones who are suffering, don’t receive sufficient attention.”

That is why the Kawanishi city ombudsperson for children’s human rights, an independent public entity set up by the city in Hyogo Prefecture to protect children from human rights abuse, has adopted the policy of placing great importance on direct, face-to-face communication with children in trouble even in cases in which their parents are seeking advice.

Sakurai serves as an expert researcher and counselor for the body.

Kawanishi’s ombudsperson and Seta Hotto, a similar independent public entity set up by Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward, both employ experts in education, welfare and law to offer high-quality support and advice.

Sometimes, these organizations, when the children seeking help wish so, work with the schools to help untangle their troubled relationships.

Seta Hotto also refers some cases to a bar association’s legal advice service and dispatches student volunteers to schools.

Other local governments can learn a lot from these activities in expanding their cooperation with organizations working for children both in the public and private sectors as part of their efforts to respond effectively to requests for help.

They should also make good use of social media and other familiar communications tools to make their counseling services more accessible for children.

One child’s good experience in seeking help can lead to more children receiving support and finding relief from their problems.

We hear that many children are reluctant to share their problems with others and choose to struggle with them on their own because of fear of worrying their parents or looking weak.

We need to make children understand that seeking help is a courageous act as well as a kind attempt to avoid making loved ones feel sad.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 5