School counselors that deal with children, students, teachers, and parents have become more common since 1995 when a pilot program to place counselors in schools began. This program was introduced because of a need for "mental health professionals" in schools, especially junior high schools, in order to deal with the increasing problems of delinquency, truancy, and bullying. For the past twelve years, I have been working as a school counselor in junior high schools.
"Listen, listen" - the weekly counseling room fills with children. I hear from children, "after six classes at school, I go to my club activity. I hurry home and then go to cram school. After 10 o'clock, I eat dinner and then do my homework. The only free time I have is spent sleeping." "My parents tell me to try hard for the future, but I don't know what kind of person I want to become." "Playing a good child in order to meet my parents' expectations has made me confused about my own feelings, and that has made my relationships with friends tough." "I always have to adjust to what's around me, and it's tiring."
Children are busy and exhausted. They can't afford to spend the time and effort on communicating with each other; nor have they learned the skills necessary to establish relationships. Bullying has become very common, and it has lead to tragic suicides. "When someone other than me is targeted for bullying, I feel safe and relieved. I feel disgusted with myself and the whole situation. It makes me not want to come to school." "It only takes one night of e-mailing to make the bullying start. I don't know what to do," some children say. An elementary school student who committed suicide last year wrote in her suicide note, "One day there was no one around me." Everyone becomes a bystander and ends up standing with the bullies, therefore, contributing to the tragedy.
Spending time carefully listening to the children in the counseling room sometimes gives me a sense of comfort because I can tell that they are not "bystanders" as the word would suggest, and in their hearts, they really want to do something about it. I think we should have specific education plans that encourage children to be "supportive" and to develop their hidden feelings into a larger "movement."
I have been teaching "peer support" classes at elementary, junior high, and high schools for the past five years. I provide training on "how to listen" and "how to express one's self" so that children can learn the skills that are needed for establishing relationships. The children's response has been very refreshing: "I now know how to express my feelings." "I want to listen when someone wants to share a problem." "I want to talk about my problems, too." I am enthusiastic about promoting "peer support" so that "the power inside children" can grow and have a "supportive" influence.