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Hikikomori and dropping out of school: what can the school do?


When I asked the young people at the Hikikomori Italia chat; “If you could choose, what would you change in this society?”, many of them answered, immediately and without even thinking about it: “school”.

Losing You - LY

The scholastic environment is a place where hikikomori experience a lot of suffering, and it isn’t by chance that most of them start isolating themselves during the equivalent of middle and high-school years.

It is therefore fair to ask ourselves what responsibilities schools have when a young person decides to abandon it, not because of disinterest, nor because of the inability to obtain good marks, but because of a negativity so strong as to overcome even those moral and social obligations that should dissuade it.

The role of peers

The hikikomori are often timid and introverted young people that struggle to relate to the rest of the class. This temperamental characteristic of theirs causes them to be victims of scorn and derision from their classmates that can sometimes break out into real acts of bullying.

These attitudes do nothing more than increase their idea of them being “different” from others, in as much as they’re more mature and less superficial. They therefore struggle to recognize themselves as being a part of a generation and a society that seems so distant from their way of interpreting existence.

The more they’re ignored, derided, and targeted, and more their suffering makes them rigid, disillusioned and cynical towards the scholastic system, the malfunctioning of which they perceive better than anyone else, being an integral part of it.

From the rejection of school they quickly move on to isolation, not only because school represents almost the entirety of their social life, but also because they end up generalizing the suffering and negative aspects encountered in the scholastic environment to society at large.

The role of teachers

The unpleasantness caused by the school isn’t given only by the relationship with peers, but also often by that with the teachers.

When a hikikomori feels scorned and threatened by their classmates they expect, consciously or unconsciously, the support of the relevant adult. If this doesn’t happen, if the young person doesn’t feel safeguarded by the teacher, but on the contrary, perceives disinterest, superficiality, or even complicity with their detractor from said teacher, then their trust of people, relationships and, consequently, of society, becomes such as to cause in them a great loss of motivation in starting any scholastic, social, or work career.

The precipitating factor

The isolation of a hikikomori rarely has traumatic origins, but is rather the fruit of a gradual process that, in time, causes the person to develop a negative and strongly internalized from interpersonal relations and society.

However, during clinical interviews a “precipitating factor” emerges almost always, that is to say an event that the person associates with the choice to become isolated, what they consider to be the key episode that started the condition of withdrawal.

Such a factor could be something harmless to our eyes, but contextualizing it within a psychological frame that’s been rendered fragile and vulnerable by constant stress that the person feels every day in an environment perceived as hostile, makes it so that this event assumes for them an incredibly relevant importance.

It certainly isn’t by chance that the “precipitating factor” becomes manifest, the vast majority of the time, within the scholastic environment.

What can the school do?

School plays, then, for better or for worse, a crucial role in the spreading of the hikikomori phenomenon and, despite all the difficulties caused by the continuous mortification and devaluing of the teacher’s role, not to mention the lack of resources, should:

  • research the subject more deeply: to understand the problem and it’s dynamics is the first fundamental step to be able to counter it;
  • act tempestively to support young people and their families providing for them the use of their own resources: for example, forming school psychologists who are able to promptly recognise and intervene on a potential case of hikikomori, providing a first response not only to the young person in question, but to the self same parents, completely disoriented in front of their child’s behaviour;
  • not pressure the hikikomori to return to school immediately: once the hikikomori’s isolation has manifested fully they don’t want to hear anything about going back to school, forcing them will do nothing. They need to undergo a gradual resocialization process where going back to school represents only the last step;
  • decisively side with the victim during cases of bullying, even subtle or psychological cases: it’s important that the teachers don’t underestimate any form of denigratory or violent behaviour, be it of a physical or psychological nature. In a society such as ours, designed for the extroverts, it’s fundamental that all minorities of character are safeguarded, at least in an equalenvironment such as the scholastic one should be;
  • be flexible on alternative teaching methods: for example the chance to undergo oral or written tests at home or outside the school day, or even a greater openness to parental teaching, seen particularly critically today by many teachers.

Written by Marco Crepaldi
Translated by Frederick Allen

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