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May 14, 2021

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Troubled teens and a policeman who listens

POLICE officer Chen Liangshun receives calls from anxious parents every day, and it all started when he managed to coax a teenager addicted to computer games to leave a bedroom where he had locked himself in for 50 hours.

Chen, 33, who works at Jiaxing Road Police Station in Hongkou District, has become a well-known troubleshooter for cases involving troubled teenagers.

It began when he found himself outside the bedroom door of Xiaowei, 15, in February 2020.

Xiaowei was on his fifth hunger strike after his parents cut off his Internet access. His father sought help from community officials, but they were busy fighting the coronavirus pandemic. Chen was summoned to deal with the problem.

The bedroom door was blocked by something very heavy inside. Chen feared the boy would hurt himself if left there.

He learned from Xiaowei’s father that the boy had been a top student until he became addicted to online games. He became belligerent when his parents tried to talk some sense into him.

Chen talked through the door.

“Xiaowei,” he said, “I also played games a lot when I was in school and even got beatings from my father for it. Do you want to know how I dealt with it?”

A feeble answer from the other side of the door was encouraging, and a conversation about games ensued. Xiaowei told Chen that he wanted to become a livestreamer for games.

“That’s all right,” Chen replied, “but do you think you can realize your dream by locking yourself inside forever? Would you come out and we can work it out together?”

Xiaowei finally opened the door, but Chen knew he was only halfway there.

Since the high school entrance exams were just a few months away, Chen advised the boy to put school first and games aside for the moment. The boy promised him he would do that.

However, not long after, Xiaowei slipped back to his game addiction. In June, he and his father had a serious shouting match and police were called.

It was 2am when Chen appeared again at the family home.

“If you think you can become a game streamer overnight, you’re wrong,” he told Xiaowei through the door. “You would need the support of your parents and very good equipment, which you don’t have now. And do you think you’re good enough to be a game streamer yet? I don’t think you can even beat me, and you’ll see that after you complete your exams.”

Chen left three hours later, completely fatigued. He promised the parents he would come back. And he did, more than 40 times in the next month, making friends with Xiaowei and encouraging him to stick to his original promise.

In the end, Xiaowei scored very well in the high school entrance exams and was enrolled in one of the best high schools in the city. His family was very grateful to Chen.

Chen kept his promise and had a showdown game match with Xiaowei. Chen easily defeated him.

“Admit that you study much better than you play games,” Chen said to Xiaowei.

The boy promised again that he would focus on his studies.

After local media reported Chen’s success, the policeman started receiving help calls from dozens of exasperated parents. Chen was surprised that so many families share similar problems with teenagers.

The national teenage hotline 12355 has been operating for over a decade, and slots in psychology clinics for troubled teenagers in the city’s hospitals are increasingly sought after.

A common complaint from the parents is that their children don’t like school.

“Learning is not easy, and many kids don’t have a drive to study hard,” Chen said. “To those kids, school has become their biggest problem in life, but their way out is often at odds with their parents.”

It’s important to help the teenagers understand that only by learning can they improve themselves and have more fun, Chen said. And only by dealing with the hardship of learning will they be able to handle other challenges in life.

“Adults need to be patient with kids,” he said. “Kids understand good intentions from adults, although they might tell you otherwise.”

Chen hit a tipping point and finally decided he needed some assistants after an incident with a grandmother.

She came to talk to Chen in the police station one day about problems she was having with her granddaughter, a junior middle school student.

After the divorce of her parents years ago, the girl lived with her father, with whom she has strained relations. Her father is not at home much, Chen was told.

Recently, her grandmother found the girl starting to post rather explicit pictures of herself on social networking sites. Fearing that the girl had come in a bad company of friends, she sought Chen’s help.

While Chen was talking to her, a call came in with an incident that he had to deal with immediately. When he returned to the police station, the grandmother was gone.

“I felt very sorry, and I would help the granny and the girl if I could get back in touch with them,” he said. “But I also realized that I alone might not be able to handle all the cases that kept coming to me.”

The cases require a lot of time, said Chen, a father of two children. He has been trying to read up on psychology and consulting experts on the issue.

Finally, with the support from the police station, Chen set up a special team to deal with teenage problems.

The first members on his team were 25 police officers with qualifications in psychological counselling, diplomas in education science and long years of work experience in local communities.

After a local TV program reported Chen’s story, more than 140 people answered his call and volunteered to help. Among them are experienced psychiatrists, professional psychological counsellors and social workers who help juvenile delinquents.

Chen said he didn’t expect such an outpouring and quality of help.

“I can’t wait to work with them, learn from them and help more families resolve these issues,” he said. “As a police officer, it’s my duty to help people.”


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