More teen suicides, parents must manage expectations
Samaritans of Singapore reported recently that 27 teens committed suicide last year - a 15-year high. What drives teens over the edge?
Only 12, but he wanted to kill himself.
Tim (not his real name) had failed to enter his desired stream in his primary school.
The disappointment sent him into a downward spiral and his confused parents took him to see a counsellor, thinking he was simply being naughty and rebellious.
They did not know he wanted to end his life.
Fortunately, they got help in time and the counsellor was able to help Tim give up on suicide and to take another shot at life.
Tim had been achieving examination results in the 70 to 80s range, but this fell short of his parents' expectations.
He was also inundated with tuition and enrichment activities like art classes.
The accumulated stress and disappointment at having thought that he failed his parents became too much for him to handle.
Mr Daniel Koh, a psychologist at Insights Mind Centre, said the boy underwent counselling to get him through his Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE).
Mr Koh said parental pressure and the child's own high expectations can lead children to feelings of disappointment and failure.
He has seen more 11- and 12-year-olds seeking help for suicidal ideation.
He and his team worked with Tim's parents to teach them how to offer the necessary support and guidance.
Tim and his parents eventually tempered their expectations for his PSLE results and he is now settled in a secondary school.
Mr Koh said: "If the child cannot recover from past failures, the stress can accumulate.
"Disappointment pushes them over the limit. No (enrichment) activity is for fun any more. Anything the child touches needs to reach a certain standard.
"What the child and parents want may exceed (the child's) own capabilities."
The transition from childhood to adolescence is also a tough one.
Psychologist Frances Yeo of Thomson Medical Centre said that parents may not understand that the teenage years are stressful because on top of academic work, their bodies are experiencing hormonal changes.
She said: "Those years are also spent trying to figure themselves out.
"Compared to the early 2000s, computer and technology play a bigger role. Social media was not as pervasive then.
"Previously, we did not encounter cases of teens being so focused on computers and neglecting studies, or cases of cyberbullying."
Mr William Toh, 50, who has two children, aged 17 and 11, believes it is important to guide one's children without imposing expectations on them.
Mr Toh, who is the co-founder of parenting website KiasuParents, said: "Parents have to balance freedom with responsibility, to get your kids to trust you and talk to you."
On the mistakes he may have made, he said: "Maybe I've given too much guidance to the point where (my children) believe I'm making (them) walk in my footsteps."
He added: "Sometimes we do not recognise we are putting pressure on children. What we feel is the right path for them may not be what they can or want to achieve. At the end of the day, parents must learn to let go."
Mr Toh told TNP he had sent his children for activities including piano and fencing and had let his son drop fencing when he lost interest.
He then introduced him to taekwondo instead and his son earned a black belt.
He encouraged his daughter's interest in languages, and accepted that she was less inclined towards mathematics.
Mr Toh added: "Let (children) develop their own interests. Parents should understand what children want and take steps to help them achieve that goal."
"Sometimes we do not recognise we are putting pressure on children. What we feel is the right path for them may not be what they can or want to achieve."
- Mr William Toh, 50, a parent of two children, aged 17 and 11
S'PORE'S SUICIDE CASES IN 2015
Calls to the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) hotline from those aged 10 to 19
Of such calls were classified as calls with suicide risk. Another 36.3 per cent were crisis calls where the caller may be going through a highly stressful life event or situation which requires emotional support. These are individuals who are susceptible to developing suicide risk.
Reported cases of suicide among those aged 10 to 19
Reported cases in 2014
Source: Samaritans of Singapore
Expert: Kids need to know they are loved
A positive home environment with involved parents can help children manage stress and prevent the development of harmful behaviour, experts say.
A parenting specialist from Focus on the Family, Ms Sarah Chua, said: "Research indicates that a sense of parent-family connectedness is one of the most effective protections against suicidal behaviour among young people."
From her experience in running family programmes, Ms Chua has realised that teenagers may need as much support as toddlers, but may not be able to verbalise their needs properly.
On how parents should communicate with their children, she said: "Look for opportunities to talk with - not talk to - your teen."
Ms Chua emphasised that parents should avoid transferring anxiety to their children.
She said: "Parents can be a lifeline to their children... Don't criticise, express anger, assign blame or share personal anxieties at this point.
"Instead, be a source of unconditional love, compassion and support, gain their confidence and trust."
Ms Chua added that parents should reassure their children that their love is unconditional.
She said: "Ultimately, children need to know they are loved not because they are performing, but in spite of anything and everything they do - and don't do."
Mr Edwin Choy, 54, co-founder and director of the Centre for Fathering in Singapore, said that children with involved fathers tend to cope with stress better.
He said fathers should lend an ear to their troubled children to build a healthy communication channel.
Mr Choy said: "Children experiencing stress need a nurturing adult to discuss their struggles with.
"A father who spends lots of time with children will be more likely to identify signs of stress. When that involved father is also approachable, it can facilitate honest disclosures."
Samaritans of Singapore (24-hour hotline): 1800-221-4444
Tinkle Friend: 1800-2744-788
Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019
Care Corner Counselling Centre (in Mandarin): 1800-3535-800