Is academic stress to blame for high suicide rates among Singaporean children?

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Are we putting too much emphasis on our children’s academic results? Is the rise in suicide rates among 10 to 19-year-olds the result?

With the recent news of a Primary 5 student committing suicide after receiving bad grades in school, there has been an increased amount of attention being turned towards the subject.

The Straits Times reported that last year there were 27 suicides among 10 to 19-year-olds. This figure is the highest here in Singapore in the last 15 years.

Do we as parents put too much emphasis on academic grades, as opposed to encouraging a more holistic approach towards development and growth? Additionally, is this extra pressure proving to be too much for our children?

Parents urged to manage expectations

As a parent, it is natural for you to want the best from and for your kid. This often means tuition, enrichment and a fair share of nagging. However, are the expectations we hold above our children’s heads more than they can handle?

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Ms Lena Teo, deputy director of therapy and mental wellness services at the Children-At-Risk Empowerment Association Singapore, told The Straits Times, "Her mother told her that she could have scored above 85 had she been more careful.”

The quote was made in reference to a 13-year-old girl who had scored 83 marks for an exam. Instead of praising and acknowledging our child’s achievements, we point out where they could have done better.

There is no doubt that this behaviour could prove detrimental to our child’s mental health and self-esteem.

Are we subconsciously enforcing our expectations?

While you may not feel like you and your expectations are overbearing, your child may still be feeling the pressure.

Dr Carol Balhetchet, senior director for youth services at the Singapore Children's Society, told The Straits Times, “Children just want to see their parents happy for who and what they are.”

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So while you may not explicitly tell your child he or she is expected to come home with a specific grade, they may still be able to pick up on your expectations.

You may not be aware of your expressions, tone of voice, or changes in behaviour after viewing a report card. Your child, on the other hand, is very aware of your reaction.

Regardless of how subtle or minute your reaction, your child may have already made the connection between their grades and the response they received. In doing this you have,without realising it, set an expectation for your child.

What are mums saying?

While it is important to explain to your child the importance of doing well in school, it is of equal importance that parents encourage and support their children. In an article published recently by The New Paper, it was highlighted that parents need to offer support and guidance to their children.

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We decided to speak to some mums and see what they have to say with regards to the topic.

We asked Nisa Abdul Khan, a mother of 1, if she would make her son retake his Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE) should he have failed to do as well as she had hoped or expected.

To which she responded with, “No, if he has prepared for the exams to his best ability…I would much rather he progress naturally to Secondary 1 with kids his age. There are other ways to catch up and improve later on,”.

Parents need to understand and acknowledge that a bad grade, or a grade lower than hoped for, does not determine your child’s success rate later on in school and in life.

However, it is also important that one understands what your child is capable of and what your child, as an individual needs from you.

Jaya Mahesh, whose daughter will be sitting for her PSLE next year, says, “Regarding pressure, each kid to their own. My daughter thrives under pressure and actually requests that I nag her during exams.”

Learn to understand your child

Talk to your child about what he or she needs, some pressure may benefit some children – while another might respond negatively to it. Explain to your child the importance of their studies and let them know that you are there for them as a source of support.

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Let them know that they should not be afraid to approach you in they are having problems with their classes or find certain subject particularly difficult. Once you have recognised your child’s strengths and weaknesses, you will be able to help them to better prepare for their tests and examinations.

Having your child voice their feelings to you means that you will be in a better position to help. One child might need more tuition or help, while another could benefit from a hobby or activity that helps give their brains a break!

 

Source: The Straits Times, The New Paper