Teen suicide led to 27 deaths last year. This is the highest in 15 years. The most recent case of an 11-year-old who ended his young life due to failed grades sends a ripple of horror and shock through our nation.
This is a parent’s worst nightmare. The quandary over good grades, high expectations and a better future for our children has created a dangerous whirlpool for any parents who wish well for their kids. As an Asian country with little natural resources, Singapore from Lee Kuan Yew’s era has always maintained that we needed to cultivate our people resources – that is groom scholars. Over the years, our nation’s academic standard has been touted as one of the best and sets an exemplary standard for the world to follow.
With this demanding academic culture comes the pressure for students to succeed and maintain the standard. I cannot speak for the MOE (Ministry of Education), but I can speak from my point of view as a parent.
How can we ensure that our kids meet their potential? How do we prevent our children from reaching a point where committing suicide is an option for them? These are some of the questions in my mind when I walked into the Talking Point forum, where I had the privileged to attend last week.
Organized by Talking Point, this was a special forum to address the issues of academic pressure, the students’ psyche and the part parents play in this dilemma. Our host, Steven Chia (far left) with his three experts, Dr Ong, celebrity Irene Ang and Mr Chow Yen-Lu, a father who lost his son to suicide, will weigh in on what to do and how to spot the signs of teenage suicide.
Still Taboo About Failure…
In a society where the emphasis has always been on outstanding performances and embracing brilliant students, parents are on the receiving end of the propaganda to ensure our kids meet these high standards. Tuition Centres and the enrichment industry knows this and prey on our fears to build their empires. The pressure to get our kids “Future-ready” is a misnomer that inadvertently adds more pressure to the already overflowing cauldron.
I broached the topic of failure to our experts because I wanted to know how our children will ever appreciate success if they do not know how to fail or the process of learning from their mistakes. I find their responses to my question interesting.
As expected, Dr. Ong suggests that we not use the word failure but find an alternative instead. In fact, it was Irene Ang’s response that I found most interesting. For someone who tried to take her own life, not once – but three times, she was the most against my suggestion that we let the kids experience failure.
At the end of the day, it was Mr. Chow who supported my idea that failure is a necessary passage to success. Hailing from the birthplace of start-ups and having endured the painful experience of losing his son to suicide, Mr. Chow shares that giving our kids the opportunities to fail small and fail young actually provides them with the process to be more resilient to failure and try harder for success.
And of course, the most important element is that the child knows that his/her parents love him/her despite the failures. We are all not perfect. We have failed at some point or other in our lives – being demoted or fired from a job, lost the pitch to an important project/business, shut down a unit, etc. So why are we putting such an onerous responsibility on our young, especially before they are 18 years old?
Remember when our kids were babies learning to walk? they toddle and fall. With each fall, we were there to pick them up, guide them, encourage and comfort them. Are we doing the same in our kids’ academic life? When I speak with my students, many of them complain that their parents don’t listen to them. Or when they do, they don’t necessarily hear what our kids are saying.
I find it puzzling with this talk on teaching our kids to be resilient, to be self-learners. Yet, we prevent them from experiencing the very situation – falling down and picking themselves up – that WILL help them to be just that.
Interestingly, if we look at all the successful men and women now and in the past, you find very few who had always succeeded. 9 out of 10 will have failed in their ventures, experiments, and business dealings. Yet, the failures of our kids are deeply frowned upon. As an Asian mom, I too hated the idea of my kids failing in school. I worry how these failed grades will affect their ascend academically. But, I realized that my kids need to experience failure to know HOW to deal with it. So I allow strategic failure.
Thank you Steven Chia for inviting me to this very interesting and pertinent discussion and giving me the opportunity to share my viewpoints on national TV.
You can check out the entire video of the TEEN SUICIDE episode here.