Tuesday, December 1, 2009

December: Teen Engagement

As we approach the end of the 2009 school term, I would like to take this opportunity to wish all Rafflesian families a happy and well-deserved break from work and school. The year-end is a time when the rhythm of work slows down and I hope all of you will be able to spend some quality time reconnecting with your loved ones.

I have a teenage daughter myself and I have gained a few insights this last year, talking to her and through meetings I had with parents and students who are facing challenges. There is an occupational hazard which I have observed in Rafflesian parents, including myself. We are oftentimes trapped by our own success. Our children have done well because of the supervision and care which we have given them in their primary school years. As we ourselves get more absorbed in our work, we spend less time with them, thinking they are old enough to take care of themselves. Some of us are out of the country fairly often. We come home late from work tired and are back on our computer after dinner. Since school work is so demanding anyway, we expect our children to be absorbed in their studies. We ignore signs of the growing gulf between parent and child and wonder why our teenagers prefer to spend time with their friends outside of home, rather than with us. We wonder why they are slacking in their work. We try to get the boys off gaming, but besides nagging at them to stop, we have little by way of conversation topics, to engage them.

Doing poorly in school, for students who are strong academically is at best a symptom of a deeper issue the child is facing. Do we really know what is eating at the hearts of our teens? Do we know the depth of their loneliness and need for connection? Most of us grew up very independently of our parents, and we have managed solitude and the confusion of the teenage years well. This generation, I discover, appear to be more reliant on others and seem unable to be by themselves for long. They get bored and discouraged easily.

The Raffles Parents’ Association has, in the course of this year, conducted talks on how to relate to our teenagers. Some of you have attended these and I hope they have been useful. May I encourage more to get together when such platforms are available, so that we can better support each other to help our kids through their teenage years. In an environment where the media, peer influence and shifting values work to confound what we teach at home and in our Character and Learning Education (CLE) class, we need as much time as possible to relate to our children, in an uncritical and non-evaluative manner. Never appear shocked at what they tell you, of what they and their friends get up to. Help them analyze situations impartially and give them time to think through what is the best way to respond to the issues.

Stay home as much as possible so that your child will be comforted that you are there for him/her when they are home. There is no need for conversation if they do not wish to chat. Just be there.

Keep in close touch with your children’s teachers. Keep in close touch with other parents. If you would like to have a chat with a parent of a teenager, do email me at principal@ri.sch.edu.sg. I shall be happy to chat.

Warmest wishes for a cosy and happy end of year.