By Ivy Tan

Through my Facebook I got to Like The Online Citizen and have been reading many articles about the goings-on in Singapore. As in everyday life, there are many things to talk about and there will never be a time when we run out of topics. Many have written on politics, birth rates, foreign immigrants, missing person articles etc. But I somehow feel that there is one area lacking and seldom discussed – Singapore teenagers.

Just yesterday there was this “It’s Density, Stupid” article which opened me up to the topic I am most concerned about! The government has been pressing for our citizens to give birth, tagging so called attractive packages to promote it. However, having a child is not just about giving birth or having that Child Bonus endorsement – it’s life long attention that one must be prepared to give.

Let’s take a journey down so that I can bring your attention to what I am going to say. When a child is born, the child is surrounded with love. To many, the logic of the full attention is because the child still doesn’t know how to speak and we need to give our full attention and take care of the daily aspects of his/her life.

Next the child will go to pre-school, followed with the transition to P1. Most Singaporean parents will lock their child into a so called reputable school so as to prepare them (as early as P1) for the next milestone in their life – PSLE.

Upon completion of PSLE, the child will move to a reputable secondary school and begin the next phase of his/her life and so on.

But in the midst of this academic progress, have we ever stopped for a moment to think of the emotional aspect of the child?

Yes, parents may claim that they educate the child with ‘to dos’ and ‘not to dos’, they speak openly with their child on sexuality issues etc. But then again, I am referring to the feelings of a child transitioning from childhood to adolescence. There are many issues they have to face – hormonal changes, infatuation towards a friend (of the opposite sex or of the same sex even!) etc. The lucky ones open up to their parents or someone who offers genuine help and advice. But what happens to those who are left on their own to face all these emotional challenges which are totally new to them?

In addition to these, by the time they exit primary school, they will be deemed ‘independent teenagers’ who will be able to handle the daily aspects of their lives. Suddenly the people who were around them for almost everything since they were born are gone. They will be left alone most times to do their own thing. Some may rebuke me that parents will still continue to care, spend time etc. Yes, parents provide money for these teenagers to settle their own meals, buy gifts for them occasionally, go back home after work and have dinner together, have weekend family outings etc. All these are accompanied by the usual nagging, staying out after school, not taking meal with the family etc.

Since they were born, they have had everything done for them, there was no need for them to know when to eat and when to do this or that, but all of a sudden, they need to know for themselves when to do all of these things. From birth, they have always had a companion by their side to look after their needs or play with them, but suddenly, they are left on their own, to make friends.

So friends are the ones the teenagers seek solace in. Upon comparison, most of them will be the same, with both parents working and not having much time for them. More well to do ones will have parents splurging on them, but what about those who do not come from well to do families?

Other than activities in school, what else can these teenagers do? Or worse, for those who don’t even attend school for whatever reason (peer influence perhaps), they have the whole day in hand, and what can they do? Teenagers from rich families are better off as they will have much cash on hand to find entertainment. But what about those who don’t have the cash? They will hang around in groups at void decks or playgrounds, simply doing nothing. They speak the same language and they share the same tune – “our parents don’t have time for us and don’t care for us anymore”.

Hence they find things to do… they attempt smoking and to appear to be cool. Some may even try drugs. These will then be deemed as ‘bad kids’ by society. And the more they are looked down upon, the more desperate they will be to have an identity through roaming together as a group. They get themselves involved in gang fights, to show that they are capable of doing something. They shoplift to show that they can survive without the funds from their parents etc. Or worse, out of desperation, some even attempt to rob!

The teenagers who get themselves into a relationship will engage in sexual activities out of curiosity or the need to feel loved and wanted. With that, we have either unwanted pregnancies or teenagers who are forced to union legally by their parents, due to the pregnancy. Amongst many cases I have seen, none of such marriages turn out well.

I am writing all these because I have a teenager daughter as well who has gone wayward due to my negligence and non-discerning ways toward her. Since her transition from P6 to Secondary 1, she has become a totally changed person. She became someone whom I do not know. Out of desperation, I took the legal route and filed for a BPC (Beyond Parental Control) Order but the results were devastating because the authorities did not lend that helping hand to a lost parent like me.

Every little incident that happened along the way, I had to manage and handle myself. I do not feel that filing the order has helped me or my daughter in any way.

I definitely understand that such juvenile cases are on the rise but I urge the government to look seriously into this issue. First, we need to look into the feelings of these teenagers and second, the government should work on building up resources for parental support in such juvenile cases.

I am not well-educated and I cannot write well. But I hope The Online Citizen can help me in some way and broadcast my message to the general public and our government.