How to Support Your Teen in the JC Years

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It’s been an exciting start to the year for secondary school leavers, with the buzz of the O-Level results and school postings!

If your teen has chosen a junior college pathway, here’s what to expect: For the initial weeks of the new school term, JC students — whether they are coming in through the six-year Integrated Programme or joining as O-Level graduates — will experience a flurry of activity right from the get-go. Very quickly, many students will have to adjust to a new school environment and make new friends, while choosing a new slate of subjects to focus on. Amidst the frenzy, the thought of major exams looming again in less than two years can seem overwhelming. 

As parents, what can you do to support your JC teen? 

In these later teen years, it’s hard to anticipate when a parent should let go, or when to step in and provide some guidance. As with all parenthood stages, you’ll have to navigate the murky waters through trial and error, but one thing’s for sure: you must make the effort to spend quality time with your teen, because it’s the only way you’ll find out what’s on their mind. 

Below are three areas that you can focus on:

Leading a Balanced Life

We’ve heard that the JC years are akin to living life at “1.5 speed,” where lessons are fast-paced and the busyness can become all-consuming. 

As a parent, there’s not much you can do about this, except to ensure that all is peaceful and calming on the home front. First and foremost, you can learn gentle communication techniques to improve your relationship with your teen, and encourage your spouse or partner to do the same. At the same time, find ways to incorporate rest and relaxation together as a family — this can be anything from a weekly “Satur-date” with the family to check out a new restaurant or cafe, or a daily bonding routine such as playing card games at the dinner table, or watching TV together before bedtime. 

If you fear that your teen’s life is becoming too sedentary, take the initiative to schedule time for sports. For instance, a weekly badminton or table tennis session (with or without a coach) can be a great way for everyone to let off some steam, rain or shine. There are also recreational sports groups that play in different neighbourhoods, and they often welcome youth members to join them as well.

Discovering Interests Beyond School

Worried that your teen doesn’t have any interests apart from schoolwork? Although it may seem counterproductive for an already hectic life, developing interests outside of school helps your teen to define their identity, find purpose, and build confidence. So don’t shy away from these ‘distractions,’ but instead, keep looking for ways to help your teen expand his or her horizons, such as:

  • Encouraging your teen to try new activities, without expected outcomes. For instance, if your teen is interested in learning a new instrument (and you can afford to buy one), don’t hurry to find a teacher, but let your teen decide how often to play, and how to improve.
  • Letting your teen have conversations with the adults in your life, especially those who hold interesting jobs, have strong passions, or have made unconventional decisions in life. When you hold gatherings, involve your teen in the conversations rather than letting them slink away to the room.
  • Stepping out of comfort zones as a family. This can be anything from travelling to a new destination, exploring a new area locally, or being in a situation where you will meet new people. Model your openness and willingness to learn, as this will serve as the best example for your teen.
  • Using online resources to the fullest. If you have a favourite podcast or YouTube channel, share it with your teen, and talk about what you’ve learned from it. Encourage them to find their own ways of keeping up with what’s happening in the world, such as by using new AI tools like ChatGPT.
  • Looking for opportunities to serve the community. You can use the Volunteer.gov.sg website to see how you can give back as a family, or refer to this list of 50 social service agencies in Singapore that need help. Let your teen take the lead in deciding how he or she would like to make a positive difference.
  • Helping your teen to get an internship or holiday job. If your teen is interested in working, ask them what they would like to gain from the experience. Discuss the options that are available, where you can be of help, and what next steps they’ll have to take. Regardless of whether they are manning a bubble tea counter or interning at a firm, there are precious life lessons to be learned. 

Higher Education & Career Planning

What are your teen’s thoughts about university? 

Statistically, about 70 percent of JC students each year will secure places in Singapore-based universities. Teen boys will typically head off to fulfil their National Service duties before resuming their education, but whether or not one needs to serve NS, a gap year from studies to pursue other life experiences can be an option. (Read about a young Singaporean’s decision to take a gap year to work after NS, and what he gained.)

For teens who wish to proceed with further studies, there is the big question of what course to pursue. In local universities, courses fall under these broad clusters:

  • Accountancy 
  • Architecture, Building & Real Estate
  • Business & Administration
  • Dentistry 
  • Education
  • Engineering Sciences
  • Fine & Applied Arts
  • Health Sciences
  • Humanities & Social Sciences
  • Information Technology
  • Law
  • Mass Communication
  • Medicine
  • Natural & Mathematical Sciences
  • Services

Some teens are more independent by nature, and they would have decided on their career interests, as well as identified their ‘dream’ universities and courses. But more commonly, teens are unsure about what they would like to specialise in, and this shouldn’t alarm you — after all, many adults haven’t found their true calling either! 

Instead of getting stressed over major decisions that need to be made soon, set aside time for heart-to-heart talks with your teen, to address questions like these:

  • What can you imagine yourself working hard at, and loving it?
  • What sort of lifestyle do you think you would like to have, as a working adult?
  • Do you prefer working in teams, or doing solo projects?
  • Of the people that we know, who do you think has an interesting job, and why?

If your teen needs expert advice, encourage him or her to set up an appointment with the school’s Education and Career Guidance (ECG) counsellor. You can also refer to the career guidance resources on the Ministry of Education website, or look for quizzes and tests that your teen can take to identify possible interest areas. Alternatively, consider a budget-friendly coaching option such as the donation-based Coaching for Change programme, where your teen can work with a trainee coach to determine his or her passion and purpose.

Even if your teen is fortunate enough to have a big dream, a dose of reality is still essential. A local or international degree course may be out of reach because of your teen’s grades or financial constraints. Are there workarounds such as scholarships, or is there an equally fulfilling pathway that can be considered? Be open and honest with your teen, so that you can align your expectations for fruitful discussions, and draw up a concrete plan for the future.

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