Exam stress among the young: When grades define worth

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Exam stress among the young: When grades define worth

Postby buds » Sun Oct 30, 2016 10:32 am

The obsession with grades and exams can take its toll on children. Amelia Teng speaks to experts and shines the light on the pressures children face and what parents can do to ease their burden.

Exam stress among the young: When grades define worth

One counsellor recalled how a 13-year-old girl scored 83 marks in mathematics but was scolded by her mother for being careless on one of the questions.

"Her mother told her that she could have scored above 85 had she been more careful," said Ms Lena Teo, deputy director of therapy and mental wellness services at the Children-At-Risk Empowerment Association Singapore. The girl was referred to her because of anxiety, depression and self-harm.

Then, there was a mother who made her son retake the Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE), even though he had passed the first time. "I was shocked," said Dr Carol Balhetchet, senior director for youth services at the Singapore Children's Society.

"I couldn't understand why a parent would put her child through another year of primary school for better grades."

The obsession among some parents for grades and exams is putting undue stress on young children here - an issue that has come under the spotlight after a Primary 5 pupil fell to his death. According to a coroner's inquiry last week, the boy had seemed afraid of showing his mid-term exam grades, having failed Higher Chinese and mathematics, to his parents.

Parents here have described the episode as a wake-up call, with many admitting it has forced them to rethink how much pressure they put on their young children to do well academically - sometimes without even realising it.

BEYOND GRADES

It's not just about academics, but they just want to see their parents happy for who and what they are... There is more understanding across schools that children have to be measured more holistically, but some old structures like grading and assessment haven't changed.

DR CAROL BALHETCHET, senior director for youth services at the Singapore Children's Society.

One parent says extra coaching, sometimes through tuition, helped her child cope with more complex topics and catch up in class.

More than As and Bs on a report card, it is the expression on their parents' faces when they read it that often matters most to children, added experts.

A parent's show of approval, disappointment or anger are signs of affirmation and acceptance, or otherwise, for young children. "Children just want to see their parents happy for who and what they are," said Dr Balhetchet.

Latest figures show that last year, there were 27 suicides among 10- to 19-year-olds - a 15-year high. This was double the 2014 figure, despite a drop in the overall number of suicides.

Young suicides have also been on the rise elsewhere - in Britain, 201 young people in the same age group of 10 to 19 had killed themselves in 2014, up from 179 in 2013.

A recent investigation by the University of Manchester of 130 teen suicides also showed that more than a quarter of them had experienced exam stress or other academic pressures.

The worry, counsellors here said, is that parents sometimes do not realise that by harping on grades, young children's sense of self-worth ends up being defined by how well they do in school. Even the "reminder" that if the child does not do well in school, he could end up with a poor job in the future can add pressure.

Families today also have fewer children, counsellors pointed out. And that means that children not only have fewer siblings to confide in, they also end up having greater expectations placed on them.

Said Madam Madelin Tay from Family Central, a service by Fei Yue Community Services: "With fewer kids, parents can afford better resources and surely want the best for their kids. So it may be intentional or unintentional that they want to see results after investing their time and money."

And not just when they enter primary school.

Housewife Nadia Ng, 28, who has a four-year-old boy and 2½-year-old girl, said: "Even in pre-school, other parents ask me if I send my son for enrichment classes, but I don't see a need because he's so young."

The Ministry of Education has, in recent years, taken steps to reduce the overemphasis on academic marks, by not naming the top scorers of national examinations and investing more in programmes to nurture students' strengths in other areas, such as sports or music.

The PSLE T-score - often criticised for causing excessive stress - will also be done away with in 2021, and pupils will no longer be graded relative to their peers.

Mr Bimal Rai, an educational psychologist from Reach Therapy Services, said he sees more efforts to help academically weaker students through schools like Crest Secondary. "The good thing is that there are multiple pathways in the education system today."

But parents do not buy into this as well - that learning is a lifelong journey.

"There is more understanding across schools that children have to be measured more holistically, but some old structures like grading and assessment haven't changed," said Dr Balhetchet.

Mr Brian Poh, a clinical psychologist from the Institute of Mental Health's department of child and adolescent psychiatry, said that children also have other pressures to deal with. These include friendship issues, bullying, sibling rivalry and difficulties with school authorities, he added.

While some children can cope, counsellors said that others may struggle and later develop socio-emotional problems such as anxiety, extreme mood swings or even withdrawal from social circles.

The Primary 5 boy's death has seen some parents relook their own behaviour.

Housewife Karen Chen, a 34-year-old mother of three, said: "Education seems like a rat race, and it does seem that kids are under more pressures today. The recent tragedy is a wake-up call for all parents to evaluate ourselves and how we help our kids manage stress."

Madam Christine Lim, 39, a part-time recruiter who has a son in Primary 2 and daughter in Primary 6, said: "As long as they try their best, I can accept any grade.

"Sometimes I scold them for making careless mistakes or I may threaten to not take them on holidays, but I've never hit them for bad results."

Mrs Tan Kee Leng said she was more careful with her words during the lead-up to her son's Primary PSLE this year.

"He started to get more stressed and couldn't sleep very well," said the 42-year-old who works in a pharmaceutical company.

"Instead of asking him what's the highest mark or how his friends did... we told him we would accept his results and we would move on no matter what."

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http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/w ... 1477789698

buds
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Re: Exam stress among the young: When grades define worth

Postby pokoyoko » Mon Oct 31, 2016 12:46 pm

buds wrote:Latest figures show that last year, there were 27 suicides among 10- to 19-year-olds - a 15-year high. This was double the 2014 figure, despite a drop in the overall number of suicides.


I feel so strongly when I read this... Let's treasure our children... Grades are not everything...

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Re: Exam stress among the young: When grades define worth

Postby tracychew » Mon Oct 31, 2016 1:38 pm

Taking on a different perspective, I understand where the parents are coming from.. They want the best for their child... But academic excellence is not the same as academic perfection...

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Re: Exam stress among the young: When grades define worth

Postby Busybugz73 » Mon Oct 31, 2016 1:58 pm

Agree. We "push" because we want our children to work towards greater heights and achieve their potential. However, we must also remember to taper this with love and positive affirmation. I'm writing this to serve as a reminder to myself as well. :)

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Re: Exam stress among the young: When grades define worth

Postby slmkhoo » Mon Oct 31, 2016 3:13 pm

Are we sure that exam stress is the main factor in teen suicides? What about other factors like the "instagram" culture which makes looks and keeping up with the Joneses so important? Or the pressure to grow up into sexuality so early? Or parental divorce or other family breakdown? I'm not saying that academic stress is not a very common factor, but I think that it is often a combination of several factors that finally pushes a child over the edge. We shouldn't focus on academic stress alone.

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Re: Exam stress among the young: When grades define worth

Postby Sun_2010 » Mon Oct 31, 2016 5:23 pm

http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/e ... d-to-excel
It is not just the local school system, sometimes it is just this will for perfection.

With a DD near that age, who pushes herself , I felt so affected by this lovely girl's journal. A beautiful life lost because she couldn't measure up,the enormous burden she felt to perform , all self driven , it is so :sad:

In April 2014, New Zealander Victoria McLeod fell to her death at a Clementi condominium where she lived with her parents.

The 17-year-old who was in her final year in an international school here had put great pressure on herself to get into university, even though her parents had told her that passing exams was not the only way to find her course in life.

Seven months after her death, her parents found her online journal. Here are several extracts:


JAN 14, 2014

Dear Friend,

I lost it. I just sort of keeled over and thought 'I can't do this'. Like, I've known that I will never have a dazzling life, what with the grades I get. But if I keep carrying on like this, I might actually end up snapping...

I don't know how I'm going to cope when I get back to school. Will it really help if I ask for it? Would I just be wasting my parents' money? But the whole point is that I can't ask for it anyway. How do you explain that you might have social anxiety... I just don't know. And it scares me.

JAN 15, 2014

Dear Friend; I was out yesterday and saw (). You know, one of those chicks that look like they have it all. Blonde. Lithe. Top grades. Popular. The whole jealously wrapped-up package...

st_20161030_amstress30_2705096.jpg

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It's kind of beyond me how someone can have their life so sorted. Maybe I should start comparing them allegorically to filing cabinets. Each file section is a subdivision of life. Academics. Family ties. Extra-curricular activities. Social stature. Looks. Boyfriends/ girlfriends. Socioeconomic state. Mental health. Physical form. With a person like (), not only is every section perfectly organised, but also each page has the right border, font, page number and grammar with A-pluses on each sheet of crisp white paper inside every pastel folder... I gave up on trying to be an () a long ago.

MARCH 30, 2014

I remember something J.K. Rowling wrote in the first Harry Potter book. That there were more important things than Hermione's affinity with books and cleverness. Like friendship. And bravery. But that's changing. One day, no one will know the meaning of courage or camaraderie.

Sadly, all that really matters, all that grown-ups are trying to drill into young minds, is success. If you are not successful, there is no point in existence. That's a pretty sad message to teach. But that is what's happening, whether we want it to or not.

It doesn't matter if it's at the cost of one's well-being. Even if you were reduced to something barely functioning, but you pulled yourself up and are sitting there, telling your story in an Armani suit, that's all that matters. That you became a success story.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 30, 2016, with the headline 'Thoughts of a student on the need to excel'.

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Parents asked to ‘talk less, listen more'

Postby buds » Wed Nov 02, 2016 12:34 am

SINGAPORE: A child who acts up could be showing signs of delinquency - or of suicidal depression. So, are parents right to respond to misbehaviour with “tough love”?

Posed this quandary, Dr Ong Lue Ping, the Institute of Mental Health’s principal clinical psychologist, said: “Tough love is still love … A lot of times we find that it’s not really the method that makes a difference. It’s really the relationship.

“If the relationship is strong, even if it’s tough love, the child may see it as my parents having concern for me. But if the relationship is negative (from the) start ... then the tough love may have a negative impact.”

This question was raised at a Talking Point forum held at *SCAPE on Monday (Oct 24), just days after the State Coroner ruled on the suicide of an 11-year-old boy who had killed himself in May after failing his exams. The court heard that the boy’s mother would cane him “lightly” on his palm whenever he scored less than 70 marks in exams.

The case was fresh on the minds of the participants during the candid and sometimes poignant discussion about teen suicide with the panellists - who included Dr Ong, celebrity Irene Ang and Mr Chow Yen-Lu, a father who lost his son to suicide.

The recording of the forum aired in a special episode on Thursday on Mediacorp's Channel 5.

Catch the extended 50-minute version here on Toggle.

http://video.toggle.sg/en/series/talkin ... p22/455504

Last year, Singapore recorded its most number of teen suicides in 15 years - 27 teenagers (aged 10 to 19) killed themselves in 2015, up from 13 in 2014 and 19 in 2009.

According to the World Health Organization, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15- to 29-year-olds globally.

Panellist Mr Chow talked about picking up the pieces after his son, who had suffered from manic depression since the age of 18, killed himself when he was 26.

“One of the first things that we did was not to blame ourselves or each other. Otherwise we wouldn’t be here today … we would have gone down the other path. Number two, is to accept what’s happened.

“Three, is to find meaning in what’s happened and to do something about it,” said Mr Chow, who went on to co-found Over-The-Rainbow, a support group to help youths deal with stress and mental health issues.

LISTEN, REALLY LISTEN TO YOUR TEEN

Dr Ong, who has spent 13 years counselling children and teens, emphasised how important it was for parents to listen without judgement.

“(Teenagers) tell me that when they feel like talking to their parents, they want their parents to listen to them empathetically at first, and not jump in too quickly with solutions or with judgements. Let them know … (that you) would be there to help them to solve the problem.

“They also appreciate if their parents can validate and not trivialise their feelings. Sometimes parents say, ‘oh this is just some friendship, you can always find new friends’. But for them, it is really a big thing,” said Dr Ong.

Mr Chow echoed this: “We need to talk less and listen more. All of us. And when we listen, (we should do so) not just with our ears, but with our heart.”

WANTED: COPING SKILLS

While 58 per cent of suicides in Singapore are associated with mental illness, a local study has found two other risk factors at play a lot of the time, Dr Ong noted. These are social factors - such as relationship problems and school stress - as well as psychological factors.

“What we know is that individuals who tend to be lonely, proud, secretive, and have a low self-esteem with a tendency to worry unnecessarily and with poor problem-solving skills, are at a higher risk of suicide,” he said.

He added that this is why we need to “go back to basics” and teach our teenagers certain life-skills - namely social, problem-solving, coping and adjusting skills.

Ms Ang, the CEO of Fly Entertainment, had tried to take her own life three times - the first attempt was when she was just 15, as she recounted in one recent interview.

“What stopped me was really myself,” she told the forum. “What I took away from the three failed attempts was, there’s so much courage needed to kill myself, why don’t I take that courage and try to live and solve my problem? What’s the worst can happen, I die right? But before I die, let me go and try.”

On what she does when she feels the symptoms of depression setting in, she shared: “I take a holiday, I pick up a sport - recently at the ripe old age of 48, I started playing tennis; I play three hours a week now.”



http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/sin ... 40750.html

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Re: Exam stress among the young: When grades define worth

Postby Waythe » Wed Nov 02, 2016 1:36 am

IMO we shouldn't try to "push" them towards their powers and plus, we shouldn't "push" them towards something they don't want to. In fact, we shouldn't "push" them at all, we just should point them the right direction... just my 2 cents..

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Re: Exam stress among the young: When grades define worth

Postby i.love.to.learn » Wed Nov 02, 2016 3:18 pm

slmkhoo wrote:Are we sure that exam stress is the main factor in teen suicides? What about other factors like the "instagram" culture which makes looks and keeping up with the Joneses so important? Or the pressure to grow up into sexuality so early? Or parental divorce or other family breakdown? I'm not saying that academic stress is not a very common factor, but I think that it is often a combination of several factors that finally pushes a child over the edge. We shouldn't focus on academic stress alone.


Agreed. Difficult to be a child nowadays. Difficult to be a parent also.

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Re: Exam stress among the young: When grades define worth

Postby janet88 » Wed Nov 02, 2016 8:34 pm

education syllabus is very demanding year after year. if parents set high expectations, then the poor children suffer. but we parents are also stressed because the kids face problems with school work.

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