The double suicide tragedy in Singapore - who do you blame?
By Limpeh Is Foreign Talent
There was an incredibly sad story from Singapore today which I would urge all of you to read please as it addresses a very important issue: that of self confidence. It is about the double suicide in a family in Singapore after a student scored two Bs in her O level exams and then her guilt ridden mother killed herself. This story has been widely shared on social media and what irks me is the way so many people have blamed the education system for being too harsh on students these days, nobody blamed the mother for the way she had pushed her daughter too hard. Some Singaporeans felt that it is tactless or unkind to blame a woman who has already taken her own life, that is an admission of guilt and her suicide is an attempt to atone for her terrible mistakes that led to her daughter's suicide.
Do you know how to deal with depression and suicidal thoughts in teenagers?
This case also reminds me of the Ouyang Xiangyu case - the Singaporean scholar who tried to murder her lab mates at university. Once again, everyone blamed the education system, claiming that Ouyang was a victim of stress and that she had simply cracked under pressure. Well why didn't anyone blame her parents for not having given her the emotional tools to cope with the stress and the disappointment she faced at Stanford? I had gone through the same process when I went from VJC to a top university in the UK - in VJC, it was easy to be the best in my cohort, but once I got to university, I had to cope with the fact that I had to compete with the brightest brains from all over the world in my course. Whilst I was considered smart in VJC, I was but average amongst this group of extremely intelligent students at my university - I had to work a lot harder at university to stay on top. I was able to deal with that because I realized that I was going to have to join the working world soon and that my grades weren't everything: employers were going to look at the wider picture of what made me employable, rather than just my grades per se. Ironically, this was something I picked up from the scholarship application and interview process.
Now the problem with the Singaporean situation is that teachers, parents and students are obsessed with grades and nothing else. I find this immensely frustrating because I have been in the position of a gatekeeper before, I understand how HR works and for crying out aloud, we do not simply hand out the best jobs to the students with the best grades. Time for a reality check people! It doesn't work like that in the real world - yet Singaporeans seem to be under the impression that nothing else matters apart from their grades to the point where a teenager would kill herself over scoring two Bs at an exam. This is just how stupid the situation is and I don't blame the education system, I blame the parents who do not tell their children the important message, "your grades are not everything, employers look at the bigger picture to see what kind of person you are, if you are able to function well in the workplace, before granting you an interview." Like what the hell is wrong with these bloody stupid Singaporean parents - aren't they working adults as well? Surely they should be able to guide their children and help them understand why grades aren't everything?
HR managers are looking at the whole package.
Look, I was from one of the best secondary schools in Singapore (RI) as well as one of the best JCs - back then, my peers were all churning out very good results at all the exams. It is fascinating for me to be able to track down all my old classmates via Facebook to find out how well they have done after all these years. You'll be amazed - some of them have done incredibly well, others are just plain average and whilst some have not worked in years (they are either housewives or unemployed). Given the extremely wide range from multi-,millionaire CEO to unemployed bum, really, one's secondary school results are hardly an indication for one's success (or failure) in adult life. Let's remind our teenagers about that, but of course, Singaporean parents are so afraid that their children won't study hard enough, so they lie to them that if they do not get straight As, they are doomed for life. Well one teenager actually believed that her life was not worth living over two Bs - it is time we sent a different message to students in Singapore.
I also want to talk about something else related to the issue here - this was something that I had figured out myself the hard way with no help from my parents and I wish to share this with other young people out there who, like me, are probably not going to get any help from your parents in this regard. It is about coping with disappointment and failure when you do not get what you want in life - it is certainly easy to be confident when life is going well and you're achieving everything you set out to do, but what about when things do not go to plan? Parents have the responsibility to be there for their children to help them cope with disappointment, by helping them put the incident in perspective. I get so angry when I hear of Singaporean parents who beat their kids just because they don't do well in school - I would love to beat the crap out those parents up myself for being such shitty parents. The threat of violence doesn't make a student any smarter - you really need to deal with the root causes of why the child is not performing well at school.
Why do some children perform better than others in school?
The way to strike the balance is simple: offer approval and praise when the children do well, but withhold approval when the children could do better. When the children fail, be kind and offer support rather than threaten any kind of punishment. You see, many Singaporean children watch these Disney films and TV programmes where the parents are supportive and loving, where parents hug and comfort their children when they are disappointed. After watching those films, the child is going to think, "what's wrong with my parents? Why don't I deserve to be treated with kindness? What did I do to be treated so harshly by my parents? Why are other kids treated with kindness but I am not?" The explanation I was given was that we were simply a Chinese family - that caused me to really hate my culture for many years and I still really resent the way my parents used our ethnicity and culture as an excuse for their shortcomings. So when I found out through a DNA test that I was actually mixed, imagine the joy I felt when I could finally free myself of the label 'Chinese' which caused me so much misery in my childhood.
My parents had one piece of advice for me when it came to disappointment: if you don't even try, you won't be disappointed. So when I did all these gymnastics competitions, they were afraid that I would lose and be very disappointed - since they were clueless about comforting their children, they decided to instead tell me that I should just do sports to stay healthy but not take part in competitions, hence I would be spared the disappointment of losing. They applied the same logic when it came to applying for scholarships - thank goodness I had been so rebellious as a teenager I ignored them all the way. I'm afraid I can't quite say the same about my older siblings who weren't rebellious like me and my parents had damaged them far more than they damaged me. One of my readers has actually offered a very good theory as to why my parents were so averse to any kind of disappointment: there are settlers and maximizers - this is a social theory that is very well explained here. In short, I was a maximizer whilst they were settlers, we were never going to see eye to eye from the start and it is sad that defying them to do things my way led to so much animosity - but I had little choice and I certainly don't regret doing things my way to get what I wanted.
However, one thing that bothers me about the TNP article is that it suggests that the only people who can help suicidal teenagers are the professionals - why are we letting bad parents off the hook? I find this so frustrating because somebody just needs to tell these Asian parents to their faces, "your parenting methods are really shit, you are damaging your child, change your ways before you drive your child to suicide." If a child is well adjusted and brought up in a loving environment, then s/he wouldn't need professional help. I find it alarming that the journalist Maureen Koh does not feel the need to warn parents to change their ways or risk damaging their children. Look, you would not mess up your child's nutrition so badly that your children would end up in hospital seeking professional medical help - so why would it be okay for parents to mess up their children emotionally to the point where they need professional help to stop them from killing themselves? We must hold bad parents to account once and for all and stop allowing them to use stupid excuses like, "oh this is our Asian culture" to get away with horrible parenting.
I think I had better end here, this is a very emotional topic for me and I don't want to write anything too angry (which I will then have to edit later). Many thanks for reading.
This post was first published over at the blog of Limpeh Is Foreign Talent on 28 July 2015. It is reproduced with permission.
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