Academic stress in Singapore: are parents to blame?

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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.

Related: Why being too involved might stress your PSLE kid more

“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, the boy had seemed afraid of showing his mid-term exam grades, having failed Higher Chinese and mathematics, to his parents.

Related: 11 year old Singapore boy falls to death after failing 2 subjects

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.

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.

Next page: Suicides among 10- to 19-year-olds

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