How to Get Your Teens Off Their Screens and Into the World

“Hooked on screens” – the phrase might be an apt description of the silent “epidemic” that has crept surreptitiously through our busy lives, straight into our homes, and smack into the faces of our children.  

Getting our teens off their screens is somewhat of a modern-day conundrum. After all, they are Gen Z, the generation hailed as true digital natives and born in an age where devices fit almost like appendages to our bodies.  

“Put down your phone.”  

“No electronic devices at dinner please.”  

“Wait, can we have a conversation face to face rather than via text?” 

Don’t these statements make us sound like a broken recorder? 

Our teenagers are lapping up today’s media offerings voraciously. A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation reveals that kids aged 8 to 18 spend about 7 hours and 38 minutes online. That’s equivalent to a 9-5 job, 7 times a week.  

TikTok, Discord, Instagram, Valorant, Stream and the like are cosy bedfellows which offer our teenagers a plethora of virtual escapes and online social communities. They toggle effortlessly between their real life and virtual platforms effortlessly where they spend a bulk of their time “media multitasking,” using more than one medium at a time—watching YouTube and scrolling through social media simultaneously.   

When the study considered the children’s multi-tasking efforts, teens were found to be exposed to about 10 hours and 45 minutes of media content each day. It is an ostensibly distracted life. 

Parents are concerned, and rightly so.  What with the increasingly sedentary lifestyles of our youth, reduced interaction time with family and friends, obesity, attention disorders, learning issues, and sleep problems.   

How can we draw our kids out from their digital shells and engage and connect with them meaningfully in the real world? 

1. Practice what we preach  

That’s right. We need to watch OUR own screen habits. Like it or not, we are our teen’s most significant role model when it comes to screen time.  

Our teens can sniff out hypocrisy and they are watching how we use our screens. We can’t tell our teenage daughter to cut back on screentime if we are watching endless hours of K-dramas online and scrolling Facebook, or answering “work” emails during dinner because they are “important”.   

The truth is parents who have healthy screen habits tend to raise kids with healthy screen habits. In short, if you set household screen-time rules, you also need to follow them. 

Parents who have healthy screen habits tend to raise kids with healthy screen habits. 

2. Set tech-free times and zones 

It’s probably unrealistic to expect our children NOT to use their screens. Rather than solely restricting media use, we can schedule blocks of screen-free time comprising meaningful face-to-face activities.  

We may need to explore outdoor or class-based interests and hobbies such as cooking, dance, or martial arts classes.  

Playing team sports can also help foster camaraderie and teamwork, while channeling their energies towards a shared goal.  

It is also useful to build technology-free zones into our daily lives. While technology is certainly important, teach that there is an appropriate time and place for it.  

Set reasonable limits: no phones at the dinner table or in the bedroom when one is winding down to sleep or when someone is talking to them. Have regular family nights every weekend to bond over communal activities that does not involve sitting in front of the television. Board games, hiking, night cycling and a beach outing may seem old school but provide that essential and life-giving balance. 

Instilling healthy habits surrounding tech use in our teens cannot simply rely on rules and restrictions. 

3. Teach values for productive screen use 

Finally and most importantly, we need to help our kids understand the difference between passive consumption and productive use of screentime, so that they can be in control of the time they spend online rather than to be enslaved by it. 

“Remember that [teens] have been lured to their screens by masters of their craft, highly paid communication experts whose sole responsibility is to secure kids’ eyeballs and keep them watching day and night,” writes Bill Ratner, author of Parenting for the Digital Age.  

When we educate our children to think critically about the media they consume, more than half the battle is won. Train them to ask pertinent questions about the content, advertisements, or sponsored posts they see: What are they selling? How is it done? Who does the advertiser want to attract?  

By installing in them such a critical lens, they can grow to wield technology skilfully and meaningfully. Who knows – A technologically savvy teen today may develop a productive passion tomorrow, such as coding or animation skills. 

As you can see, instilling healthy habits surrounding tech use in our teens cannot simply rely on rules and restrictions. But with intentional modelling, open conversations and an understanding of what makes our teens tick, parents can certainly play a part in this journey towards safe, critical, and productive media use.  

© 2022 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.  

How Do I Impart My Family Values to My Children?

If a friend or another parent were to ask what your family stands for, are you able to instantly give an answer? 

Like it or not, we live in a time where there are many voices vying for our children’s attention – Netflix, Disney+, YouTube, and even the advertisements on social media platforms are subtly shaping their lives.  

As societies become technologically advanced and people become more liberal in their thinking, moral and social values will change to reflect that on a cultural level.  

It is thus increasingly important to be intentional about thinking and talking about family values. If parents do not take charge of raising their children using their playbooks, then the world will.  

So how do you decide what family values are important to your family? 

Every family’s list of values will be different. Some examples of family values include:  

  • moral values – honesty, dependability, taking personal responsibility, diligence, and justice.  
  • faith values – reverence for God, praying as a family, stewardship of resources, chastity, loving others, wisdom.  

Family values are influenced by one’s upbringing, worldviews, religious beliefs, and cultural and societal circumstances. The process of designing a family mantra or family values can be different for every family.  

Family values are like a compass. They outline what is important in your family and inform your decision-making process. 

Here are some ideas to get you started: 

1. Have an honest and open conversation with your spouse about what your family’s ideals are. 

Ask questions to jump-start the discussion: 

  • What is important to me, to us, and the family? 
  • What kind of adults do we want our children to become?  
  • What values from our family-of-origin do we want to pass on to our children? 
  • How do we want our family to be remembered?

2. Talk to couples who are already consciously living out their family values and learn from them.  

3. Find like-minded couple friends who are interested in charting their family values – start a group and do it together.  

4. Get your children and teenagers involved in crafting your family values. Listen to their concerns, aspirations, and thoughts on what is important to them.  

 5. Print out and display your family values in strategic spots in the home as reminders.  

Affirmation is an essential ingredient to building a young child’s confidence and encouraging them to learn and grow. 

How do I instil family values to my children? 

There are many ways to instil family values in your children. Be as creative as possible and find the methods that suit your children’s needs and learning styles.  

Here are three ways you can consider:  

  • Talk about family values  

“Train your child in the way he should go and when he is old, he shall not depart from it.” a Jewish proverb 

Whether you like it or not, your children already have many strong and effective teachers of values at an early age: social media, movies, schools, books, peer groups, and religious institutions. 

While some of these may communicate positive and affirmative messages, others may teach values that are antithetical to your beliefs. Thus, it is important for us to assume the responsibility of teaching our children.  

Consider these ideas:  

  • Share stories of everyday unsung heroes (teachers, neighbours, relatives, friends) who demonstrate your family values.  
  • Use movies or books to discuss values portrayed by the characters. 
  • Display family values on your screen savers on your computer. 
  • Have family activities or conversations on values 
  • Walk the talk  

Values are more caught than taught. Model the behaviour for your children to live out the values you want them to internalise. Children and teenagers are perceptive. They observe what you do and draw conclusions about what is important to you in life.  

  • Provide positive reinforcement  

When you notice your child demonstrating a family value, recognise them for it, and be as specific as possible. 

  • “I am so proud of you that you chose to take responsibility for what happened instead of blaming someone else for the mistake.”   
  • “Your kindness shone through when you donated your pocket money to help the poor.”  
  • “I appreciate your honesty and telling me the truth about what happened between you and your project group member even though you know you will be disciplined.”   

Lyndon B. Johnson, a former president of the USA said it best, “The family is the cornerstone of our society. More than any other force it shapes the attitude, the hopes, the ambitious, and the values of the child.”  

As parents, we play a pivotal role in shaping our children’s values. Make time as a couple and family to discuss and decide on the core family values that would serve as a moral compass to help them navigate life in good and tough times.  

© 2022 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved. 

Why Am I So Stressed by My Child’s Exams?

“I am sitting for the PSLE/ “O” levels exam this year.”  

“I am taking 3 months of no-pay leave to coach my child for the national exams.” 

Do these statements ring a bell?  Whether they are communicated in jest or in a serious tone, parents definitely feel the heat whenever the exams are approaching.  

As parents we want the best for our children; we want them to succeed in school and in life. And there is nothing wrong with making sacrifices to support our children to do well in major exams.   

But why are some parents highly strung and unduly stressed when exam season comes around?  

We might not like to admit this, but if we are feeling more anxious than our children who are taking high-stake exams, it is usually more about us than about our children.   

Our fear of failure or worries about our children’s future can keep us on the edge, and we may unwittingly project our fears onto our children even as we help them in the exam preparation.  

How do you know if you have reached your tipping point? 

Consider these tell-tale signs:  

1. Being easily angered 

Some parents become demanding and set unrealistic expectations for their children. They fly off the handle when the child cannot complete the assessment papers assigned by the school and/or the tutor to prep for the exams. Or they hit the roof when they perceive the child to be disinterested in the exam revision and prefer to spend time playing internet games. 

2. Nagging incessantly or lecturing  

Some parents may give children threats about a bleak future if they don’t do well and scold them for their tardiness in completing assessment papers. 

Our fear of failure or worries about our children’s future can keep us on the edge, and we may unwittingly project our fears onto our children. 

3. Promising gifts or monetary rewards as incentives  

“If you get all ‘A’s, you can have your Tik Tok account.”  

“If you do well, you can upgrade to the latest smartphone model.”   

Rewarding a child for putting in effort to attain academic achievement is usually a genuine display of parental affection to motivate the child to do well in exams.  

But when you frequently “dangle a big carrot” out of sheer desperation, the approach can backfire. Your children may associate learning with external rewards and know that they have a “bargaining chip” in the future: they can have whatever they want if they just do well in their studies.

4. Guilt-tripping    

“I am sacrificing my work leave to help you prepare for your exams, so make sure you put in the effort and study hard and get good results.”  

When parents feel helpless or want to get the child to comply with their demands to revise or prep for their exams, they may resort to unhealthy tactics such as guilt-tripping.  

These strategies may be effective in motivating the child to study in the short run, but they tend to have negative long-term consequences if used frequently.  

Your child may develop a sense of shame or guilt when he disappoints you, and consequently learn to seek external validation and approval in life. It may also teach the child to take responsibility for matters that are not theirs to own.  

As you support your child in exam prep, focus on helping them keep on track with their revision, and coaching them on stress management skills instead of worrying about the outcome. 

 Parental stress and uncontrolled anxiety can have detrimental effects not just on the relationship but on your child’s emotional and mental health too. So, be aware of your “hot buttons” and take proactive steps to manage your stress.  

What can you do if you lose it?  

Here are some practical steps you can take:  

  • Step back (detach) and give yourself emotional space  

It is important to keep one’s emotions in check. Unchecked anger has negative effects on you and your child.  

Your outburst is likely to increase your child’s stress level and hinder him from concentrating on his exam revision. Remember that your child is the one sitting for the exams, not you. 

  • Identify unhealthy or unhelpful beliefs 

“If she doesn’t do well academically, I am a terrible mother.” 

“I cannot lose out to my siblings. All my nieces and nephews always do well in major exams.” 

“My child will lose out in life if he doesn’t succeed in school.” 

These are some examples of disempowering self-talk.  

In a previous article, I shared the Find It, Fix It, Flip It techniques to support your anxious child. You can apply these techniques on yourself too.  

  • Fill up your “emotional tank” 

Whether it is having a cup of tea at a nearby café or walking around the neighbourhood, find activities to calm your frazzled nerves.  

  • Re-engage and refocus   

When you have regained your composure after losing your temper at your child, apologise to your child for your outburst. Then explain that there are better ways to manage your anger and what you intend to do the next time you sense your anger rising. Through such modelling, your child will learn about taking personal responsibility for one’s emotions and adaptive ways to manage anger. 

As you support your child in exam prep, focus on helping them keep on track with their revision, and coaching them on stress management skills instead of worrying about the outcome.  

  • Talk to a trusted friend   

If you notice that you are unable to support your child without constantly losing your temper and are experiencing heightened tension in the home, talk to a trusted friend or consider seeking counselling help for support and perspective.  

Preparing and sitting for major exams can be highly stressful for children, so they need your support and encouragement during this time. But if you hit the roof each time you help them, you will also elevate their stress level. So be aware of your boiling point and take proactive steps to keep your emotions in check. Remember, if your child sees that you are staying calm and optimistic even in the face of challenges, they will also learn to do the same for themselves. 

© 2022 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.

Identifying Burnout Before It’s Too Late

Is it stress? Is it just a tiring season that’s not yet ending? Or is it burnout? For Sharon Ow, full-time working mother of two, a busy life was the only normal she knew. She was the type of person who enjoyed doing many things, and who even relished feeling tired from doing many things. So when she was diagnosed with burnout, it was a reality check. “I felt like I had suddenly fallen off the cliff,” she described.

More than stress

While many people may mistake stress for burnout or use the terms interchangeably, medical burnout is an actual medical condition that can result in serious consequences.

How do we tell the difference?

It’s impossible to avoid stress, explained Sharon but one can avoid getting burnt out.

She described her experience with burnout as a time when she “just couldn’t get out of bed and get through the day.”

“I had panic attacks, once when I was driving. It made me seek help and ask what was going on in my life. At first, I thought I was having a heart attack but as I sought help, I realised I was burnt out, I was depleted.”

It has been over a year since her first panic attack, but Sharon now realises that even though it felt sudden, she had probably been headed towards burnout for quite some time.

“Just like how you don’t immediately grow your muscles, you don’t reach burnout so quickly,” she said.

She went on to explain that the early warning signals would look different for each person. And for her, it was quite generic things like getting tired more often than normal, disrupted sleep, and getting more irritable easily.

Frequently experiencing such symptoms can be like the amber light at a traffic junction, signalling you to stop and evaluate if you are just going through a stressful period or if these signs are pointing to something more.

Even though it felt sudden, she had probably been headed towards burnout for quite some time.

We can also get blindsided by how much we enjoy doing many things.

As Sharon shared, “I love hospitality. I love having people over, I love making food, making the home look nice, bringing different groups of people together. Even though I enjoy doing these things, overdoing it can lead to burnout as well because it adds to everything else.

“One of the ah-ha moments for me was that getting burnout was not just about work, or doing things you don’t like… It can also be from things that you genuinely enjoy.”

The super-mum myth

Sharon, who works in the people development business, feels that parents can sometimes push ourselves to our own detriment.

“It’s easy to just get on with it because everyone is busy. I am not the only parent who’s working and managing home and community, so who am I to take pity on myself? On hindsight, I realise I didn’t know how to rest and recuperate.”

Terms like “super-mum” may also unintentionally push us to feel like we must have it all when we all have different circumstances, aspirations and capacity.

Resilience is also not just about pushing through challenges.

“When you talk about resilience, it’s not just the doing aspect but the resting aspect too,” she said. Thus, making space for rest prevents us from reaching the tipping point.

In her recovery period, Sharon learnt more about different kinds of rest. “There’s more than one rest. There’s physical, emotional, sensory, spiritual, mental, creative.”

Recognising what you need helps you scratch the itch where it is.

She cited the example of her two daughters. The younger likes hugs and physical touch, while the elder likes conversations and is more cerebral. So if she has had a day of very cerebral work and has to interact with the elder daughter, she may feel more taxed. “This is because I am already tapped out in that area and it has nothing to do with her,” she explained.

So it is important for us to grow in self-awareness and to figure out which aspect of you is running dry and needs attention and recuperation.


Making space for rest prevents us from reaching the tipping point.

Rebuilding boundaries

Sharon attributed her recovery to her supportive family and community.

”I remember once we had some friends over and my husband said to me, ‘you don’t do anything’. And he just ordered chicken rice and my friends ordered the drinks and we had a wonderful time!”

She also made deliberate choices, such as going for regular walks and being mindful of what she consumed as well as what to stay away from, such as incessant tech time.

“Not everyone can be a safe person to speak to about what you are going through so choose wisely,” shared Sharon, who acknowledged that she had a good support network of trusted friends.

The 3Rs for recovery

Sharon shared her 3Rs for recovery.

The first is rest, and that includes all the different types of rest.

“For me, it was also resting in God and my beliefs,” she added.

The second is recuperate, which means allowing yourself the time and space to recuperate.

The last is to regroup. This is when you begin planning again and restarting your engines.

She warns against regrouping too quickly without giving ourselves time and space to rest and recuperate. She reiterates, “Give yourself time to come back stronger.”

For a working parent, we tend to be the last priority because there’s so many things to take care of. But remember that if you are not taking care of yourself, it affects everything else, including your ability to care for others.

A Woman’s Value and Identity, Beyond Motherhood

Like an intense, encompassing first love, motherhood comes with an enveloping heady-ness and focus. 

Suddenly, your time, sleep and energy all go towards that one person – your bundle of joy. Even as they grow, your permanent role as mother means they remain a perennial focus. 

But wait, besides being a mother, you are still a wife, a daughter, perhaps even a doctor, writer, or teacher. Especially when motherhood seems to override every other role and interest, how do you reclaim your own identity? 

Tam Wai Jia, medical doctor, author and mother of two girls likens the phases of motherhood to being like seasons. 

“There were seasons when I was not speaking anywhere and seasons when I was getting invites and being visible in the public sphere. We all go through seasons and it’s important to embrace each one or we become very hard on ourselves.” 

She shared the following tips on how mothers can keep growing and not be buried by the seasons in motherhood.  

We all go through seasons and it’s important to embrace each one or we become very hard on ourselves. 

1. Drive your roots down deep 

“No one ever scolds a tree for not bearing fruit during the winter season,” said Wai Jia, “We are multifaceted beings and we have to ebb and flow with the different seasons of needs.” 

“Winter is when roots go down deep,” she added.   

In seasons when you don’t feel like you are going anywhere, learn to embrace what that season can do for you as an individual. Like how roots grow deep to find the water that sustains them, you will have to dig deeper to discover yourself. 

This could look like renewing a sense of purpose, better communication with your spouse and family or even re-organising your days to make space for self-care. 

“I think we underestimate the whole concept of rest, routine and doing the same things every day that motherhood sometimes is about,” shared Wai Jia. 

2. Don’t judge yourself based on a single season/role  

There are times when we won’t do as good a job as we’d like to. 

In Wai Jia’s case, her first child had severe eczema. As a first-time mum and also as a medical doctor, this somehow created a sense of failure. “There were times when I would say, ‘This (motherhood) is my only job and I can’t even do it right.’” 

However, she realised she was being hard on herself, something she found many fellow mothers do. She reflected that we have to give grace to ourselves too. 

Drawing healthy boundaries and not letting others’ comments affect you emotionally is a key to avoiding emotional overload. 

3. Know that your value is not based on what you produce 

Our value and identity do not change even when our roles do. Neither are they based on what we can produce. 

The emphasis that we are of greater value being if we hold a job of importance is something entrenched in our society. 

“Being a stay-at-home-mum can be triggering when you take a step back from your career and you hear questions like, ‘What do you do all day now,’” said Wai Jia who is currently working part-time. 

So we should surround ourselves with people who remind us we are valuable as individuals, and not because of what we can do or the titles we hold. 

4. Set healthy boundaries 

Wai Jia shared that her husband Cliff – a cancer survivor who has even completed an Ironman triathlon – willingly volunteered to be a stay-home-dad when she had to fulfil her work bond after they returned to Singapore. 

This gesture helped them navigate through that difficult season and yet there were people who made less-than-kind remarks. 

“I felt judged by other people who asked, ‘How come your husband is more present with your kids than you?’ At work, I also hear comments like, ‘Oh, you are married to a house husband, really, is that a real job?’” Wai Jia shared. 

Drawing healthy boundaries and not letting others’ comments affect you emotionally is a key to avoiding emotional overload even as you navigate your journey as a mother. If not, it’s easy to fall into the trap of overthinking what you did based on what other people say. 

5. Do what’s best for your family

The support Wai Jia gets from her husband is evident in the way she speaks about him. She also realises that their choice to not take on conventional full-time employment may be seen as unusual. However, they both believe that their choice has allowed them to have more time with their children. 

Both Cliff and Wai Jia homeschool their kids. Wai Jia is also the founder of non-profit Kitesong Global, which aims to empower young people to help vulnerable communities worldwide. Cliff is completing his Master’s and involved in coaching young people too. 

“As mothers, sometimes we let our in-laws or parents or friends affect how we parent. When we chose not to have confinement, or not to have a helper or do a home birth, people said that I was crazy.” she said. 

But being united as a family and daring to forge your own path has its rewards. Notably, your kids see you united as a team and you get to be more present with them. 

And while people may look at them now and think how perfect their lives seem, Wai Jia still remembers the winter seasons. 

”These seasons help us stay humble. Every time I get an award or something prolific now, I always remember the times I was hidden, when I was going through postpartum depression and wondering if this would end.” 

And they do, because seasons always change. 

Family Hacks for a New Year that are Low on Tech and High on Love

Have you been feeling harried and hassled even before the new year began? 

Has looking at your family schedule been giving you a splitting headache? 

If this describes you, you’re not alone. 

This year, our middle child will be taking his PSLE. Our goal is to make this a relatively fuss-free affair and not let this major exam dampen our family’s love for balance, spending time with friends and exploring the outdoors. 

Here are some strategies we are adopting to stay sane this year: 

1. Limit screen time on weekdays  

Previously we allowed screen time on most days, thinking it would give our kids some breather from homework.  

But we found that it sometimes increased the tension at home as they would try to rush through their homework just to get started on their screens. 

This year, we are limiting screen time to weekends in anticipation of the greater workload from school in preparation for the PSLE.  

Of course, if on some days we have less school work to contend with, we may enjoy the occasional game time as a family.  

When I rush around to more than two to three activities per day, I get exhausted and cranky by the end of it. 

2. Limit enrichment classes to 3 per week 

My child needs more downtime than typical kids. I can relate because I’m also wired like that. When I rush around to more than two to three activities per day, I get exhausted and cranky by the end of it.  

Knowing that he will already have to tackle extra lessons on some days at school, it’s just sensible for us to keep tuition or sports classes to a maximum of three.  

He already is receiving some help with his two weakest subjects, so I am hoping that we will not need to pile on more.  

Having fewer classes also means we need not ferry him around as much. Juggling three children, a full-time job PLUS part-time studies, I find this to be the best thing I can do for myself.

PS. We also have a Chinese tutor who comes to our home on weekends, so this means we rush around even less!

To free up my time, I’ve popped all of my social media apps into a folder on my phone labelled “distractions”. So I think twice before clicking into any of the apps. 

3. Identify your biggest time-wasters 

While Isaac has picked up invaluable lessons on fathering from his own growing-up experience, he also sees the importance of having a community of support around him.  

However, amongst his peers, he was one of the first to get married and have a child. This meant that his peers couldn’t necessarily understand his situation.  

So he talked to older couples who had “gone a few steps ahead of us.” He shared vulnerably with them about his struggles and listened to their advice.  

This experience of gleaning from the wisdom of others has inspired him to take the initiative to reach out to other soon-to-be parents around him – starting from his colleagues at SGAG. 

He feels that these parents may not necessarily know what they don’t know, and thus may not even know what to ask.  

Questions such as “What do I bring when my wife is delivering the baby?” may not even come to mind. Thus, actively reaching out and sharing his insights has helped Isaac find joy in his role as a father.  

He mused, “Having someone looking out for (new parents) can help them feel less alone in their journey.”

It is worth teaching our young that tech, games and apps are all carefully designed to steal your attention. And the more “engaged” you are on a particular platform, the more money they make. 

4. Teach kids that apps are designed to steal your attention  

We are living in an increasingly noisy and complicated world, and our collective attention spans are also shrinking at an incredible rate.  

The net result is that instead of having the space and mental resources to think deeply about the challenges of the modern world and to engage in problem-solving, we end up feeling more anxious and less in control. 

In such a context, it is worth teaching our young that tech, games and apps are all carefully designed to steal your attention. And the more “engaged” you are on a particular platform, and the more time you dish out there, the more money they make.  

Only when they become aware of the problem and what it means when they give up a portion of their time, energy and mental resources, are they more open to hearing about and implementing solutions (i.e., to manage our time on tech wisely). 

While you are at it, teach them to disable notifications on their leisure apps. They should decide when to check their messages or social media, not the app. 

5. Have intentional one-on-one time 

Something I’m trying to do this year is to spend more one-on-time with each child. I find that the occasional walk to run an errand, or even just 15 minutes of chat time just before bed helps me tune into my child’s inner world, and for them to feel close enough to share deeper thoughts and concerns with me. 

It could look like: When big sister is having her tuition class, bringing little brother for a snack break or to his favourite book store.  

Sometimes the simple things done often give the biggest returns. 

I’m not trying to promote a dystopian view of technology, nor am I saying that all apps are inherently evil or time-wasters. There are many instances of people finding productive use of their time and building meaningful relationships online. (But even then, you do hear of many who say they need to take a step back from social media once in a while to appreciate and explore other things in life.) 

As with every new habit, it takes time, intentionality, and learning from mistakes, to really become disciplined at it.  

But by talking it through as a family and setting some goals (and sticking it up so everyone can see it), you are well on your way to becoming a closer-knit family than ever before – one who enjoys conversations (and not just gaming) together. 

What A Teen Needs – Respect

Healthy and respectful communication may seem elusive in the teenage phase where growing pains and fluctuating hormones can cause friction in the parent-teen relationship.  

Conversations with our teenagers can be unpredictable to say the least; every parent who has parented teens would have experienced monosyllabic answers or “grunts” that tell you they don’t feel like talking, having to tell them to “watch their tone” when they answer with an attitude, and over-the-top outbursts blown out of proportion sometimes over trivial things. 

Communication methods which used to work for the savvy parent in their child’s younger days may cease in their efficacy. Nagging, criticism, threats or standover tactics, such as yelling to force compliance, may only lead to the teen feeling angry, upset, rejected, blamed or unloved.  

Clearly by this stage, the parenting script must change and establish as its central feature a sense of mutual respect. But the million-dollar question is, how do we go about establishing it? 

First, respecting our children does not mean that we give up our authority over them in the family. In fact, modelling respectful communication as opposed to “do-as-I-say” parenting tells them they are valued and their thoughts and feelings matter.  

It allows them to have a voice and be heard, which can be very validating for a teenager who is trying to form their own values and identity.  

Nagging, criticism, threats or standover tactics, such as yelling to force compliance, may only lead to the teen feeling angry, upset, rejected, blamed or unloved. 

Our respectful communication also guides and models for our teenagers how to manage conflict, negotiate viewpoints that could be different from their own and express their opinions tactfully. What better environment to experience this than in the home! 

There are a few ways even well-intentioned parents accidentally undermine the development of this mutually respectful relationship. 

Common fears 

What to do 

  • Some parents struggle with their teenagers having differing viewpoints from their own and try to impose their ideas onto them. They may also fear their teens taking up pursuits or activities that they don’t understand. 
  • Try to see the good in it. They may have a passion that we shouldn’t stifle. They are also learning to be their own person. 


  • In the surge for independence, teenagers start to make their own decisions and sometimes they make bad choices. As parents, we feel responsible for our child’s wellbeing and safety, no matter how old they are. Worry gets in our way.  


  • Be supportive and try not to criticise. Their mistakes can be turned into valuable lifelong lessons that is part of their growth and character development.


Respectful communication tips with teenagers 

These are some ways to keep the lines of communication open: 

1. Give them space 

Knock before you go into the room. Ask if it’s a good time to talk. If it’s not, ask when it will be a good time and respect that. Stop asking so many questions. 

Sometimes our impatience can kill conversations with our kids. We want the details and we want it now. 

  • Who was there? 
  • What happened next? 
  • Why didn’t you do that? 
  • What were you thinking? 
  • Where are you now? 

It’s not surprising that our teens clam up when they realise they are on the firing line of our barrage of questions, especially if they sense the questions are coming from a place of judgment or a lack of confidence in them.  

Keeping their lips tight doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t want to share – they simply want to have control over when and how they do it. They also want us to have faith in them. 

My daughter once requested for a two-week embargo for me to not raise a discussion on a sensitive issue she was facing. She needed the space to process it on her own.  

It was hard but I learnt to respect that this was the time she needed to sort her thoughts and emotions out – before she was ready to talk with anyone.  

I’ve learnt from my mistakes – whenever I encroached on their need for space, our communication turned more reactive, and less effective.  

Conversely, when I respected their pace, it actually yielded more positive outcomes, and we were often calmer in communicating our thoughts and feelings. 

2. Listen more than we speak 

We are all given two ears and one mouth – so we should spend twice as much time listening than talking! If we practise this intentionally, we may realise that teenagers tend to tell us more if we practise the art of listening attentively long enough!  

This gives them the opportunity to share at a comfortable pace as opposed to being bombarded by our questions or opinions.  

3. Carve out time for quality communication  

Date your teenager and carve out regular 1-on-1 time with them. It could be catching up over a weekend breakfast or offering to walk them to school or pick them up from places after a long day.  

These seemingly mundane routines are all opportunities for extended conversations. Find time to do fun and random things together with your teens – leisure and laughter help build good feelings and rapport. 

4. Take an active interest in their world  

Listen to their music, laugh with them over their favourite memes, watch the videos that they care to show you. Show up when they are ready to let you into their space! These are anchors to begin understanding their world  

5. Remind them that they are loved  

Throughout their adolescence, young people tend to struggle with the need to be accepted and loved without judgement. Rejoice in their achievements, be compassionate when they make mistakes, andguide and support them in their problem-solving.   

Respectful communication truly leads to healthy relationships with your soon-to-be adult children. With a relationship built on respect, your children will desire to connect and consult with you even when they become adults. It is worth reflecting on our communication habits for this purpose alone!

Three Emotional Skills to Cultivate As A Parent

Even though I’ve had a wonderful mother and father who taught me how to parent, the hardest thing I’ve found since becoming a mother has been learning to parent myself. 

It’s always much easier to let my personality out in full force, sometimes unleashing harmful anger, toxic barbs and biting criticism. I have a tendency to be unafraid to show my true self when with my nearest and dearest, especially to my kids.  

Perhaps, like me, you struggle to have a good relationship with your kids and wish to cultivate better emotional skills. Staying humble and being willing to learn and grow is a good starting point. 

We should listen with our hearts and minds to hear the emotions and thoughts beyond the words our child is saying. 

1. Listen well and think before we speak 

So many times have I been tempted to shoot my mouth off before my child is done asking a question or telling me a story on their day in school. Sometimes I’m only half listening as they regale their tales when I’m in the middle of a bath, cooking lunch or (tsk!) texting on my phone. I find myself completing their sentences or assuming facts before I’ve even heard them. 

The book How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk promotes using affirming language to show active and supportive listening. When a child returns home and says he got into trouble with the teacher for hitting a child, for example, we can approach from a point of curiosity.  

Instead of shouting, “What did you do? How can you hit someone else?” perhaps we could say, “What did your classmate do before you hit him?” and then respond, “That must have made you so mad!” Children want to know they have their parents on their side advocating for them, even in moments when they mess up.  

When listening, we should put away all other distractions. Sometimes when I’m in the middle of something, I would inform my child to give me a moment to complete the task so I can give them my undivided attention.  

Although listening is performed mainly by the ears, we should listen with our whole being. Maintaining eye contact helps us take in the body language of the other person. Our own posture, when we face the other person and mirror their body language, also speaks volumes.  

In addition, we should listen with our hearts and minds to hear the emotions and thoughts beyond the words our child is saying. Is my child seeking advice or comfort? What does he or she really want from me?  

There are times, however, when listening and conversing is better when done side by side or without eye contact. A car ride, a fishing trip or a walk in the park may be a good opportunity to have difficult or awkward conversations.  

Reading parenting books and knowing the theories makes me none the wiser as I am still learning daily to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger”. 

I’ve found it helpful to walk away from a situation that is getting tense and come back again when I’ve calmed down. 

2. Manage our own emotions  

An important thing for parents is to understand their own triggers in their relationship with their kids. For myself, a person who likes things to be neat and tidy, huge messes are a big no and the youngest always manages to pull out all the stops, literally.  

I find myself uncontrollably playing the blame game, ordering everyone around and going into a cleaning rage. Other times, what triggers me is my child’s insistence and blatant defiance 

After knowing what makes you mad, the next step is to manage yourself. I’ve found it helpful to walk away from a situation that is getting tense, or when I myself am getting worked up, and come back again when I’ve calmed down. This is especially when my child gets sassy, sarcastic and stubborn. No point getting into a heated argument over that math question when both sides think they are correct. Better to return later.  

It’s only when we learn to manage our own emotions that we can model emotional regulation to our children. We should “respond” and not “react”. If a glass has been shattered into smithereens on the floor, for example, focus on getting it cleaned up and keeping everyone safe, instead of yelling at the person at fault for being so careless. In a state of calm, we are better able to process, and consequently, our children are better able to learn from the experience. 

This year, my daughter lost three items in a single week. The first was her wallet, which I helped her retrieve by driving her back to school, followed by her water bottle. When she told me she had lost her homework file (again?!), I was tempted to rage. However, the other part of me was concerned. Is it a lack of sleep that’s making her become absent-minded? Is this a symptom of a bigger problem? 

Thankfully, I managed to set aside my own frustration and slowly processed with her the steps for search and recovery. That night, my daughter was weepy and distressed. I had to repeatedly reassure her that the world would not end if she had lost her homework. She would have to bear the consequence by waking earlier to find the item in school, but this was not serious. Had I been harsh, it would have worsened the situation. 

I remind myself: I am not a perfect parent, but I am growing and learning each day. 

3. Give grace to all 

Oftentimes, it is hard for those who have grown up in environments with high expectations to learn to let go.  

One of the things I’ve found myself having to set aside is the expectation that my children have to obey me every single time and be perfect. After all, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I don’t have to look very far to understand where their strong wills and deviance came from.  

It is helpful to understand that we sometimes adopt our own parents’ style of parenting. Recently, there has been a number of memes on “breaking the generational trauma”. While parents may inflict wounds on their children, I believe most families also pass down love and affirmation. We should be more intentional in deciphering the good parts to keep versus those to abandon.  

Many articles prescribe methods to parent better and I find myself getting all introspective and badgering myself over it. “I’m not a good enough parent, I could always do better,” is often my takeaway. This is probably a symptom of growing up with critical parenting and I struggle daily not to channel it down to my children.  

I’ve learnt over the years to love and accept myself, and give myself room for failure. I remind myself: I am not a perfect parent, but I am growing and learning each day.  

When we give ourselves grace, we are more able to give our children that same grace – My children are not expected to be perfect, they are growing and learning each day.  

Children must be given room to make mistakes and misbehave in order for them to mature into teenagers, young adults and then adults. We are all works-in-progress.  

Becoming a parent is one of the fastest routes to maturity as we are forced to put someone else’s needs before our own, to be bigger-hearted, wiser and kinder than our kids, leading not by our words, but by example. And it makes us all the better for it.  

Our kids mould us as much as we mould them. We, too, are growing and learning along with our children. And that’s okay.  

Is My Child Addicted to Gaming?

As a parent, you may have struggled with your children exceeding their screen time limits just so that they can continue playing Mobile Legends. You may have been frustrated at the many times where your child pleads, “Last game, mum!”  

Sometimes, you may even resort to switching off (and plucking out!) the WIFI router so that your child can no longer access the internet to play his games.  

All these are common challenges in today’s digital age, says Ray Chua, a principal clinical psychologist who’s been working with gamers since 2009.    

Some of the common questions that Ray has been asked include: 

  1. How do I know if my child is addicted to gaming? 
  2. How do I stop my child from gaming so much? 

In this article, Ray sheds some light on this matter.  

Understanding the heart of a gamer  

Ray believes in “addressing the problem but loving the child.” For that to happen, one important thing to understand is why gamers even game. What are children really looking for when they game?  

There are three reasons:  

1. A sense of achievement 

Many gamers that Ray works with are underperforming in school. He remembers one Primary 6 client who wrote a letter to his mother, telling her that he knew he would not do well for PSLE. But things looked very different in BlackShot, a first-person shooter game in which he excelled in.  

No one likes the feeling of constantly failing to meet expectations in every part of their life. Knowing that our children are fuelled by a sense of achievement derived from gaming can help us better empathise with them.  

2. A sense of connection 

Your child may have friends in school, but it’s not only the physical connection that matters, but the emotional connection. As former US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy wrote in his book Together, “Loneliness is the absence of physical and emotional connection.”  

When children play online games with their friends, they may feel a sense of camaraderie with them, and have shared topics of interest to talk about in school.  

3. A form of escape 

Many of the children that Ray sees have problems in their life which they find it challenging to resolve, and gaming is effective as a form of escape. 

But when does gaming become a problem?  

How can parents tell if their child is addicted?  

There are four criteria under the WHO International Classification of Diseases (ICD) for gaming disorder.  

Firstly, the child must demonstrate impaired control, such that they are losing control over their gaming behaviour.   

The second criterion is an increasing priority over other things in life. “Gaming takes precedence over other interests. For example, it becomes more important than sleep, food, or going to school.” 

The third criterion is continuing to game despite negative consequences. They may be failing, or getting into trouble in school. They may be quarrelling daily with their parents over gaming, but they continue to play. 

The fourth involves functioning. “Their functioning needs to be affected because there are gamers out there who play a lot, but are still keeping up with their schoolwork and managing their life pretty well,” explained Ray. 

These criteria have to exist for a period of at least 12 months, unless the symptoms are severe, for the person to be diagnosed as having a gaming disorder. Of course, parents may not want to wait till their child is displaying problems for a year before seeking help.  

What can they do if there are already observable concerns? 

When you’ve deposited into their emotional bank account, they will know you’re disciplining them out of love, and not anger. 

Prevention is better than cure  

One recommendation for parents of younger children is to delay the introduction of games, for as long as possible.  

“There are many developmental milestones for a child to reach and build at the ages of preschool or even early primary school.” Delaying the introduction of games can give more time for younger children to hone the ability to delay gratification, allowing them to build a healthier relationship with games. A practical way is to give your child a basic phone, rather than an internet-enabled smartphone, suggested Ray. Alternatively, parents can install parental controls to limit online access. 

Experts worldwide agree that early introduction of digital technology may change the psychology of young children in ways that are still unknown. The hit documentary “The Social Dilemma” revealed how persuasive technology may be ‘hooking’ users of social media, and eventually causing addiction.  

The same concepts are often applied to game design, with tactics such as requiring gamers to log-in for consecutive days to score streaks. What you may not know is that underlying this ‘game design’ is the strategy to form habit loops.  

The relationship is the heart of the matter 

Working towards healthy gaming habits requires a strong parent-child relationship.  

Ray explained, “This is the period of time where you can deposit into their emotional bank account. You will need it because when the time comes, sooner or later they will start playing games and you will need to instil boundaries and rules and even discipline them. This will tap on this reservoir of relationship that you have built with them over the years. They will know you’re disciplining them out of love, and not anger.” 

If your relationship with your child is already strained, regulate yourself first, then seek to understand your child’s motivations. 

But what if the relationship is already strained?  

If your relationship with your child is already strained, Ray urged parents to first look inwards.  

“Regulate yourself, and ensure that you’re not disciplining the child out of anger.”  

Sometimes, our children’s behaviour may reflect our own flaws, or even remind us of our past, causing us to feel triggered and upset.  

Being aware that this is happening can be the first step towards better managing our frustrations when we see our child playing excessively.  

Thereafter, seek to understand your child’s motivations.  

“Think about what your child’s motivations are. For example, if your child is using games to escape from the real world, perhaps taking time to listen to your child, and supporting him with tools to deal with the problems in real life can reduce the instances of escape gaming.”  

Understanding why the child games, and equipping them with coping mechanisms to deal with life’s challenges can help you make a lasting change in your child’s life.  

We are not perfect 

Ray’s parting words offer much comfort, “We are all not perfect parents. We are still learning. To become better parents. To become better guides to our kids.” And our children too, are learning to function in what can be a scary and confusing world.  

Even as we set boundaries around gaming and device use, let’s keep our relationship with our kids at the centre. With our parent-child relationship secure, perhaps games will no longer be the anchor our children base their identity on. 

© 2022 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved. 

How to Talk to Your Children About Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation

Despite being 26 this year, I remember the first time I was ever exposed to a conversation on LGBTQ+. It was in my first year of university, as a starry-eyed 21-year-old, ten thousand miles away from Singapore.  

My parents never talked to me about LGTBQ+, nor did school teach me about this.  

How times have changed.  

If you’re the parent of a child today, you may be confused, anxious and worried over how much exposure your child is getting to this issue in the current social media environment. You may be wondering how best to talk to your child about this.  

With the recent government announcement about the repeal of Section 377A, which criminalises sex between men, it may be all the more critical to begin engaging your child in this conversation.  

Here are some guidelines that can help. 

Understand the context  

Firstly, it helps to understand your child’s development. Your child’s brain is not fully developed until around the age of 25. That may mean that the concerns your child brings to you may be part of a phase, rather than anything permanent.  

This is especially the case during puberty, where your child experiences rapid changes hormonally and within their bodies. They may find themselves “attracted” to someone of the same gender and start having questions about their own sexuality.  

As a parent, you play an important role in helping the child to recognise that this emotional turbulence and confusion within them, may be a passing phase or even just a form of admiration for a same-sex peer.   

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t pay attention to what your child says or cast doubt on everything they say. But do be aware that such a confusion over their identity or sexuality could be experienced by your child but need not signal something life-changing.  

Be the safe space, early on  

As parents, you may never have had conversations with your own parents about sex. That may influence your level of comfort with having these conversations with your own kids.  

But having these conversations as early as possible can remind your child that you are a safe space where they can raise questions and concerns about what can be a confusing world to live in.  

You may not want your child to end up being swayed by their peers in school, without them having learnt anchors that can hold them steady in these turbulent times.  

I spoke to June Yong, Lead of Insights at Focus on the Family Singapore, and she provided these helpful conversational handles: 

  • Approach it as an ongoing conversation  

Build on the topic layer by layer. For example, for preschoolers, start with the basics – naming of body parts, sexual identity, and how babies are made. Through this, you can help your child understand that this means every child has one mummy and one daddy who “made” them.  

By the time children are 9 or 10 years old, you may want to explore how the body changes during puberty and what to expect, or discuss the dangers of porn. 

  • Equip based on family values 

It is good to reach a consensus with your spouse on your family’s stand on dating and boundaries in relationships, so that you can explain to your child your values in a calm and thoughtful way.    

These first principles can help them to form a good foundation to tackle issues around LGBTQ+ later.  

As parents, often, it’s important to distinguish whether we cannot or do not want to have these conversations. The former is a question of ability, which can be learnt through helpful workshops 

But not wanting to can be more subtle. We may find ourselves discomforted by the idea of having such conversations with our children. We may experience a sudden blush, feeling sheepish or embarrassed of the idea of talking about the birds and the bees.  

Perhaps we need to first get in touch with our own discomfort, and just be aware that it’s there. We could then be more open to acknowledging that we, as parents, don’t have all the answers.  

The key thing is – Be available and willing to journey with our child through that process, and to figure it out together. Grab hold of teaching moments when they present themselves, and try not to skirt the elephant in the room simply because of the discomfort.  

LGBTQ is not an easy issue to discuss. But it will be made easier if your child already has a good relationship with you, marked by psychological safety.

Jumpstart with questions    

Take it as a learning journey for yourself, too.  

Questions can serve as a useful jumpstart to these tricky conversations. Some helpful questions include: 

  • What do you think about the recent move to repeal 377A?  

This can be a useful way to use current affairs to start a conversation.  

  • What do your teachers/friends say? 

It may be easier for your child to talk about what their friends, or others think, rather than what they personally think. Use these as starting points to explore your child’s thoughts on the issue.  

Share your own experiences  

It can be helpful for you to share your own questions about the issue. As parents, we sometimes expect ourselves to know it all. Realistically, we can’t.  

I remember hearing this gem from a 70-year-old community leader: “Well John, I don’t know if I have all the answers. But what I do know is that we may sometimes miss the tree for the forest. And that perhaps the issue isn’t confusion over homosexuality, but confusion over our own sexuality.”  

This position of “vulnerable inquiry”, where you share your own challenges working through the LGBTQ+ debate, but also share your own anchors to negotiating this issue, can model to your child a better way to think about the issue.  

Celebrate your child’s milestones  

Most parents don’t think of celebrating their daughter’s first period, as periods are often associated with pain and discomfort. But it is also a significant milestone in your daughter’s journey into womanhood.  

Imagine if we celebrated moments like these and used the opportunity to affirm our children’s sense of self, helping them be proud of who they are, and how they are made.  

For boys, some parents like to throw a big birthday bash when they reach their first double-digit birthday, using the occasion to talk about one’s duties and responsibilities as a young man, and the challenges that may come with that. This can be another way in to speaking about LGBTQ+.  

For example, you might say: 

  • Sometimes as we grow up, we may find ourselves liking another person of the same sex. This may be admiration, rather than attraction. Do you know what the difference is?  
  • In some other countries, people of the same sex can marry and bring up children. What do you think are the pros and cons of such living arrangements?  

Enlist mentor figures 

As children grow, they may start taking reference from their peers, rather than you. Even if it’s tough getting through to your teenager, persevere and keep reaching out and building bridges. 

At times, it may be useful to find age-similar role models for your child and intentionally help them connect with trusted friends whom they can speak to about careers, relationship, and life. Such mentor figures can serve as a guide for your children during these difficult times. 

Relationship is key  

LGBTQ is not an easy issue to discuss. But it will be made easier if your child already has a good relationship with you, marked by psychological safety. Think of psychological safety as a warm bubble bath on a cold day – an environment where your child feels safe to bring their worries and concerns, knowing that you won’t fault them for it.  

Building this takes time. It takes trust. And perhaps most importantly, it takes love. A love that will accept differences in opinion, disagreements, while also offering a principled stand on an issue that has divided our nation.  

Because I believe that it is such a responsible and boundaried love that will ultimately keep us united and strong.  

© 2022 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.