Dear Thelma: No time for self, no privacy and no life


  • Mind
  • Sunday, 28 Jun 2020

LETTER #1

Since I turned 13 and started secondary schooling, life has been always stressful.

The first thing my parents highlighted to me was "you need to study" and "academics always comes first". I know they are right. But maybe my parents went a little OTT (over the top). My parents have always expected high grades and I'm pretty sure everyone does, too. But, by OTT, I mean getting 100% and nothing less. And that has made me very stressed out.

My parents also told me that I'm behaving more secretively nowadays. They said that I am spending more time in my room alone with the door closed and stuff like that. I mean, I just want some privacy! For example, I like reading in my room with the door closed. I do my homework in my room with the door closed. And because of that, they think I'm being secretive.

All this was too much until, one day, I had a meltdown. My dad couldn't take it anymore and he just went to bed. My mum stayed and talked to me. I told her that I felt they were expecting too much from me and my want of privacy. She said that they were like this because they didn't want me to make the mistakes they did when they were my age. She said they would give me a week to find out what I want.

However, after a few weeks, things were back to normal. And by normal I mean them controlling my life.

My parents have been sheltering me from the world since I turned 13. They didn't let me fall and get up on my own. I know they want what's best for me but I think it's just not right. I want to fall. I want to make mistakes. I want to get up on my own. But I just can't seem to make them understand that.

Maria

LETTER #2

Ever since the beginning of the MCO, I've longed to go back to school. Staying at home was definitely a no, if I had the choice.

All this time, I haven't had a lot of freedom. MCO only made it worse.

I couldn't possibly be working 24/7, but whenever I tried to relax or just take a rest, I would be seen as "idling" and my parents would assign me something to do. I never have time for myself, I have no life. I only live for the benefit of others.

I've been experiencing mood swings lately – sometimes I feel OK, but sometimes I feel like I want to commit murder upon others and myself.

I tried telling my parents how I felt, but they never seemed to really understand. Usually, they never even bother to care how I feel.

This time I made a mistake. Telling them only made matters worse. The next day, they started mocking me in their lectures with the things that I had told them. I do not trust them anymore.

IC


I feel for both of you, and if it helps, you are what was recently referred to as the Hidden Epidemic.

To create positive change, I suggest you start by understanding what is going on.

Successful parenting is about raising a child to become an independent adult who is confident about themselves and their skills.

There are different ways to go about the job, and psychologists have discovered that some styles lead to problems.

The parenting style that you describe is known as the Authoritarian. These parents set high expectations and are merciless about enforcing rules. The kid has to excel and obey blindly, or they are punished.

Kids with these kinds of parents are terrified of failing. They won't do anything that they may not be good at because they know they'll suffer the consequences. Therefore, they will avoid challenges, avoid anything to do with a learning curve, and are completely crushed if they aren't "the best".

As you can imagine, this is why they become anxious, which often leads to mental health issues. Kids from authoritarian parents are more likely to have low self-esteem, to be self-harming, to have eating disorders, to suffer from anxiety and depression, and more.

A variation of the authoritarian parent is the helicopter parent: these adults are also obsessed with their kid succeeding but instead of bullying and punishment, they hover over the kid and intervene as soon as they see there is a problem.

As a result, the kid misses out on the learning curve. As adults, they have no problem-solving experience and, when faced with challenges, are at high risk of becoming anxious or depressed, having low self-esteem, and so on.

Why do parents adopt such approaches? I think it's mainly because some parents are misled into thinking that school marks define success. And as bullying kids can sometimes produce good grades, parents who don't know better think they're doing a good job when they see As. They don't realise until it's too late what they've done.

You two are already showing the effects of this disastrous strategy: you are both disengaging from your families and becoming way over-stressed.

So, you need to make some changes.

First, do some extra reading so you are informed. The goal that you are all aiming for is to have Authoritative parents: adults who set good but sensible standards and who support you through a learning curve. When you fail, they recognise effort and, where needed, they help you do better.

Maria, as you can still talk to your parents, then presenting them the right information may be enough to help them change. Get all the information, give it to them, let them have a few days to think it over, and then talk.

As your parents love you and are worried about your failing, you may need to reassure them that it's really good for your overall development. Just keep assuring them and feed them lots of supportive information.

Unfortunately, many authoritarian parents will not communicate with their children. IC, I suspect that is your family. For you, I think you need to get a support group going. Look for aunts, uncles, grandparents, teachers and other adults who are willing to step up and do some sensible advocacy on your behalf.

As for shaming you for speaking up, that's plain abusive. Get your advocates to remind them that bullying is unacceptable.

For both of you and for other readers in the same situation, if you can't get help, and are feeling it's too much, please call the helpline Talian Nur at 15999.


Is something bothering you? Do you need a listening ear or a shoulder to lean on? Thelma is here to help. Email lifestyle@thestar.com.my or write to Dear Thelma, c/o StarLifestyle, Menara Star, 15, Jalan 16/11,46350 Petaling Jaya, Selangor. Please include your full name, address and a pseudonym. No private correspondence will be entertained. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, usefulness, fitness for any particular purpose or other assurances as to the opinions and views expressed in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses suffered directly or indirectly arising from reliance on such opinions and views.

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