Dear Thelma: Stressed over delayed SPM exam and anxious parents making me miserable

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Dear Thelma,

My parents are normal, typical Asian parents – they are not too strict but, when it comes to some situations, they do not understand it from my point of view.

As you know, Covid-19 is seriously affecting students' education. I am supposed to sit for the SPM this year but, sadly, it has been postponed.

I study for a minimum of five hours a day and take some breaks (less than an hour) by playing games, listening to songs or watching Netflix.

The thing is, whenever I take a break after my studies, my Mum thinks that I am taking breaks all the time.

As usual, there will be arguments and I will debate from my point of view yet my mum and dad do not understand that and see me as an irresponsible daughter who spends too much time on the phone even though I don't, to be honest.

Of course, I do have my best friend to support me, yet I feel my life is unfair.

I'm not asking my parents to let me use my phone 24/7 or let me play games the whole day. Why does no one see the effort I am putting into my studies?

The next problem is, I am an athlete. And I have health issues. My parents advise me to eat, but the problem is, I can't eat too much. I get full really fast. I can't force myself to eat more than my body can take.

I just hope I will get a solution to this. I know how to control myself and make decisions. I hope my parents will understand this.

Please give me solutions, Thelma.

A Stressed Student

Dear Stressed Student,

I'm sorry to hear you're stressed. Reading your letter, my first thought is that these two issues might be part of the same problem: your parents are controlling.

Control can be quite a complex issue, but generally speaking, people try and control things, people and situations when they feel anxious, or because they have bad intentions.

From your letter, it sounds as if your parents are decent people who are acting somewhat out of character. Therefore, I suspect their behaviour comes from anxiety.

As we're in the middle of a pandemic, anxiety is becoming a big problem. And although we know this in our heads, we don't always recognise it when it affects us or our relationships.

I suggest you approach this using these steps.

First, understand how your mum and dad are seeing the world at the moment. People who are afraid, tend to catastrophise. This means they worry a little bit and then exaggerate in their heads until they panic.

So, they may be thinking along the lines of,"There is no school, which means we don't know about our daughter's work, so we don't know if she's OK." This is perfectly rational and correct.

But the catastrophising comes in like this. "But if she's not OK, it may impact on her further education and her career choices." This is possible but as the whole world is in that situation, it's really just speculation.

But people do worry a lot and so they are likely to end up thinking,"Oh no, our child is going to be unemployed and poor and unhappy!!!" And that's when they run to your room and panic about you texting a friend.

The eating is the same deal. They think,"Our daughter is picking at her food." They worry,"What if she's ill, sick, too weak?" and visualising all kinds of trouble, they start stuffing you as if you're a goose for market.

Once you understand how they may be thinking, prep for good communication. This step involves clear a statement of the issue, describing common ground, stating your needs and a statement of outcome.

The issue: "Mum/Dad, we're all worried about school." Common ground: "I know it's important. I am committed to studying." Your need: "I study for five hours, and then I take a break. And then I revise." Outcome: "I need to build in breaks because otherwise I will burn out."

And then have a family chat, showing clearly how you're studying, how you check your progress and be certain to discuss how you and they can talk to your teacher and school at proper intervals for feedback.

For your eating, I suggest this:

The issue: "Mum/Dad, I have a small appetite." Common ground: "I know diet is important. I am committed to being healthy." Your needs: "I need you to stop making me eat when I'm not hungry."

Now, practically speaking, nagging kids about eating can result in dangerous disorders like bulimia, anorexia, avoidant/restrictive food intaking and more. However, it is also true that kids who are stressed can develop eating disorders, so your parents may be seeing something you are not aware of.

Again, have a chat. And if you all disagree over what is healthy, speak to your family doctor.

Finally, if you can talk to your parents, just talk it through in your head and then talk to them. If you think they won't listen, involve an older person you trust: a grandmother, uncle or perhaps a school teacher.

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