“DO YOU COUNSEL CHILDREN?” the anxious mother asked me, to know more about the counselling services I oﬀer. “Yes”, I replied and added, “I would like you and your husband to come too.”
The couple turned up with the child in tow. They were eager to tell me all the problems they were having with their 12-year-old. They were just as eager to leave their child with me so that I could get on with the “real work of fixing him”.
This reminds me of what motorists do when they drive their cars to the workshop. After some brief words to the mechanic, we leave the car in his good hands, expecting to pick up a trouble-free vehicle at the end of the day. Counselling, however, does not work this way. Often the fixing is done together with the parent(s) and child. It is as if the driver undergoes a refresher course in the driving school.
I have observed a growing reliance of parents on specialists to deal with specific issues faced by their children instead of trying to address the issues themselves.
Many perhaps have tried and did not have the success they had hoped for. Others may be worried that they might do more harm than good.
Whilst it is good to recognise that we may not have the “expertise” to deal with every situation, it is another thing to disqualify ourselves totally. I believe parents should play an active role and be the “local expert” concerning their children. Because they are with their children most of the time, parents can and must develop competencies in managing their children. Here are some tips on how you can begin:
Local expertise begins with local knowledge and this comes with close observation and interaction with their children. is means going beyond the obligatory questions about whether homework is done, to what the child’s day was like.
Another way to gain local knowledge is to examine ourselves and what we have done as parents. The old computer saying, “Garbage in, garbage out” is often painfully true. This is especially true for children below teenaged years. What this means is asking yourself what values have I been modelling to my children? How am I teaching them to handle failures, disappointment and competition?
Remembering what it was like when we were children is another way of understanding our children. The world may have changed over the last 20 to 30 years but we are fundamentally still the same. We have the same needs, wants, emotions and dreams. If we remember these, perhaps we can be more patient with our children.
Finally, it is always benefi cial to acquire new knowledge and skills about parenting. If more parents enrolled with a parenting “driving school”, we may have less need to send our children to family counselling “workshops”.
Why young people cut themselves
“I BEGAN CUTTING when I was in Primary 3, sitting in class when I made that first conscious decision to draw the penknife quickly across my thumb, just to see if I would bleed. is continued randomly for fun and intermittently until I was 14, and nothing in the world made sense to me. at was when I started to cut everyday, as much as my left wrist could bear.”
I remember the first time I saw the scars – rows and rows of neat little lines that lined up the wrist of a friend. I had heard and read about the phenomenon of cutting, but prior to this, I had never met anyone who cut, or more precisely, admitted to cutting.
The term “cutting” refers to a form of self-harm. Though it can be traced back to ancient times, it had crept into public awareness in the past decade. Cutting has been referred to as the “the new anorexia”, with most cutters being female teenagers.
“Cutting was something that was mine, and mine alone. And I had the power to do whatever I wanted with it. At the age where I was being told what to do, how to dress and where to go, this was MINE.”
It is often said that cutters do what they do to “get attention”. This is a common myth. Research suggests that teenagers turn to self-injury as a means of dealing with emotional and psychological pain.
Some cut to exert some semblance of control over their life, while others turn to self-injury to remind themselves that they are still “alive”. The pain they cause to themselves seems like the only time they feel anything at all.
“It’s addictive. Like scratching an itch. When you see one line, it’s not enough. For me, it was just feeling the pain. It gave me the space to cry and to feel the angst and the hurt that I chose to bottle. It was a visual diary for words I refused to vocalise.”
Self-injurers are often bright, talented, creative achievers who push themselves beyond human bounds and cover their pain with a happy face. Despite the way it may look, cutting is usually not a failed suicide attempt. In fact, most cutters are petrified of going too far and accidentally killing themselves.
Being a teen in this day and age is no easy feat. We often expect our teens to be able to juggle schoolwork, peer pressure, relationships – both within and outside the family, with the maturity of an adult. Sometimes expectations of our children, whether implicit or explicit, create an insurmountable burden on our children, who then grasp for something (or anything) to express the way they feel.
Let’s take time to listen to our children. Find out what is important to them, what is bothering them. In seeking release from their struggles, may they not resort to harmful means – instead, may they find solace in God, in friends, and most of all, in their parents.