Wednesday, September 08, 2004


I received a message from a student of mine last night, that his father just collapsed and was taken away in an ambulance. His father's in intensive care right now.

How does a 17 year old deal with that? To make it worse, he's the only child and has to, in his own words, "remain strong for my mother". It's a heavy burden for a 17 year old to carry and I can only imagine the amount of fear he feels and is trying at the same time to hide.

I chanced upon his blog a while back and he talked about how much he didn't want to cry but felt, one night, that no matter how much he tried to, he just couldn't help it. His greatest fear then was that his mother might have felt that she had to be strong for him and couldn't show how worried she was and all he wanted was to be strong for her so that she could depend on him.

I have great respect for this kid. Even with all this going on, he doesn't fail to be polite and he doesn't fail to try to make others feel okay about things. Even when I SMS him to ask how he is doing, he tells me not to worry and that his father is fine. And it isn't even my father we're talking about. It's his. I keep feeling that I should try and do more for him because this kid is really in the danger of losing his dad and he's out there trying to make the world better for other people. I would like to be able to tell him that it's all right if he shows fear and he doesn't need to carry around this heavy burden of trying to make the world better. I would like to be able to tell him that it's okay for him to be self centred right now. But he won't even let me. So, all I can do is to pray that his dad gets better and gets the treatment he needs.

It's such a strange world that I move around in. Day after day, I hear kids complain about their lot in life- that they hate their parents because their parents don't understand them, that life sucks because they really don't want to be in college but have to be there because their parents want them there (hence, the hating of the parents). They bitch about how their classmates backstab them, or how someone they like likes someone else. And right about now, about 13000 kids are shitting in their pants about how half the holidays have gone by and they haven't started studying for their exams yet. And then, there's the perennial bunch of students who feel that Murphy is after them and all hell is breaking loose and for them the shit has hit the fan. These are the kids that seem to be facing all of the above and then out of sheer carelessness or naive trust that no one would take their very expensive (save the uniform) things that they leave so temptingly on the canteen table, bench, library desks, in the cubby holes outside the library and lose their phone, wallet, MP3 player, pencil case, school bag, lap top, uniform, the little quilted heart someone special gave them a while back. Throw in perhaps a breakup with a boy slash girl friend and the cocktail is just about right for them to feel like they're screaming on top of their voices and no one's hearing/listening/understanding all the angst and trauma they're going through. So, by some great causal leap, resort to making themselves feel better by basically, slashing themselves.

I did a whole lot of stupid things when I was 17 and I still cringe and blush when I think about them now. I don't see why I would need a permanent reminder of that foolishness, however faint on various parts of my anatomy. Another boy, also about 17, asked me a few days ago why girls he knew kept cutting themselves up. He asked me what the attraction was, hoping that since I was once a 17 year old myself, I could shed some light on the subject for him. I told him I didn't know, that I could only guess that these people feel so helpless about the situations they put themselves in that they want to feel something other than the guilt, frustration, desperation and anger toward themselves, their parents, their friends, their teachers and basically, the world at large.

So, I think about it. On the one hand, I have a kid who is trying so valiantly to keep his head above the water and keeping everyone from drowning, not knowing that all that weight might cause him to go under himself and on the other hand, there are these other kids out there, the total antithesis of him, thinking only about them and their little worlds that no one else matters if these others don't pay homage to their adolescent temper tantrums, whims and fancies. These are the same kids never figure out how to handle their problems. At the slightest provocation, they whip up their [t]rusty penknife and start slashing away. After that, they go out there either by themselves or with their parents who are so desperate also to regain some normalcy with their infathomable adolescent that they replace the lost items with even more expensive ones.

Newsflash, Parents! If a kid can't look after a pet goldfish and kills it, you don't go out there and buy him a Siberain husky. You buy the kid a Tamagotchi like pet and let him kill and resuscitate it to his heart's content. My friend's daughter, in primary one, lost her wallet twice within the first month in school. So, instead of buying her a new one, my friend put her daily allowance into a plastic bag and made her carry the plastic bag to school as a wallet. Only when she proved that she could look after the plastic bag for an extended period of time did he buy her a new wallet. She hasn't lost her wallet since although last I heard, she did lose a skipping rope but that's another story for another time.

Anyway, my point is why indulge on a kid that hasn't shown any responsibility previously? The problem is, it is done, more often than not, for the greater peace in the house, but what lesson does the kid end up with? "That it doesn't matter?" " That even if I lost my ______________(fill in relevant lost item), I'd get it replaced even if I have to bear with the nagging and the berating for a week and normal programming will resume after the parents have cooled down?"

I think about all this and I feel sad and I feel fearful that I can't do enough, that one kid out of an entire bunch will care and the rest will lead the "ME, MYSELF and I" generation that doesn't know how to think outside the "ME" shaped box that they have made for themselves. I console myself with the thought that perhaps, others thought the same of my generation and I do know of some people who are altruistic and considerate enough to realise that that there shouldn't be a box you keep yourself holed up in and there is space for other people in the world out there.

My fingers and my toes are all crossed in this fervent hope.

*Disclaimer: This was not meant as a personal attack on anyone, but just a general, disturbing but general observation about the people I teach.

Ondine tossed this thought in at 13:50

8 thoughts...

8 thoughts...

At 10:12 pm Blogger the physical poet said...

My thoughts go out to your student. I'm going to be a teacher once I'm through with my NS. Good to know that there are thoughtful teachers like you out there.

I do think kids that slash themselves need help and need to see a qualified counsellor, to get some insight into their feelings and learn more healthy ways of coping.

At 11:52 pm Blogger Ondine said...

Yeah, I understand the basis of this subculture and how it stems from the inability to deal. Our counsellors take away their pen knives, to make it harder for them to slash/cut, but I'm not sure how much good that would do. They can just as easily go out there and buy another one, but I guess that requires some follow through action instead of a readily available option.

At 2:48 am Blogger the physical poet said...

I'm actually thinking of a real psychologist who can give therapy and get to the root of the problem, though I guess in Singapore there aren't many of these professionals. Yet.

But as you note, certainly taking away the penknife is a first step; the same way you keep knives from a suicidal person.

At 4:40 pm Blogger -- said...

Hello! I followed a link from Mr Brown. I'm a student as well, and I've seen a lot of people cut themselves, mostly girls. They fall into two general groups. The first group do it because they're are in genuine psychological pain, though the root of it is mostly unknown to them and cannot be traced.

It feels more like this listless foul skunk of a mood that won't go away and hangs like a stench. They don't know what to do, or how to solve such a thing, they feel helpless; they cut themselves because they at least have some measure of control over the physical pain they feel.

The other group, which gives a bad name to most cutters who really need help, copycat cut themselves. To coin a phrase. They think it's a legitimate way of expressing angst, and way more adult and by default, cooler, than writing it out in a diary. Or they do it to fit in.

I hope that clears some stuff up. This is just what I think, tho. :) I'm not a cutter myself, but I've got friends who are and I've been diagnosed with clinical depression. So it is possible for it to be more of teen angst, though some people have taken the concept of teenage depression and wallowed and indulged with far too much wearied, oh-woe-is-me glee.

At 9:08 pm Blogger Ondine said...

Yeah, I am aware of the 2 groups of "cutters". Academically speaking, I fully understand the rationale behind that. What a lot of us "adults" cannot wrap our head around is its rampantly prevalent nature. This generation, no different from the one before, mine and those earlier than mine,face severe problems in these adolescent years. I'm not saying my problems were worse, I'm saying we all faced a whole load of shit. So, why respond by cutting?

The group you talked about that is facing genuine psychological pain- they really need people who can help them. The others? That's what puzzles.

At 7:40 pm Blogger -- said...

One of my friend cuts because she finds it very fascinating. Her words. She carves in designs that would not look out of place in a sculpture into her arm. I don't know quite what to make of that, either. Is my generation full of kids so dislocated from others they don't even grasp the concept of physical hurt?

I think cutting is the one self-destructive craze that defines the younger generation. Kind of like the teenage version of all the 80s/90s yuppies taking Prozac. At the end of the day, arguing with those who are cutting for the sake of fitting in with other rebellious kids will only make them more delighted their rebellion tactics are working. Trust me on this. Nothing will make them happier then somebody swooping into their world and saying, "That's wrong".

They'll get morally outraged ("It is my right to do whatever I want with my body! Butt out!"), even more so if you confiscate their knives, and then they'll buy knives in righteous rage ("That bitch can't stop me!") and do it more. Very obviously. In your face. Just to annoy you further. So, what to do? Help those kids who really need help, and ignore the rest of them. They don't deserve sympathy, since they're already wallowing in a pit of sympathy for their sorry selves.

At 10:25 pm Blogger Ondine said...

I know. I haven't actually confiscated any knives, nor have I been in the position where I've had to tell someone not to do it. But yes, it will be the thing that will define your generation. I think my generation was defined by the multiple ear hole syndrome for both guys and girls. But then again, I wasn't that clued in to what was definitive when I was a teen. I was pretty much in my own jockette world.

At 11:13 pm Blogger danping said...

Hi, I got to your blog through mr brown's page and i think it's a really good. I am a trainee teacher and I have the same worries for the kids that i would be handling in future... Hope they would all be okay. *cross fingers*
And yeah, do keep blogging.


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