Friday, January 30, 2009

Are we desensitised to sex on tv?

I had written to ST Forum a couple of days ago. My letter was published but in the online version, not the print paper. Here it is in full:

ON THE first night of Chinese New Year, MediaCorp screened a movie, The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Due to its adult content, the show was screened at 10pm.

But I was disgusted by the trailer for the movie which was shown repeatedly during prime time from 7pm, when many children were watching television.

The trailer had blatant sexual innuendoes and scenes. It was obviously not suitable for children. Yet this, for some reason, escaped MediaCorp. I cannot help but wonder if MediaCorp is so desensitised it is oblivious to the inappropriateness of such content during prime time. Or has the priority of promoting a movie overtaken that of social consciousness?

I am no prude. But I wonder at the double standards of scheduling an adult show at 10pm while allowing the trailers to be shown at 7pm. It is bad enough that prime-time movies often have extreme violence as a matter of course, and even children's programmes these days use sex as an easy sell.

I was perturbed to learn that the popular cartoon Winx Club, whose viewership is predominantly young girls aged five to 10, features kissing scenes and has female characters lust after boys and enter into boy-girl relationships as casually as they change their clothes.

I do not believe in completely shielding children from the realities of life. But in this complicated world where kids grow up too quickly, it does not help to have the media continuously reinforce the message that sex and violence are normal, casual activities.

I used to think that mothers who ban their children from watching TV are tyrants - now I think perhaps they are the sensible ones.

Because the online version of ST has a much younger readership, as I'd expected, there were many comments saying it's ok! what's the big deal? Which reinforces my point that in this generation, we have become desensitised to sex on tv because it's so rampant that it's now considered acceptable (together with violence and vulgar languages).

I think non-parents are less likely to empathise with me on this issue (it's cliche I know, but really, you won't understand till you have kids), but I'm curious as to how other parents feel. Do you feel the same way or do you think I'm over-reacting? Banning tv is not an option for now (Elan, thumbs up for you!), but I think we'll be limiting it to DVDs and documentaries for now.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Classic book series for girls

Growing up, I was a voracious reader. On Saturdays, my father would deposit me at the Yaohan bookshop while he went to his office in the next building for a couple of hours of work. I would happily plonk myself on the ground and devour book after book until he came to get me. I couldn't have been more than 9 years old then, but we never thought about security issues. I guess it was a more innocent world back then.

Inevitably, there were certain books which became favourites. When I first learned how to read, the Enid Blytons were a clear forerunner, as was common among most children those days, but they quickly gave way to writers whose characters had much more depth. Enid Blyton is ok light reading for very young kids, but in my opinion, her characters are often as one-dimensional as those in Mediacorp drama serials.

I loved stories of gutsy female characters and their lives (even though some of them are just a tad pious). I especially loved (and still love) series because there's something about ongoing installments that allow you to trace the evolvement of characters over time, something single books sometimes don't have the luxury to do.

Kids these days have such a wide variety of exceptional books to choose from, but I thought I'd share some of my favourites which are true classics and will never go out of style. Although there's no rule that boys can't read them, they would definitely appeal more to girls. Some of these books, I collected as a child and kept them, but since pocket money was limited, most of them I added to my collection when I was already an adult. I think books are an everlasting investment, they can be passed on and they only grow more precious with age.

So here are my four all-time classic book series for girls:

1) The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Laura Ingalls Wilder published the first book "Little House in the Big Woods" in 1932 at the ripe old age of 65, so let that be a reminder that you're never too old to live your dreams! The series was the first to paint a clear picture of the difficult and fascinating life in the American frontier in the late 1800s.

I was given the first book when I was 8 (the one on the top of the pile) and I just fell in love with the characters. I went on to become addicted to the tv series and have since acquired many of the related books on Wilder's life (I even have the Little House cookbook!) but nothing comes close to the original book series.

2) The Melendy Children series by Elizabeth Enright

Elizabeth Enright is an award-winning author, having won the Newberry Medal for Thimble Summer and the Newberry Honor for Gone-Away Lake, both great books. But her books about the Melendy kids were the ones that captivated me. First published in 1941, the series is a family of four kids with their widowed father and a loving housekeeper. All four kids are very distinctive and believable characters, and their adventures are told in a humourous and engaging manner.

The series comprises four books (in this order) - The Saturdays, The Four-Storey Mistake, Then There Were Five, and Spiderweb for Two.

3) The Anne series by LM Montgomery

Anne of Green Gables was the primary reason why I spelled the "Anne" in Lesley-Anne with an "e" instead of Lesley-Ann. How to forget Anne's soliloquy: "If you call me Anne, please call me Anne spelled with an e... When you hear a name pronounced can't you always see it in your mind, just as if it was printed out? I can; and A-N-N looks dreadful, but A-N-N-E looks so much more distinguished."

LM Montgomery is a delightful story-teller and I lived and breathed Anne when I read about her. The full series chronicling the disarming redhead's life to adulthood is covered over eight books.

4) The Gemma series by Noel Streatfeild

Noel Streatfeild's unique writing style is that she writes about kids growing up on the stage, based on her own childhood experiences. Her most famous book is probably Ballet Shoes, which has been adapted for television. Girls who love dance or music or drama are likely to enjoy her stories. The Gemma series is not as well known, but I loved reading about how the Robinson family deals with the artistic talents of the kids and the backroom scenes of the arts industry in the UK.

There are four books in this series: Gemma, Gemma and Sisters, Gemma Alone, and Goodbye Gemma.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The tale of the ox and the dragon

This is Lesley-Anne's year - the year of the ox. I don't believe in the zodiac traits but funnily enough, both my kids possess some of the characteristics that their Chinese zodiac signs claim to have. As the ox, Lesley-Anne is diligent and conscientious, often working hard to perform and achieve. On the other hand, Andre the dragon is full of life and somehow is able to get what he wants without really much effort.

Since I did a photo chronology of both of them for Christmas, I thought I'd do one tracing their development over the past Chinese New Years. And here is the story of the ox and the dragon.

CNY 2004:

Andre was three then and I remember he was so fond of Mandarin oranges that he pilfered a whole bunch of them from his grandmother's house and hid them in my bag!

CNY 2005:

CNY 2006:

This was the cutest stage. Both of them were totally adorable. Where did my babies go??

CNY 2007:

CNY 2008:

And this year, CNY 2009:

Gongxi Facai everyone!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Mummy dearest - the dubious Top 10

Post no.100! I can't believe I've found so much to talk about.

The 100th post should be a memorable one so I've decided to compile a Top 10 list (I just love me lists!) This might be considered controversial and could get me on the blacklist of some parents, but I couldn't resist.

This is a Top 10 list of the type of nightmare parents who make me squirm. When I meet any of them, I immediately devise a getaway plan. I'm pretty sure you'll recognise some, if not all of them.

1. The "Ain't she sweet" Parent

This is the teacher's nightmare. Basically, this child can do no wrong in his parent's eyes. If she's throwing a tantrum, she's just "sensitive". If she's beating up other kids, she's "active". When she says something rude, the parent laughs it off as if it's the most amusing thing ever. And if any teacher dares to reprimand the child, she'll get, "I tell my father!" followed by an earful from the parent and a threatened lawsuit.

2. The "Kiasu competition sure win" Parent

Most Singaporean parents (me included) are kiasu to some extent. But this one will do anything to get ahead. (The father who took the exam for his son probably falls under this category!) This parent, when reading my post on why coaching for GEP is unethical, will immediately think, "Wah, got coaching for GEP! Where?" The motivation to get ahead can even inspire downright rude behaviour. He is the one who shoves his kids into the lift without letting people out first, lets them cut queues, and encourages them to hide library books so other kids can't find them.

3. The "See no evil, hear no evil" Parent

You can sense the presence of this parent even before you spot her because her kids will be screaming at impressive Mariah Carey pitches and hurtling in between legs and toys at the department store. And when you spot her, you're likely to find her nonchalantly standing at the side, oblivious to the flustered salesperson and other disapproving parents. In fact, she's probably even on her cell phone, having a leisurely conversation with her bff (best female friend).

4. The "Anything yours can do, mine can do better" Parent

This parent has enrolled his child in a competition with all other kids. The problem is, the competition is in his head and nobody else is participating. If your kid can draw a car at age 3, his can draw a mountain bike complete with Lance Armstrong. If you say your kid has 10 friends, he'll say his has 15. If pushed hard enough, you can probably get this parent to say his kid turned down a personal invitation by NASA to fly a space shuttle.

5. The "Mine can't do anything (but still managed to thrash yours)" Parent

Actually, this parent annoys me even more than the previous one because he's equally competitive but pretends not to be. He'll say something like "oh, she's very lazy" or "she's not very bright", then later manage to drop in the conversation that she topped her class. You can easily recognise these two types of parents in that they're never happy about your kid's achievements but they always expect you to applaud theirs.

6. The "Whack you upside-down" Parent

While most parents on this list can be said to be over-indulgent or over-protective, this one is the opposite. You can often spot this one in a public place, bellowing and wagging a finger at a child who's completely cowed. Often for a misdemeanour as minor as forgetting to bring his water bottle. This one makes me cringe because I usually end up feeling so sorry for the kid who is being humiliated.

7. The "You can't do anything good enough" Parent

The child of this parent also has my sympathy because she's always trying to please but nothing she does is ever good enough. Aiyoh, this parent has standards higher than the Chrysler Building. If the child comes home with 7 As and 1 B, the parent will harp on the B. Getting a "well done!" out of this parent is harder than getting a penguin to fly.

8. The "Chao kwan" Parent

This parent has the hide of a rhino. He doesn't care who he has to bulldoze to get what he wants because he feels the rules don't apply to him. This is the parent who will ask for contacts or learning resources but never shares his. He is the one who, at the Parent-Teacher meeting, will hog the teacher's time for 45 minutes, conveniently disregarding the long line of disgruntled parents behind him.

9. The "Blow-by-blow account" Parent

This parent is so enamoured by her child that she's obliged to share every minute detail of his existence with you. "He's so cute when he's asleep, he makes a soft 'ff-pff sound when he breathes!" By the time she's 10 minutes into her son's bowel habits, you start thinking that migration probably isn't so bad if it gets you away from her permanently.

10. The "Sugar and spice" Parent

This parent is similar to the previous one in that she's equally enchanted by her child, but the irritant is not in the details but the bucket of saccharine she pours onto her stories. She calls her kid "sweetie pie" or "honey bunny", she never loses her temper, and he's always unbelievably angelic. Her life appears to be like something out of a Strawberry Shortcake cartoon. Too much time spent with this parent and you run the risk of gagging from a sugar overload.

This list is supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, I hope I've not offended anyone. And if you are offended, then chances you're one of those parents, in which case I don't really need to know about it. (Really! I don't! Please don't email me to scold me.)

At any rate, we're all probably a little of each of these types at some point, like if I meet an "Anything yours can do, mine can do better" parent, after a while, I feel the inexplicable urge to start declaring my child's achievements.

Nobody's perfect, so let's just laugh at ourselves ok?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Are you a key?

Let me first ask an obtuse question: As a parent, are you a key?

At first glance, it would seem like a good thing, being a key. After all, a key opens many things. "Key" is often used to describe things of importance - "the key to the problem" or "the key principle", for instance. Many parents would, indeed, consider themselves "keys" in their relationship with their kids in that they are a central part of their kids' lives.

I thought long and hard about an analogy and I used this one because a key appears to be significant in a positive way. But being a key is not always a good thing. The problem is that if we as parents are keys, it means that our children are locks or doors or whatever that need keys to function (ok! ok! my analogy is a little clumsy, but hear me out).

In my observation of parents, I found that some have turned themselves into the Master Key, meaning they control fully the actions of their children. They have made their kids so dependent on them that by themselves, their kids are completely unable to achieve anything, even function as a human being. Haven't you ever met these parents? Their kids are unable to do anything for themselves. In fact, some of them, when they've grown up, are unable to hold down a job and continue to sponge off their parents.

Parents who are keys often appear to be loving parents because they dote on their kids, wait on them hand and foot, and meet their every need (and more). I have seen teenagers who've never taken the bus on their own, who recklessly squander their parents' money, who wouldn't be able to iron a handkerchief if their lives depended on it.

Beneath the veneer of what these parents call love, I believe is a deeper issue - one of insecurity. Whether conscious or sub-conscious, raising dependent children reflects on parents' more insidious fears that they will one day not be needed, so they strive to be indispensable in their kids' lives.

When I was heading a corporate communications department at a local university, I came across this quote which stuck with me:

"The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers." - Ralph Nader

An insecure leader only breeds followers because he is afraid of being overtaken. The true leader who cares about the development of his people and is secure in his own ability grooms more leaders so they can better contribute. In the same way, an insecure parent raises reliant kids so that his own position might not be threatened. A secure parent, on the other hand, raises independent children who will be able to look after themselves and others in the future.

I'm not saying all parents who molly-coddle their kids are just selfish at heart. I know some parents who do everything for their kids because they're overly anxious over their kids' safety and are afraid that something bad will happen to them. Others just think that their kids are incapable of doing things for themselves (in their hearts, their kids will always be their babies, whether they're 5 or 25).

To the first group, I say, if you don't ever let anything happen to your kids, the problem is nothing ever will. Your kid will probably live a safe life but it's hardly a life. To the second group, I say, don't underestimate your kids! They're probably capable of so much more, if only you'll let them try, maybe fall down a few times. It doesn't mean you love them any less. In fact, you're probably showing that you love them more.

I wrote this post because I have too often, come across many parents (across generations) who are keys. And it bugs me to see so many kids who are not growing up to be edifying members of society. I know, I know, you can't blame parents for everything. But hopefully we can do our part to gently steer our kids on the right track.

Sorry this post has turned out to be somewhat of a sermon. So I'll end with the same question: Are you a key? I hope your answer is no.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The appalling standard of English in schools

I'm prompted to write this post because Andre came home with a spelling list last week and one of the items on the list was "swimming gears". I had to explain to him that "gear" used in this manner was a collective noun, like "equipment", there shouldn't be an "s" (unless they meant actual gears that could swim, which I seriously doubt...) What I couldn't explain to him was how it could appear on a spelling list that would supposedly have been set and approved by a few English teachers.

Andre also told me that his teacher explained the difference between "suitcase" and "luggage". She said suitcase refers to the actual bag whereas luggage refers to the items inside, that's why you use the phrase "unpack your luggage". Aiyoh, there are so many things wrong with that statement I don't even know where to begin!

In the end, I called the school's English Head of Department to inform her of the "swimming gears" error, but I let the luggage issue slide with just an explanation to Andre because he was very uncomfortable with the thought of me telling his teacher she was wrong. "Aiyah, she's very nice already, you know!" he protested. In his eyes, having a nice teacher more than makes up for her linguistic shortcomings.

It just vexes me that my kids are picking up bad English in school, of all places. And the problem appears to be endemic - I've spotted grammar and spelling errors even in the English exam papers of the top schools. (Here's one: "Mother sewed the hole in Peter's shirt.") As mentioned in an early post, a friend of mine was appalled that her son, who attends a mission school, told her his teacher pronounced "kennel" as "canal" and told him to "on the computer". The latest anecdote - the same teacher taught the class that "Tom's father reads papers." The worst part is that the child treats his teacher's words as the gospel truth, so my friend has a hard time trying to correct his mistakes.

Is it my imagination or is the situation getting worse? You would have thought that after decades of adopting English as 1st language, standards would have improved but on the contrary, I believe they have declined. I'm really not sure why. I was recently lamenting about it to a friend, saying all these teachers were supposed to be trained and she said, "well, maybe all the trainers in NIE are teaching bad English!"

Could it be, that the reason why bad English is so pervasive in schools is because it's being handed down like some long-standing tradition? When Lesley-Anne was in p2, she wrote in her composition, "After hearing the news, it made Jane feel better." Her English teacher corrected "feel" and wrote "felt". Thankfully Lesley-Anne was confident enough about her English to know her teacher was wrong, but what a fiasco.

I don't know if our multi-racial, multi-cultural society makes it harder for us to pick up the language because we're confused by all the different language systems and rules. Or maybe Singaporeans can only learn by fixed formulae and rules, so while we can shine in subjects like maths, we falter in areas like languages which require a certain amount of intuition and familiarity since the rules tend to be more arbitrary.

I have no idea. I also have no idea how to solve the problem, except on my own little part, to correct my kids when I spot the errors. What I do know is that all these kids who learn sub-par English will grow up imparting this same standard to the next generation.

I also know that bad English is widespread in Singapore, not just in schools. I've spotted bad grammar and spelling in the most unlikely places - signs at community centres, government brochures, even in the national newspapers and media websites! When I was at one of the National Library branches, I spotted a sign above the bookdrop - "24-hours bookdrop". (For those of you who are unaware, it should be "hour" without the "s"). If even the national body promoting reading and literacy can make elementary English mistakes, I think the situation looks bleak for the rest of the population.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Would you take the exam for your child?

I was so tickled by a recent news article - in all our jokes about the Singapore parent being kiasu-ness, this one takes the cake! (Ok, it's not a Singaporean parent but Japanese, but still it's the same Asian emphasis on exams). It just boggles the mind the extreme measures some parents will take to get their children ahead.

And come on, I'm sure many of us, especially when we're struggling to drum something into our kids' brains, often wished we could just take the exams in their place. The difference is that this father actually did it.

Dad posed as son in exam

Wed, Jan 14, 2009

TOKYO - A 54-YEAR-old Japanese man was caught impersonating his 20-year-old son to take an exam, even getting a perm to make himself look younger, an official said on Wednesday.

The father, who runs a medication distribution company, sat a test for a licence to handle over-the-counter drugs so that his son could work with him, said an official in Nara prefecture in western Japan.

An examiner noticed that the man looked unusually old, said local government official Masaaki Nakamori.

'A 20-year-old and a 54-year-old are aged differently. But he looked like the photo on the exam admission card,' Mr Nakamori said.

The father, whose name was not released, earned his own licence last year, taking the exam with a photo showing him with straight hair and glasses.

'This time, he curled his hair and did not wear his glasses,' Mr Nakamori said.

The man put his face down intently near the desk as he took the exam, he said.

'When the test monitor approached him, he admitted it and apologised. He said, from the application process to actual testing, he did it all himself without telling his son,' Mr Nakamori said. -- AFP

Friday, January 16, 2009

The world according to Andre

Here's one of Andre's classic foibles to end the work week on a light note.

Yesterday, Andre was reading a comprehension passage about Japan being known as the "Land of the Rising Sun".

Andre: Why is Japan called the Land of the Rising Sun?

Me: Well, as you know, the sun rises in the... ?

Andre: Morning.

Me: No lah!

Andre: Huh? You mean it rises at night?

Me: Haiyah! The sun rises in the East!

Andre: Hah?

Me (despairing): Don't tell me you don't know the sun rises in the East and sets in the West!

Andre: I don't know what is East and West! Which side is East?

Me: East is the right side, West is the left.

Andre: So you mean the sun rises here? (waves right hand)

Me: Not YOUR East lah! Do you think the sun rises and sets with you??

Andre (protesting): I don't know mah. I never learnt history.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Telling time and counting money... in time for p1

A friend mentioned in passing the need to teach her son how to tell time before he entered p1 next year. I thought I'd recount how I helped Andre manage the two things that most parents would agree are critical when starting school - how to tell time and count money.

Please note this post is not going to tell you HOW to teach the two things (what? am I a teacher now??) I'm just going to tell you how I helped Andre MANAGE the two issues (which is a nice way of saying that he wasn't very good at them when he started school, haha).

The funny thing is that both topics are in the p1 syllabus but yet the kids are expected to know them before starting p1, for pragmatic reasons. Discounting the maths whizzes, many kids find the concept of time and money a little confusing. This is because at that age, the maths they're more familiar with generally deals with numbers in a linear fashion, starting from 1. Neither time nor money handles numbers this way (well, money does but it's more complicated because you have to think about the decimals).

When it comes to time, the 60-minute hour concept is complex. Most kids can manage the hour and half-hour concepts but the minutes are tricky. Andre only grasped this concept fully when he learned the 5 times tables, then Kenneth taught him how to count in 5 minute intervals. It was quite effective. Motivation helps - another mother said if you tell your kid, "20 minutes before you can watch tv!" or "half an hour later, I'll give you a piece of chocolate", he'll catch on pretty quickly. Actually, you'll find that telling time isn't that critical a skill in the beginning anyway, ie the kids are herded like sheep to all their classes. Unless, like another mother reminded me, your kid wants to know how many more minutes till recess. LOL. And even then, the solution is simple - get a digital watch lor.

As for money, we tried to teach Andre before he started school but he found all the cents confusing. When you've only learnt how to count to 100 and add single digits mentally, 65 cents minus 25 cents is way complicated. It also took him a while to apply the concept of 100 cents = $1, ie how much change to get back if you give $1 and the item costs 40 cents? After a few sessions of playing shop (and disastrous change-giving), we decided it would be easier to just give Andre his pocket money in 10-cent denominations. So if the item costs 50 cents, it's just 5 coins. Simple.

Another solution I noticed that parents frequently used was to give their kids $1 coins or $2 notes. Since almost nothing in a primary school canteen costs over $2, the kid just hands over the note and trusts the auntie to give back the correct change. Of course it's ideal if the child actually knows how much change he should get, but he'll figure it out eventually.

The first day of school, we packed a snack for Andre and because parents were allowed on Day 1, we watched him dutifully sit down with his buddy at recess and eat his snack. On Day 2, relishing his new-found freedom, he marched up to the ice-cream stall and said "I want the colourful ice-cream." Later, he happily told me the auntie had said, "Very good, you know what you want!" Within the first week, he had bought French fries, crackers and even a can of 100Plus from the vending machine. This last one, he bought because it was the only drink in a can and he thought it was like Coke (soft drinks are forbidden in our home). He was so short he even had to enlist his buddy's help to put in the coins for him. I'm not sorry to admit that I laughed mercilessly at him when he told me it tasted funny.

So I will say this, if your kid is a greedy gut like mine, nothing will stop him from getting his snacks. Not being able to count money is but a minor inconvenience.

Monday, January 12, 2009

IQ vs achievement - it's not the same thing!

Before I write this, I just want to say that in case any parent reads my previous post and thinks that I'm trying to brag about my gifted child or elicit sympathy for what is often perceived as already a privileged position, that it is not so. I've mentioned this before, every child is different, you just have to work with what you're given. And anyway, a gifted child is not any reflection of a parent's "accomplishment", so there's nothing to take credit for.

Ok, now that we've gotten that out of the way, this is a follow-up post on my last entry. Some parents may be curious as to what are the different levels of giftedness. Here is the range (please note that the numbers can vary depending on the scale that's used).

Average IQ is between 85-114.

I wrote in an earlier post about how to tell if your child is intellectually gifted. An example of a profoundly gifted individual is Bobby Fischer, whose IQ is estimated to be 180. He was obsessed with chess since the age of six and spent hours everyday studying the game. By 15, he became a Grand Master, the youngest ever in history.

But IQ is just a number. And it's important to always remember that life is so much more than numbers. Giftedness is complex because the variation is so wide. A child can be extremely gifted in maths and not languages or vice versa.

The issue I want to address is that of IQ vs achievement. A mother reminded me the other day that it's not the same thing, ie higher IQ does NOT automatically translate into higher achievement. I briefly addressed it in my previous post but I think it warrants a separate post.

People tend to imagine gifted children happily embracing their abilities and continuously adding to their accomplishments. You might therefore be surprised to hear this: research has shown that a large proportion of highly gifted children seriously underachieve in the regular classroom and that by the end of elementary school, many have almost completely lost the motivation to excel (Pringle, 1970; Painter, 1976; Whitmore, 1980; Gross, 1993).

Aside: I found most of the relevant information and research on the Hoagies Gifted Education site. It's a terrific resource although I personally found the navigation a little confusing.

Research by Miraca Gross found that gifted children are aware from a young age that they are different from other children around them. Instead of feeling superior however, more often than not, gifted children feel uncomfortable about being different and feel the pressure to change their behavior to fit in with their peers. Gross's study (1993) found that highly gifted students with advanced reading abilities, on entering school and realising that no other children could read, deliberately decreased the quality and quantity of their reading after a few weeks. Some even stopped reading altogether.

Anxiety and depression often occur in misplaced gifted children. Self-sabotage or deliberate underachievement to fit in can lead to the "imposter syndrome", where gifted adults believe their success is due to luck rather than their own abilities and worry about being found out.
"The “imposter syndrome” strikes people everywhere, especially high achievers... The more successful you get, the greater the inner stress. Now people have expectations of you that you may not be able to meet. Now each decision you make should be perfect because there’s much to lose." - Simran Bhargava, The Imposter Syndrome: Feeling Like A Fraud
One of the biggest issues is the discrepancy between the mental age and the chronological age. The higher the IQ, the higher the mental age, therefore with exceptionally or profoundly gifted children, the gap between the mental and chronological age is enormous.

“Precocity unavoidably complicates the complexity of social adjustment. The child of 8 years with a mentality of 12 or 14 is faced with a situation that is almost inconceivably difficult. In order to adjust normally, such a child has to have an exceptionally well-balanced personality, and has to be well nigh a social genius. The higher the IQ, the more acute the problem” - Burks, Jensen, & Terman
Sometimes, underachievement could simply be due to boredom due to lack of interest in too-easy classes, the negative connotation of being seen as smart ("geek"! "nerd"! sounds familiar?), or unrealistic perfectionism.

While these are social or emotional reasons, there's also the possibility of biological reasons for underachievement. Many gifted children are twice exceptional, ie children who are gifted and have a learning disability like ADHD or dyslexia. Twice exceptional children are especially common among the exceptionally or profoundly gifted. Because gifted children are more able to compensate or mask their learning disabilities, these disorders often are left undiagnosed or discovered much later.

Experts generally agree that an effective way of reversing underachievement in gifted children is to provide accelerated education and placed in intellectually stimulating classes with appropriate mentoring and enrichment. Gross's study found that gifted children who attended school in the regular classroom had frequently quashed or moderated their own abilities. Their early curiosity and love of learning were eroded or completely eradicated by the time they became teenagers, and they displayed disturbingly low levels of motivation and social self-esteem. Ironically, education administrators took the decrease in academic achievement to mean that the child has "leveled out" and is no longer gifted.

In contrast, gifted children who were more appropriately placed in an accelerated environment displayed higher levels of motivation and self-esteem, and significantly reduced pressure to underachieve for peer acceptance. They also had more friends and enjoyed closer social relationships than before the acceleration.

See? Not that I want to keep harping on the GEP but this research again supports my view that the GEP is a necessary part of our education system. It is not the be all and end all, but it does serve the needs of a segment of the population that would otherwise have been underserved in the current education system.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The challenges of raising a gifted child

Last week, a group of IAA mums finally decided to meet up. (If you don't know what IAA is, read about it here.) It was very interesting - the three of us who eventually met up were loosely linked via the President of IAA, Lilian who couldn't make it. So there we were, three mums who'd never met, going on what felt like a three-way blind date.

But you know, having blogged about our kids and commiserated with each other on the challenges of parenting, it was like an instant kinship. For almost three hours over sushi, we talked about our incessant worries and laughed about our parenting bloopers. It once again reinforced my conviction that starting my kids blog is a worthwhile endeavour. Parenthood is possibly the toughest job in the world because it can determine whether you had a hand in creating Mother Teresa or Adolf Hitler. If more parents were open about sharing their experiences and tips instead of jealously guarding them, I do believe that fewer parents, especially new ones, would stumble less or at least avoid making the same mistakes.

The three of us shared many thoughts over lunch but one of them which I'm highlighting in this post was the issue of giftedness. The topic came up because one of the mothers has a 6-year-old son who has been suspected by a psychologist to be "exceptionally or profoundly gifted" (defined as IQ of above 160 and 180 respectively). In a society like Singapore which places such a premium on smarts, this would appear to be every parent's dream. But as they say, be careful what you wish for because it just might come true (I should know this, when I was preggers with Andre, I wished for a son like Calvin in Calvin & Hobbes and I pretty much got my wish.)

This mum was sharing with me her concern about the "exceptionally gifted" label as so many expectations come along with it. She was recounting a report which mentioned two individuals who were considered profoundly gifted (which is fewer than 1 in a million), one a 14-year-old boy in the US, took their own lives. The idea that life could be so unbearable for such a bright child that he would even consider ending it is just sobering.

While Lesley-Anne is not exceptionally or profoundly gifted, I can identify with this mum because I worry about the same issues that many parents of gifted children face. Contrary to popular belief, gifted children have to grapple with many problems, just like other kids. But because they're gifted, the world tends to give them a much shorter leash in terms of making mistakes and dealing with problems. Afterall, they're gifted! What problems could they possibly have, right?

While there is no substantial evidence to show that suicide or depression is higher among gifted individuals, there are certain tendencies among gifted kids, coupled with societal norms, that make them prone towards developing emotional and social problems. Here are a few:

1) Gifted kids tend to be perfectionists, more so than regular kids. I found quite a good, succinct presentation by Dr Pamela Clark on gifted kids which states while perfectionism can be positive if it spurs high achievement, it becomes unhealthy if it reaches the point where it the kids are unable to take pleasure in a task because they feel it is not perfect. This sort of perfectionism becomes disabling and has been linked to depression, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive personality disorders and ironically, underachievement.

2) The life of gifted kids can be a lonely one because they can find it difficult to mingle with regular kids. I don't like to use the word "normal" because I think that's an artificial definition based on the majority. Many kids and parents alike criticise gifted kids for being anti-social and "weird" but I suspect it's just prejudice at play. If you say, place a Tibetan monk in an African village, he would definitely be considered strange, even "abnormal", just because he's different. But put that monk back in his own community and he'll fit right in.

Same thing with gifted kids - I find that the gifted kids who are criticised for being socially inept usually have fewer problems socialising with their gifted peers, not because they're arrogant or aloof, but because they're more likely to share similar interests and think on the same wavelength. But because there are way more regular than gifted kids, gifted kids can be ostracised in school, until they learn how to "speak the lingo" of regular kids, or so to speak. It has been found that some gifted kids deny their giftedness just so they can "be like everybody else". In general, the higher the IQ, the more likely difficulties in socialisation occur.

3) The bar tends to be raised for gifted kids once they've been identified, sometimes to unrealistic levels. I know this first-hand - when Andre comes home with good results, I heap him with praise. But when Lesley-Anne produces good results, I sometimes take it for granted, in fact I question when she performs less than stellar. The efforts of gifted kids tend to be appreciated less because we assume that it's easy for them. As this mum told me, sometimes when her son doesn't understand a new concept instantly, she thinks, "Huh? You should know this - you're gifted what!" (But she checks herself so she doesn't say it out loud.)

Once a child is labeled gifted, he or she is instantly expected to wow, all the time, by parents, the school and society at large, even through to adulthood. Don't underestimate the pressure faced by these kids. I have heard real stories of Singapore teenagers who were identified as gifted but later cracked under the pressure and developed eating disorders or completely failed every subject in school.

So what can we as parents do? According to Clark, here are a few tips:
  • Praise them for the effort and determination vs being "smart" or "talented"
  • Help them see setbacks as learning opportunities
  • Encourage them to channel their efforts into areas they are passionate about instead of trying to be good in everything
  • Help them set priorities and value relaxation
  • Support their talent but don't add to the pressure
Clark also sees the benefit of having gifted kids spend time with like-minded peers. This is one reason I'm very grateful for the GEP, because it has enabled Lesley-Anne to meet and make friends with other kids like herself. I'm not being atas (snobbish) - I'm aware it's important for her to learn how to mix with regular kids since this world operates on "regular" 90% of the time, but in the process, I'm just happy she doesn't feel alone.

If your child is gifted, I highly recommend this book "A Parent's Guide to Gifted Children" by Webb, Gore, Amend and DeVries. I've recommended it before in an earlier post but it's worthwhile highlighting again. It answered most of my question on gifted kids and clarified many of my doubts.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Bye bye iPod Touch

So I didn't win the iPod Touch. I didn't even win a t-shirt. Wasted all my effort using up my Singlish quota in one single post. I wanted to shout "referee kayu", but then I saw the organiser was MICA. Aiyoh, gahmen body one, don't play play. They know where I live.

Of course I'm a sore loser - I'm Singaporean what, everything must win one! Otherwise must quickly form committee to brainstorm how we can beat the system.

Anyway, I'm guessing there were 3 reasons why I lost. (Three only lah! Lose already still want to think of 10??)

1) All these young'uns are so tech savvy, got those nifty gadgets and can work them as expertly as the prata man can throw his prata. Me, I only have a Stone Age Nikon which produces blur pictures on principle. (Of course it's the camera's fault! Are you saying it's mine?) Or maybe the organisers figured the iPod Touch would be lost on me.

2) These gahmen people got no sense of humour, very hung up on protocol one - I just mention Brands Essence of Chicken only they consider it product placement, kenah disqualified.

3) Once again, mummies are under appreciated - even in contest, we're underrepresented and not considered important enough. These people obviously never watch the movie The Mummy. Brandon Fraser keeps trying to eliminate them but MUMMIES ALWAYS COME BACK.

So sorry mothers, your faith in me was very touching but I end up still must cut coupons leh...

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Singaporean mum on the loose

A friend invited me to join in the "Yes I'm Singaporean!" Blog Contest. You're supposed to blog about what makes you a Singaporean and how people can pick you out from an international crowd from your Uniquely Singaporean qualities.

At first, I wasn't very keen. Too much effort lah. Then I saw the top prize was an iPod Touch, engraved with your name some more. Wah say, then I'll give it a go, man! That should immediately tell you that I'm a classic Singaporean. Very ngian for free gift one. As long as doesn't entail giving my phone number, having to buy multiple boxes of biscuits or attend very pressurising talk by scary salespeople on time-share apartments.

Actually, my blog is on kids and education, so I have a slight dilemma - I have to somehow make my entry relevant to my blog. No sweat - one of the all-time unique Singaporean icons is the Singaporean mum. And here are ten reasons why I'm your candidate:

1) I'm a regular fixture at Popular Bookstore. My Popular discount card has seen more wear than Phua Chu Kang's yellow boots. When the twice-yearly 20% discount for members events come around, my kids sure bin che che* because they can count on me lugging home fresh armloads of torture implements aka assessment books.

2) I always grumble about the Singapore education system but if any foreigner tries to criticise it, I will defend it to death and point out all the flaws in theirs. "Ei, my kids can calculate how many books Ali has transferred from Library A to B! Yours can't even add!!" Don't play play.

3) You're not a true Singaporean if you're not a foodie. In fact, that's one of the main reasons we won't be migrating anytime soon. Sure, Paris has the Eiffel Tower and LA has Disneyland but only Singapore got Beach Road Prawn Mee, Hill Street Char Guay Teow and Bedok Corner Ayam Penyet. No fight lah.

4) I'm always on the phone to one of these parties - the school, the Chinese tuition teacher, either of the two piano teachers, the ballet teacher or one of the two school bus drivers. At any moment in time, you're likely to find me wildly gesticulating, frantically trying to coordinate schedules that are as fickle as the stock market. Adoi. Macam worse than a company secretary.

5) Call me kiasu but I love a bargain. Nothing irks me more than seeing something on sale that I just bought at full price last week. I have inadvertently become one of those coupon aunties. 1-for-1 coffee, 20% storewide discounts, $5 vouchers, free ice-cream with purchase - I have them all. In fact, many of them have have long expired but I'd forgotten to discard them. If you encounter a woman at the cashier accidentally releasing a confetti of coupons as she was removing her purse from her bag, that was probably me.

6) Singaporeans are obsessed with '3-in-1's. It's just the thought of having one item do three things at the same time - gives the illusion of efficiency. I wash my hair with 3-in-1 shampoo, beautify my complexion with 3-in-1 moisturiser and kickstart every morning with 3-in-1 coffee. Out of curiosity, I googled '3-in-1 Singapore' and I found 3-in-1 milo, 3-in-1 instant cereal, 3-in-1 warning system, 3-in-1 family centre, 3-in-1 rocker/feeding chair (possibly comes with baby too), and 3-in-1 breakfast maker, which is apparently a toaster oven cum food steamer cum frying pan. Wah, maybe it can fry your eggs and make toast at the same time. And if you thought that was impressive, check this out!

7) All Singaporeans know their acronyms - ECP, PIE, COE, CPF, HDB, MRT, PAP, GST, the list goes on. But the ones that plague my life are all kids and education related - MOE, GEP, HOD, DSA, IP, ERP (this refers to an English project even more dreaded than the gantry toll of the same name), CCA, CIP and my nightmare of 2009 - PSLE. Kenneth and I think there must be a gahmen department whose sole job is to think up acronyms for new services/entities to confuse foreigners. If you lia bo kiu** any of these acronyms, then you're most likely not a parent or not a Singaporean or both.

8) The typical Singaporean parent hurls cliches at their kids as if their grades depended on it. I am no exception. "If you don't study hard, you will grow up to be a garbage collector!" "You think money grow on trees ah?" "You're not leaving the table till you finish your food." "If your friend jumps, you also jump izzit??" But I also have a couple of originals: "I smack you all the way to China then you know." and "Did you leave your brain in the school canteen?"

9) During exam time, I get very gancheong and become an instant insomniac, wondering if I should have insisted on intensive tuition/started revisions earlier/moved to Australia. In the morning, I give them Brands' Essence of Chicken as a token of my motherly concern. Ironic since I'm the one who's a zombie and they had blissfully slept through the night.

10) Many Singaporeans can claim to be bilingual or even trilingual. I lagi best. I one shot can use three languages in less than ten words: "One plate char guay teow mai ham, makan here."

So that's me - the quintessential, hot-blooded Singaporean mum. I complain a lot but am too comfortable to do anything about it. I hope I've proven that I'm Uniquely Singaporean enough to be worthy of the iPod Touch. If not, I'll just have to cut more coupons. And meanwhile, if you're looking for me, I'll be at the Popular Expo sale, KLKK***.

*"face green green"
**literally "catch no ball"

***kia lai kia ke

Shameless self-promotion: If you enjoyed reading this post, you might also like Ode to Teachers 2 and The Scrabble Fiasco.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Maths models revisited

After over a month of holiday blogging, it's back to normal transmission. Come on! Out of your stupor and back to work! (You just experienced being my kids for 3 seconds).

In the past few weeks, I've been trying to familiarise Lesley-Anne with some of the new p6 maths topics so that she'll find it easier to keep up in class. I'm again reminded of how blessed the gifted mind truly is. When I introduced a new topic like circles or speed, I only had to spend about 10mins explaining the basic concepts and she very quickly grasped them and was able to tackle the even less than straightforward sums. And this is taking into account the fact that she is hardly the most gifted child in maths.

In contrast, I often have to explain everything in slo-mo to Andre and even then, it takes multiple repetitions before he eventually sees the light. So a gentle reminder to all parents that it's really different strokes for different folks - please adjust your methods and your expectations according to the ability of your child.

So I discovered that algebra is in the p6 syllabus afterall - sorry if I've misled any parent in the past! But I still love me models (if you've missed my early posts on maths models, do check them out, especially if you're unsure about the rules to drawing models - Parts 1,2 and 3 or click on the "mathematics" label).

I came across a couple of problem sums that stumped both me and Lesley-Anne. In the end, she solved them using algebra but the calculation was so complex that with her penchant for careless mistakes, it's not really a good strategy. I only went "ohhh, I see..." after I saw the solutions, which used models. Really rusty lah, after a month of holidaying.

Anyway, here are the sums and the solutions using the model method. I suggest you try them first without looking at the answers.

Question 1:

Joanne and Bernard had a certain number of stamps each. If Joanne gave 90 stamps to Bernard, they would have the same number of stamps. If Bernard gave 10 stamps to Joanne, she would have 5 times as many stamps as Bernard. How many stamps did Joanne have at first?

The key to getting this right is being able to draw both sets of transferrence onto one model, which was what gave us the mental block. The first part is easy - first, draw the model for what happens if Joanne gives Bernard 90 stamps.

Then using the same model, draw what happens when Bernard gives Joanne 10 stamps. Basically, Bernard will be left with the shaded part and Joanne's shaded part represents 1 unit, the rest of her stamps represent 4 units (since she would have 5 times as many stamps as Bernard).

We then need to work out how many stamps are represented by Joanne's unshaded part, which is easy since it's the same number as the corresponding parts in Bernard's below, ie Joanne's unshaded part is 100 stamps (10+90 in Bernard's portion).

So 4 units = 100 + 90 + 10 = 200
1 unit = 200 ÷ 4 = 50
At first, Joanne didn't have the extra 10 stamps given to her by Bernard, so the number of stamps Joanne had at first is 5 units - 10 stamps.
5 units = 50x5 = 250
250-10 = 240

Answer: Joanne had 240 stamps at first.

Question 2:
Jeffrey spent $187 on a pair of shoes. He spent 1/5 of his remaining money on a pen. He still had 1/4 of his money left.

a) How much money did he spend on the pen?
b) How much money had he at first?

First, draw the model for how what Jeffrey spent - $187 and the amount for a pen which represents 1/5 of his remaining money.

Next we know that the remaining 4/5 of his money is the same as 1/4 of his original amount of money. Since 1/4 is 4 units, 3/4 = 4x3 = 12 units.

The pen is 1 unit, so $187 = 12 units - 1 unit = 11 units.
1 unit = $187 ÷ 11 = $17

Answer for a): Jeffrey spent $17 on a pen.

Jeffrey had 16 units of money at first - 3/4 (12 units) + 1/4 (4 units)
16 x $17 (1 unit) = $272

Answer for b): He had $272 at first.

Friday, January 2, 2009

New Year resolutions

Life is a continuum but there's something about the New Year that tends to delineate a new chapter in this ongoing journey.

I feel this is especially so for parents because we see our kids starting a brand new school year. While school is not usually kids' favourite place, the first day of school is always fun and exciting. We were helping our kids pack their bags for today - new school bag, new stationery, new books. This ritual of renewal symbolises hope and optimism - a chance to wipe the slate clean of old mistakes and make new discoveries. Who will my new teacher be? What new friends will I make? The anticipation that something good will happen has not yet been squelched by the daily grind.

As parents, it's perhaps timely to make new resolves, not to dwell on our mistakes or lament at how fast our babies grow (can do that lah, but not too much) but to self-reflect on how we can continue to be positive agents in our kids' lives. I don't recommend making ambitious, grand gestures like "I will not yell at my kids anymore!" that you're likely to break even before the school bus comes around. Just baby steps, like "I will make 5 minutes a day to find out how my kid's day went."

For me, 2009 will be especially momentous in terms of the education calender - as you know, Lesley-Anne will be taking her PSLE this year, marking the end of the first phase of her education journey. It will be a stressful year but for now, it's only 2 Jan, the slate is still clean, the year is still full of possibilities ahead.

A friend told me last week, "I don't get the point of blogging." I told him it's about the sharing. Issues often get clearer for me when I write about them and through the sharing, I've encountered so many wonderful parents say they've gained from reading my blog and in return, whose comments and encouragement have enlightened me.

I recently discovered that I was ranked by Dreambox Learning, a US education provider, as one of the top eight education blogs. Wah, I'm so flattered! If it takes a village to raise a child, then I'm glad to have this community whom I can engage to help me be a better parent. To bless others and be blessed - what could be more fulfilling?

So here's to 2009, to happy parenting and happy kids!
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