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Discipline: What Parents Get Wrong, and How to Get It Right

Discipline: What Parents Get Wrong, and How to Get It Right

Spare the rod and spoil the child – is this a sensible justification for the use of physical punishment in disciplining a child? What is discipline really all about? To some parents, discipline is associated with corporal punishment, such as by caning, slapping or spanking. In extreme cases, it may include forcing hot sauce into a child’s mouth as punishment for swearing. Sometimes, it becomes difficult to draw the line between reasonable corporal punishment and physical abuse. 

Not many parents will admit that they cane or spank their kids. But a survey conducted by an international research agency YouGov found that close to 80 percent of parents in Singapore adopted such physical means of punishment. Does caning still have a place in modern-day parenting? In some way or another, we are all shaped by different life experiences, cultures and familial backgrounds. It shouldn’t be a surprise that we each possess differing opinions and perceptions. Some of these parents themselves may have been parented under strict and harsh supervision, where they had grown accustomed to physical forms of discipline and do not view them to be problematic. However, there is an increasing need to recognise that the act of disciplining children can take on many other forms. While we do not have the right to correct your teaching methods, we hope to convince you, as well as other parents out there, that corporal punishment is not the only mean to teach a child good behaviour. 

Why Corporal Punishment Isn’t The Best

We acknowledge that parenting isn’t easy. When your toddler “accidentally” smashes that one precious family heirloom, or when your underaged teenager gets caught for drinking, you might fly into a rage and rush to pick up the cane. However, corporal punishment has been proven to be ineffective and potentially harmful. It may serve its purpose of an immediate response to an undesirable behaviour and to curb it temporarily, but it will leave a long-lasting psychological mark on your child. As published in numerous research journals, physical punishment may bring about more harm than good. Let’s break it down:

  • Deteriorating Relationships
    Consider the message that you’re sending your child as you’re hitting him. While you may think nothing of it in a fit of anger, your child may – whether subconsciously or not – internalise that he is unworthy of love, or that he is worthless. Over time, this will also strain your relationship with your child.

  • Increasing Your Child’s Susceptibility to Mental Disorders
    Physical aggression often ties in with psychological aggression. At the end of it all, your child may develop a flawed belief that using violence to achieve desired results is completely acceptable. Not only does corporal punishment increase a child’s aggression, it may also lead to antisocial behaviour, as well as other mental health disorders. Long-term use of violence against a growing child can lead to the development of depression, anxiety, personality disorders, as well as intellectual disabilities. In particular, it may also cause a downward spiral of your child’s self-esteem.

  • Failing to Induce the Desired Behavioural Change
    Corporal punishment does not develop compliant behaviour, it simply stops undesirable behaviour temporarily. This may give parents a false sense of security, and trap them into thinking that they’ve successfully steered their children away from unwanted behaviours. However, the reality is that children may only stop immediately for the fear of being punished further. There is always a chance for such behaviours to return. Assuming your teenager picks up a bad habit but is afraid of being punished, she may instead resort to various means of hiding it from you. As you can see, the unwanted behaviour isn’t eradicated at all.

 

By now, you’re probably curious about how you can encourage behavioural change more effectively without physical punishment. Here, we’ll share some useful tips in regards to educating your child the right behaviour. 

When your child misbehaves, you can consider withholding or removing certain privileges from him. This is certainly less harmful psychologically and physically as opposed to spanking him. For example, if your child leaves his toys lying all over the bedroom floor, you can opt to confiscate them for a day or two. Do note that this will be particularly effective if the consequence is directly linked to the unwanted behaviour. In this case, it wouldn’t be ideal to punish the child by banning TV time for a day.

Needless to say, positive reinforcement plays a huge role in disciplining your child too. If your parenting style solely includes punishments and no rewards, your child may grow up feeling resentful, unhappy and lack a sense of self-worth. Be equally generous with praises and rewards when deemed fit – balance is key! If possible, you may also tie in a reward system with a certain behaviour that you want to encourage. Let’s say you want your child to develop a habit of returning home no later than 10pm. The consequence for not sticking to the curfew may be grounding her for the next two days. However, if your child adheres to the rules and returns home by the stated curfew for the entire week, perhaps you can reward her for being responsible and consistent. This could mean giving her an additional hour out during the weekends, or bringing her out for her favourite meal. 

One major issue with corporal punishment is that apart from inflicting physical and psychological harm, it does not direct your child towards the desired behaviour. Discipline should be aimed at teaching. Ensuring your child learns from the event and to correct themselves in the future is what really matters. With that said, sometimes teaching them new skills can go a long way. If your child throws temper tantrums, teach him how to calm himself down and to deal with his frustration instead of spanking him. Such problem-solving and emotion-coping strategies will certainly help your child to build emotional resilience as well. 

The environment around us can influence the way we grow and behave too. If you have children or teenagers at home, lock the cabinets to the heavy liquor. If you want to foster a non-gambling home environment, keeping items such as poker cards away from sight can also be beneficial. Small changes to the surroundings can have more influence than you may think, and will also prevent the need for any serious punishment. 

Above all, it is necessary to be consistent with what you say and encourage your children to do. Be consistent with the rules you put forth and stand your ground, it is important for a child to know that the consequences and rewards aren’t selectively enforced. Guiding children away from misbehaviour can be a tough feat at times, but just as you’re about to reach for the cane, we hope you’ll think twice.

 


References:

  1. https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/education/most-parents-here-dont-spare-rod-on-kids-at-home-study (Accessed 22/02/2021)
  2. https://www.apa.org/research/action/speaking-of-psychology/disciplining-children  (Accessed 22/02/2021)
  3. https://www.healthxchange.sg/children/parenting-tips/child-discipline-physical-punishment-psychological-marks  (Accessed 22/02/2021)
  4. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/10/child-discipline (Accessed 22/02/2021)

 

Myth Busting Teen Mental Health – Self-Harm

Debunking myths about adolescent mental healthviolence-self-harm

Although society has made some headway in reducing the stigma and misinformation about general mental health issues, the public’s understanding of self-harm remains decades behind. Let’s debunk some common myths about adolescent self-harm.

Myth: ‘Self-harm means cutting right? Only emos and goths do that.’

Self-harm refers to a range of behaviours that are purposely inflicted to cause damage to the body. It can include cutting, but also refers to scratching, picking at wounds, burning, pinching, hitting, head banging, and minor overdosing. Self-harm can also be in the form of excessive risk-taking that is above and beyond typical adolescent risk-taking.

It is a misconception that only ’emos’ and ‘goths’ self-harm. Although self-harm can be part of adolescent subculture experimentation, it is more often a sign that a teenager is experiencing unmanageable distress. Self-harm becomes a way of coping with distress that provides temporary relief from emotional pain.

Myth: ‘Self-harm is all about attention-seeking. If a person was really depressed enough to cut themselves then they would probably just commit suicide.’

Self-harm is not about attention-seeking. It is often a secretive and private behaviour. For a teenager, self-harm is a way of coping with unmanageable distress, and can be a medium to communicate that distress to others. Self-harm should never be dismissed as attention-seeking.

A person who cuts themselves is not necessarily suicidal. Cutting behaviour can be suicidal, non-suicidal, or a mix of both. It is important to remember that suicide risk is not static. A teenager who displays non-suicidal self-harm can become suicidal at another point in time.

Any teen who self-harms should undergo a thorough and comprehensive suicide risk assessment by a registered mental health professional. Their suicide risk should be closely monitored and assessed at regular intervals.

Myth: ‘I can punish my teen so that they stop self-harming. That will solve the problem.’

Punishing a teen for self-harming does not solve the problem. Cutting is a symptom of a deeper issue – unmanageable distress. Stopping the cutting via punishment may actually worsen their distress, especially if the teen lacks healthy and effective coping strategies.

Here are some suggestions for what you can do instead of punishing your teen:

  • Be an active listener
  • Validating their feelings
  • Be emotionally and physically present for them
  • Engage in joint problem solving

Always seek advice from a registered child psychologist if you suspect that your teen may be self-harming.

Written by Leeran Gold, Psychologist in our Forensic Service.

At Promises Healthcare, we are committed to helping you through your journey to recovery. Discover a new life and find renewed hope. If you or someone you know needs mental health support, please contact our clinic for inquiries and consultations.

For after-hours crisis support contact your local mental health service or emergency services.

In Singapore: IMH 24-hour helpline +65 6389 2222, Ambulance 995.

Myth Busting Mental Health – Youth Suicide

Myth Busting Mental Health – Youth Suicide

youth-suicideLet’s take a look at some common mental health myths about youth suicide and set the record straight.

Attempted suicides are just a cry for attention.

A suicide attempt should never be dismissed as ‘just a cry for attention’. A young person is highlighting that their level of internal distress is unmanageable and unbearable. They need help, not judgement. A young person can feel even more isolated and misunderstood if those around them fail to take their actions seriously. Never ignore or minimise suicidal behaviours and seek professional help as soon as possible.

Teens who cut their wrists must be suicidal.

Cutting is a form of self-injury that can either be suicidal or non-suicidal. In both cases, the cutting is a sign that a young person is not managing their internal distress in a healthy way. Any young person who self-injures should undergo a full suicide risk assessment by a registered mental health professional.

If I ask a young person whether they are feeling suicidal, it might put the idea in their head.

This is a particularly dangerous myth as it discourages discussion of the issue at hand. Talking about suicidal feelings will not encourage a young person to commit suicide. When having the conversation try to stay calm and non-confrontational. Remain open and genuine, and remember the overall message – it is ok to talk about feelings, and there is help available. Show that you care and avoid judging the young person. If you are uncomfortable or unsure about having the conversation, get in touch with a mental health professional for some tips and guidance.

Written by Leeran Gold, Psychologist in our Forensic Service.

At Promises Healthcare, we are committed to helping you through your journey to recovery. Discover a new life, away from addiction and find renewed hope. If you or someone you know needs mental health support, please contact us today for inquiries and consultations.

For after-hours crisis support contact your local mental health service or emergency services.

In Singapore: IMH 24-hour helpline +65 6389 2222, Ambulance 995.

Self-Harm Series – Part 3 –

Self-Harm Series – Part 3 –

What can I do to help my teen?
In addition to regular professional mental health support, here are some things you can do to help your teen:
– Show that you care
– Be non-judgmental
– Accept your teen’s feelings
– Suggest distractions
– Learn basic first aid
– Encourage them to communicate their feelings
– Ensure an authoritative balance in your parenting style

Avoid:
– Guilt trips
– Punishing your teen for self-harm

What can the school do to support my teen?
Ask to see your school’s policy on self-harm management. If your school does not have a policy, get in touch with your treating psychologist who can provide the school with resources and psycho-education. Make sure the school counselor sees your teen regularly, and that they are aware of any safety and risk issues.

If you suspect that your teen is self-harming, seek professional help as soon as possible. Contact Promises Healthcare for a confidential enquiry today.

If your teen is in any danger, contact your local ambulance service on 995. You can contact the Institute for Mental Health 24-hour hotline on 6389-2222.

This is part 3, of a series of 3 posts        Click here for Part 1     Click here for Part 2

Written by: Leeran Gold – Psychologist, Forensic Services, Promises Healthcare

Self-Harm Series – Part 2 –

Self-Harm Series – Part 2 –

Self-Harm

How do I know if my teen is self-harming?
Self-harming is usually a very private and secretive behavior. Teens may self-harm on areas of their bodies that are difficult to see. In some cases, teens may self-harm in more obvious areas including their wrists, ankles, arms and legs.
If you notice dressing or bandages, or cuts, bruises, burns and/or marks in these areas, your teen may be self-harming.
Other signs can include withdrawing from friends and family, excessive moodiness, increased irritability and anger outbursts, and changes in appetite and body weight.

Why is my teen self-harming?
Teens may self-harm in order to cope with stress. Self-harm can temporarily numb or relieve their distress, and can be a way of communicating their distress to others. Teens who self-harm often lack healthy coping strategies and feel helpless in managing their distress.

If your teen is self-harming, or you suspect that they are, seek professional help and contact Promises Healthcare for a confidential enquiry as soon as possible.

If your teen is in any danger, you can contact your local ambulance service on 995. You can contact the Institute for Mental Health 24-hour hotline on 6389-2222.

This is part 2, of a series of 3 posts         Click here for Part 1 

Written by: Leeran Gold – Psychologist, Forensic Services, Promises Healthcare