Academic learning is usually in the spotlight at school, but teaching elementary-age students “soft” skills like self-control and how to get along with others might help to keep at-risk kids out of criminal trouble in the future, a study finds. Several studies have underlined how learning soft skills could help your child to be successful as an adult.
Duke University researchers looked at a program called Fast Track, which was started in the early 1990s for children who were identified by their teachers and parents to be at high risk for developing aggressive behavioral problems.
The students were randomized into two groups; half took part in the intervention, which included a teacher-led curriculum, parent training groups, academic tutoring and lessons in self-control and social skills. The program, which lasted from first grade through 10th grade, reduced delinquency, arrests and use of health and mental health services as the students aged through adolescence and young adulthood, as researchers explained in a separate study published earlier this year.
In the latest study, researchers looked at the “why” behind those previous findings. In looking at the data from nearly 900 students, the researchers found that about a third of the impact on future crime outcomes was due to the social and self-regulation skills the students learned from ages 6 to 11.
The academic skills that were taught as part of Fast Track turned out to have less of an impact on crime and delinquency rates than did the soft skills, which are associated with emotional intelligence. Soft skills might include teaching kids to work cooperatively in a group or teaching them how to think about the long-term consequences when they make a decision. Teaching physics is an example of a hard skill.
“The conclusion that we would make is that these [soft] skills should be emphasized even more in our education system and in our system of socializing children,” says Kenneth Dodge, a professor of public policy and of psychology and neuroscience at Duke who was a principal investigator in this study as well as in the original Fast Track project. Parents should do all they can to promote these skills with their children, Dodge says, as should education policymakers.
“To the extent we can improve those skills, we can improve outcomes in delinquency and juvenile crime,” says Dodge, who is also director of Duke’s Center for Child and Family Policy. The study was published in the journal Child Development.
To Neil Bernstein, a psychologist in Washington, D.C., who specializes in child and adolescent behavior disorders, the researchers’ findings seem consistent with what he’s seen on the ground in working with children for more than 30 years. And while he says he agrees with the importance of teaching self-control and social skills, he would add empathy to the list, too.
“Empathy is what makes us aware of the feelings of others, and when you’re empathic, you’re much less likely to hurt someone else’s feelings,” says Bernstein, who serves on the advisory board for the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids and is the author of multiple books, including How to Keep Your Teenager Out of Trouble and What to Do if You Can’t.
Being in tune with how someone else feels might also make adolescents steer clear of bullying and other “behaviors of concern,” Bernstein says.
Empathy was not one of the skills that was directly measured in this study, according to Lucy Sorensen, a Ph.D. student at Duke and lead author of the study. But there were several measures of “prosocial behavior,” Sorensen says, defined as voluntary behavior intended to benefit others.
While Bernstein thinks the study’s findings are meaningful and could potentially serve as a model for schools, he says that collectively getting a school system, teachers, parents and students all motivated enough to take part in an intervention like Fast Track is challenging.
Several parts of the Fast Track study have been picked up successfully in other school settings, Sorensen says, such as a social-emotional learning curriculum called Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies, or PATHS. Programs like Fast Track need buy-in from school systems, teachers and parents, she says, and that can be a tough sell. But she adds that it’s a strength of Fast Track that the students get support both at school and at home.
“There’s a growing and new understanding of what it takes to be successful as an adolescent and an adult,” Dodge says. “It used to be that what we thought all it took was academic skills. Reading and math are very important for tasks that require reading and math. Self-control is important for life tasks that require self-control — that’s what avoiding arrest and violent crime is all about.”
“meditating for only 8 weeks actually significantly changed the brain’s grey matter — a major part of the central nervous system that is associated with processing information, as well as providing nutrients and energy to neurons” – Medical Daily
Learn more about the scientific power of meditation from AsapSCIENCE:
The world we live in is awash with sexual images, wrong messages and dangerous advice about sexuality. With all these negative influences, it has never been more difficult for our teenagers to remain sexually pure. How can we, as loving parents, help them achieve this seemingly impossible task?
Create a Safe Environment
The best place to start is to create an environment in which your teenager feels comfortable talking to you about the entire scope of his life interests and concerns. Within that context, healthy discussions about sex and sexuality can be encouraged to blossom and grow in a natural way. Research shows that teens who have a close, warm relationship with their parents, and whose parents clearly communicate their expectations regarding sexual behavior, are less likely than others to engage in pre-marital sex.
Your teenager also needs to know you are comfortable with the subject of sex. It is normal for parents to feel nervous or awkward about broaching this subject, but having the courage to be open and honest with him will help to protect your child. Remember, if your teen doesn’t hear about sex from you, he will hear it from someone else who may not have his best interests at heart.
It is important to note that these “sex talks” should not be monologues, but dialogues. Asking your teenager thought-provoking questions and giving her the liberty to express her thoughts, uncertainties and opinions will be much more effective than having her simply listen to you. Also, this subject of sex shouldn’t be relegated to a one-time talk, but should be discussed throughout her upbringing.
Educating your teenager on the negative emotional, social and physical consequences of having premarital sex is of utmost importance. However, don’t just focus on areas of concern and danger; it will help to balance the negatives with a strong positive view of sex and marriage. Talk about the joys of unfailing commitment and lifelong companionship with a faithful spouse, and share about the value of purity and respect for self and others.
During adolescence, teenagers want their parents’ reassurance that they understand what they are going through, but they also want their parents to communicate values and standards for behavior. It is important that you be clear about your expectations on dating and physical intimacy. However, remember that while you can and should set appropriate boundaries, you should also entrust him with increasing responsibility to make his own decisions.
Even if you have a conviction that sex is reserved for marriage, this does not mean your teenager shares that belief. Convictions require being convinced, and providing logical explanations and compelling reasons is necessary for cultivating convictions.
Finally, do your best to give your teenager a strong, positive sense of identity. Teenagers who experience consistent love and affirmation are less likely to embark on a desperate search for fulfillment that could lead to unwise sexual decisions. Make every effort to affirm her every chance you get, and communicate that she is a precious and valuable individual.
Parents have the greatest influence on their teenagers’ lives, even when it doesn’t seem the case. Your involvement, communication and, most of all, love will have a tremendously positive impact on your teenager’s decisions regarding relationships and sex.
Have you ever wondered why parents are not allowed in the camps until the last day after the children are hyped up? You know what I mean. It would be the time where children are yelling how much they love to study and swearing they will not be motivated from then forth. This is when parents will smile proudly to themselves and go “I’m glad I send them to this course.” – only to find them reverting to what they were before the camp.
It is not uncommon to hear motivational and study skills camps not allowing parents to be with their child – even after the parents are the ones who invested all that money. The most common reasons given would be:
“Parents are a distraction.“
“The children would not be themselves if parents are around.“
But do you know, your presence may increase the success rate of your child’s motivation level by 200x?
Wait! I thought you said no one can motivate others…
When we talk about motivating others, people always have the impression that we should be saying motivating words to our children and harping on successes in the future. This behaviour, unfortunately, is the set behaviour that everyone seems to adopt to motivate others. Many parents simply adopt this behaviour to adopt their children and find that it simply backfires.
You may have come across stories where once-defiant children seem to change under the hands of a teacher. Many believe that they use motivational words or harp on success. This is not true. It is the constant attitude of care and concern displayed by the teacher towards the studentsthat cause these changes. The children feel it and wanted to change themselves. In short, they were motivated to change.
During the camp, motivational camps would usually start off by questioning the children of their self-worth and identity. This is the first step where children are supposed to release the emotions and anger they have suppressed over the years of being reduced to an academic pawn for high-stakes national exams. Once all these tension is released within the first day, the child should now feel “free of emotional baggages” and will be able to absorb the study skills that comes. Yet, after all the so-called ’emotional release’, the children are back to square one with their parents – who have no idea of all existing their emotional baggages!
Some parents may gasp here. “Academic pawn? How dare you! I will never subject my child to that! I’m doing all these of their future!” Sure...Tell that to all the children who shared heart-breaking stories with me of the words parents have used on them ‘for their future’.
Parents, you have no idea how important you are in the eyes of your child.
What is interesting to me here is that these camps should be aware of the massive effect parents have on their parents. Which begets this question –
why are motivational camps keeping parents out of their child’s motivational transformational change?
The Top Secret Study Skills
When study skills accompany motivational camps, these skills are secret. They can help to accelerate learning for any subject when used appropriately. However, when most children are left to these ‘secrets’, they do not end up applying them – even when they know it should work!
Why is this so?
Children who are generally motivated will be the ones who will apply some of these secret formulas. How about those who are not as motivated? Many times, not-so-motivated children are unsure how to apply these skills. Some may be easily overwhelmed. Many forget after not trying. Many just don’t know how to as they needlots of practiseswith ones close to them to help them apply these skills to their learning.
They need their parents to help them out!
They need their parents to practise with them!
Their parents need to learn these accelerated learning skills themselves!
Yet common sense tells us this is where the problem lies. No study skills company is going to teach the parents with their children how to study better!
Why Children-Parent Bonding + Study Skills Classes are Necessary
When I first started teaching study skills to children without their parents, their responses perturbed me. One parent remarked to the child (after she demonstrated memorisation a challenging 30-items sequence), “Oh, so you are actually smart after all.” For some reason, that remark didn’t sit well with me. Was the parent trying to goad her child? Or did she not simply understand how her words can hurt her daughter so easily?
That’s when I toyed with the idea of including parents in the workshops. When I first started asked for feedback among educators of the idea of conducting student-parent bonding + study skills classes with some educators, many laughed.
“The parents are only dying to outsource their child’s learning to others! That’s why the tuition industry is making so much money!”
Undaunted, I gathered a few parents and proceeded to conduct a 2-days course with them. By the first half of the day, the parents were watching their children in a different light.
One parent was shocked to find out his daughter entertained thoughts of suicide at the age of 11.
One parent didn’t realised the word ‘OK’ towards her daughter’s good results was hurtful (I’m serious!).
One parent didn’t realised that she had stopped praising her elder child but was favouring the younger one a lot more.
By watching how much their children struggled with their self-esteem, they realised that their children generally put up a strong front but were struggling deep inside. Their thoughts, fears, emotional baggages and words were deeply ingrainedin their children far deeper they thought. When the children connected with their parents, that was when they really felt an emotional release of suppressed baggages and were all ready to learn.
Many parents were hit with a realisation that they themselves required an overhaul of attitudetowards their children. As they learnt to learn once more with the study skills, they realised that ..perhaps to motivate someone is not just all talk and yelling but just by being there.
Disclaimer: Not all parents and children will change for the better. As it usually takes 2 hands to clap, it is very dependent on the effort made by both child and parent.
Depression is one of the most common medical conditions in Singapore, with an estimated 5.6% of the population being affected by it in their lifetime. While figures on teen depression are unavailable, it stands to reason that young people grapple with this mood disorder as well. A moody teenager experiencing emotional highs and lows is certainly not a novel phenomenon. Thus, it’s important for parents to be able to distinguish between teenage mood swings and depression which can have a serious effect on their child.
While there are different types of depression, there are some major common markers to look out for:
A deep-rooted sadness and/or irritability. This may be accompanied by disproportionately negative reactions to situations and angry outbursts.
Withdrawal and isolation. The child may lose interest in their hobbies and friends, spending most of their time alone. Often, academic performance will decline as the child retreats into him or herself.
Anxiety and a sense of hopelessness and negative perceptions of one self. The child may be highly self-critical.
Fatigue and extreme lethargy.
Physical symptoms may also manifest themselves in various forms, including insomnia, extreme changes in appetite, headaches and anxiety attacks.
If you spot these indicators in your child, don’t hesitate in getting them help; if left untreated, depression can lead to self-harming, at-risk behaviours and suicidal tendencies. The family unit is often a core support system for individuals battling depression.
Here are some strategies to help you, as you help your child.
Seek Professional Support
Depression is a well-documented mental illness, and needs to be treated with the same level of gravity if the child were physically ill. Just as you would see a doctor for a physical illness, meet with a counselor or family psychologist who is experienced in the treatment and care of teenagers with depression. They will be able to suggest treatment options that would suit your child, and provide support for your teen and the family as you journey together.
It’s important to recognize that you can’t talk or cajole your teenager out of his or her depression. Instead, encourage them to express themselves, and listen without judgement. As you do so, you validate your child’s feelings, which can be immensely reassuring for them in such a trying time.
Conversations with your teen are also an opportunity to boost their self-esteem and self-worth. Focus your comments on their areas of strength and effort, rather than comparing them with others.
Get Active Together
Studies have shown that exercise can help to reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety to some extent. Regular exercise helps to release ‘feel-good’ chemicals in the brain such as neurotransmitters, endorphins and endocannabinoids. Schedule daily time to get active with your teenager – taking walks, going for regular runs, or playing a quick game of soccer or basketball can help your child feel better, and also provide you both with an opportunity for deeper conversations.
Depression is a serious illness, and early intervention and support can be an immense help. Even as you tend to your teenager’s needs, do remember to make time for other members of the family, as well as self-care. Often, weathering tough situations can be extremely difficult for families – but this is also an opportunity for the family to pull together, support one another and be more resilient over time.
If someone you love is battling with depression, contact us at Focus on the Family Singapore at 64910700 or via our website here, to make an appointment with a counselor.