1 out of 3 helpline calls from lonely kids

Straits Times

MR ALFRED Tan walks briskly into the meeting room, carrying a blue booklet. It contains pull-out sheets of all the services Singapore Children’s Society offers.

There are counselling sessions for troubled children, programmes to prevent them from going astray, and a home to shelter those who have no one to care for them.

There are also talks to raise awareness of sexual abuse and even a team of social workers to track down parents who refuse to send their children to school.

You name the issue, the 44-year-old society has it covered. Well, almost. But there is one issue it is finding hard to lick, and that is the growing loneliness of children here.

Lonely and bored kids contribute 30 per cent of the 6,000 calls made each year to Tinkle Friend, the national helpline for children aged seven to 12, says Mr Tan, the society’s executive director.

The helpline was launched by the society in 1984 for the growing number of latch-key children.

Unlike neighbouring societies where child prostitution and child labour are problems, the big issue for children here seems to be loneliness and parental neglect, with parents working longer hours.

“On the surface, it does not appear to be a major issue as it doesn’t bother anybody else. But the trend is worth taking note of,” says Mr Tan.

Children are peeved that parents seem more interested in their homework than in how their day had been, he says, adding: “They realise parents know their math and science results better than who their best friends are.”

If the communication gap grows, the problems will only get bigger for the family, he says, adding that each year, the society counsels over 100 children taken to court by their own parents who say they are beyond parental control. The root problem is often lack of parental discipline from young, he says. Dealing with such issues is a far cry from the society’s origins in 1952, when it helped malnourished children in the aftermath of World War II.

As Singapore modernised, different social and emotional issues emerged: difficulties in the relationship between parent and child; child abuse; and family violence.

The society has also been an advocate on behalf of children, and has offered feedback to the Government on issues from child protection to compulsory education.

One issue Mr Tan thinks should be looked at, is whether compulsory education should be extended beyond primary school, to cover pre-school education as well.

Mr Tan tells Insight that while the society has a point of view, it does not lobby for its causes. “In Singapore’s political climate, they don’t like the word lobby. We do more advocacy work,” he says.