Parents vs Teachers: How to Work Together to Help School-Going Children’s Studies During the Pandemic

by Celeste Goh
  • 1 in 5 parents feel their children have lost interest in school due to e-learning
  • Teachers now rely on completely new teaching and engagement methods due to the shift
  • Parent’s emotions during lockdown can either positively or negatively affect a child’s learning ability

2020 has been a tough year for everyone, including the school-going children, who had to get used to taking their classes online, overloading themselves with screen time that they used to go to to relax and spend time not thinking about school.

While the world may have approached the start of 2021 with a hopeful note, with news of the Covid-19 vaccinations made available all across the world, the positive tone in Malaysia quickly dwindled, when the country announced its second 14-day Movement Control Order (MCO) to begin on January 13. This, of course, sprouted concerns among individuals of the education sector, as at this point, only those partaking major examinations, such as Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM), Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM) and international examinations of equivalence are allowed back to some semblance of normalcy, when school opens on January 20.

In the digital age, where attention span is getting shorter and shorter, it is no surprise, when BFM has reported that through a study commissioned by UNICEF and UNFPA, “nearly 1 in 5 parents have reported that their children have lost interest in school.” Meanwhile, UNICEF has also stated that “while more than 90% of the countries in the world have adopted digital and/or broadcast remote learning policies, more than 1 billion children are at risk of falling behind due to school closures aimed at containing the spread of Covid-19.”

“When the pandemic happened, one of the biggest challenges for me was connecting with my students,” shares Kak Sarah, a part-time private tutor who has been teaching high schoolers English and History for close to 10 years. “As a teacher, when you come into a class, you can always tell which student is resistant and which student cares, which student wants to be there, or is forced to be there. It’s very hard to do that, when you have a screen in between.”

Parenting and Teachers’ Trainer and Headmaster at Annie and Me Tuition Center, Teacher Kean also comments: “For a child to have meaningful progress in their academics and in their behaviour, they need to want the improvement themselves. It’s not easy if the child is not motivated towards the improvement, and that’s where I think parents still have a very important role to play.”

After almost a year of online learning, and throwing the entire education system into the deep end to either sink or swim, we turn to Teacher Kean and Kak Sarah to learn more about the trials and tribulations they have been through last year, and how parents and teachers can work together to help the school-going children tackle their studies better going forward.

1. Embrace the Advantages of the Virtual World

The current pandemic is widely compared to the last pandemic that handicapped the world back in 1918, and we can only imagine how school-going children of yesteryear got by with the Spanish Flu right at their doorsteps, while at the same time, recovering from the First World War that just ended. While “teachers probably sent reading assignments home, but schoolwork was minimal,” students back then took charge of their learning by “reading the few books they had, keeping journals, and writing detailed letters.”

One of the few fortunate things we can be grateful for, as the Covid-19 pandemic takes place during the digital age, is the advantages that we are armed with the invention of the Internet way back in the 1960s. While there have been school closures across 188 countries around the world since April last year, school is still pretty much in session, albeit the few notable changes in platforms.

“Maybe I’m not able to teach the way I want to, but in the past year, I have been able to show the kids a million videos, a million pictures, and a million definitions,” says Kak Sarah, who has been relying on the convenience of Google search on the Internet and YouTube to provide context during her classes. “We need to understand that we need to use technology to our strengths, rather than see it as a hindrance.”

Kak Sarah has also found the virtual whiteboard on Zoom and Google Classroom useful in keeping her students accountable for what they have learned. Meanwhile, Teacher Kean swears by Kahoot that has helped him in keeping his students on their toes during online classes: “Say you know that at some point of the lesson, the energy level of the students is going to be a bit lower, it is a great time to give them a Kahoot. Everyone will get in to fight for points, and everyone gets pumped up again. Especially effective for older students, they will be on their toes, and they will be motivated.”

Not only that, mobile apps like Scannable, CamScanner, Genius Scan and FineScanner, have proved useful to her in arming her students with reading materials they may not have at hand: “They can study, and get updated everywhere they go. So, that is a plus.”

“Although I’m not able to see them physically, I make up for it by providing them a lot more ways to engage with me,” she adds. “When kids answer questions, but when they get it wrong, or they didn’t exactly get it right, they want to improve, and you want to show them how. I can do that instantly with these virtual tools available.”

However, Kak Sarah has shared that there are some parents, who are very resistant to the idea of virtual learning, or alternative ways to provide information to the students, as the parents feel that it is not the “right way” to study: “We all come from this Asian community, so we are familiar with a very specific way of studying: you sit at the table, you study for two hours, and then you will somehow get it!”

She has also mentioned that while some parents insisted on physical classes, “because they believe that their child will only be able to thrive if they have physical classes,” and as it is not possible due to the Movement Control Order (MCO) and safety reasons, some parents decided to take their children out of her classes instead, because the parents do not think the classes serve any purpose anymore.

“It’s hard to explain to parents the difference between doing it for the sake of academic excellence, and doing it for the sake of gaining actual knowledge,” Kak Sarah says. “While I do believe for some students, physical classes are important, but we should also figure out how we can make virtual learning – and in essence, the child’s education – as accessible as possible.”

2. Find New Ways to Hold the Children’s Engagement

When the pandemic hit almost a year ago, and countries began to impose lockdown restrictions, which has shut down schools and shifted classes online, it has not only been an impossible shift for the school-going children, but also a big shift for the teachers as well, for it is impossible to teach the same way as they would in school, and translate it blindly onto e-learning classes.

“I really had to reassess how I engage with my students, because the reality is that we’re not going to be able to engage with all of them. It’s one part work, one part wanting to engage with them, and another part, they need to meet us in the middle as well,” Kak Sarah says. “There will be students who cannot engage at all, and there will be students, who’d want to, but are easily bored.”

Kak Sarah and Teacher Kean both believe that insisting on their students to turn on their web cameras work wonders. The latter says: “Tasks are only meaningful if they are observable. People wouldn’t do their task properly, if they know that you can’t see them.”

On top of that, Teacher Kean advises teachers to increase the engagement ratio in teaching by fostering the “engineering mindset”, one that provides “the culture, measurements, feedback, planning skills, tools and values to see problems as opportunities in solving those problems.”

He explains: “Whether it’s the limited contact hours teachers have with their students, or the limited time parents have with their children because of work, we have gotten used to accepting ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I give up’ as replies to questions, and proceed to throw the answers to them, because we just don’t have the time to go in-depth – This is very harmful in the long run, and it fosters a lot of bad habits.”

“The best way to keep your students on their toes through an online class, is to swap the teaching ratio around: get them to teach you back what you have just taught them, and do it randomly,” Teacher Kean continues. “As a result, they will be more engaged in what you’re teaching them, because they know they have to repeat the answer back. Over time, this will harness them with a problem-solving attitude.”

Whereas on the other end of the spectrum, to play off the engineering mindset lessons, Teacher Kean advises parents to instill mindfulness into their children at a young age, as well as practise it themselves: “In this digital age, we are so used to instant gratification with our devices as well as social media; we can get results immediately without putting in the work.”

He adds: “Gone were the days when we recognised the value of hard work. For the older generations, they recognise the value of delayed gratification, or in other words, the sacrifice. I am doing something I don’t particularly like today, for the promise of a better tomorrow. Now, children do not get this concept anymore, because everything is just a click away; they don’t have to put their back into it.”

Hence, it is not a natural human survival skill that parents pass on to their children, for most adults do not know it is possible to control their own minds and their own emotions. Teacher Kean stresses that mindfulness will benefit children immensely, for they are then able to recognise unhelpful thoughts, or if they are losing focus through daydreaming.

“You can have the best materials and the best syllables in the world, being taught by the best teachers in the world, but it all won’t mean a thing, if your child is somewhere else 1,000 miles away,” he says. “Mindfulness helps them self-regulate and self-correct, and to absorb the lessons better and more effectively.”

3. Regulate Your Own Emotions

In speaking about mindfulness, one of the most crucial aspects in surviving the lockdown for most parents and teachers, as Teacher Kean has found out, is looking after one’s mental wellness, which may be difficult at a time when emotions are running high.

He says: “Parents and teachers are feeling a lot of negative emotions from being stuck at home, and we need to learn how to regulate our own emotions despite it all. Otherwise, when you are teaching or parenting, some of that negativity is definitely going to taint your mindset and your language with the children, and you don’t want that.”

“There are many mechanisms for you to sort out your negative emotions, but your children are not one of them,” he adds.

While the best type of correction for teachers when faced with disruptive students is self-correction, in which a few of threatening glares would instill some form of guilt for the student to feel the need to compensate for their own errors, Teacher Kean mentions that such tactic has gone out the window when classes have gone online.

“Many teachers new to e-learning have made the big mistake of raising their voices in online classes. This, as you can imagine, is entirely ineffective, because no one is scared of you through the camera,” he says. “Not only that, other students will very quickly become demotivated, when they see you losing your cool, and the disruptive student is still being disruptive.”

Instead, he advises teachers to move straight to the correction or consequences with these students: “Don’t lose your cool during an online class, and don’t threaten unnecessarily; but punish them straight away, and put them on a timeout for consequence, because they have broken the rules.”

Meanwhile, one way for parents to help their children stop disrupting in classes – online or offline, is to instead look inward on themselves, and regulate their own emotions instead.

“Children learn their problem solving and survival skills from their parents. They are a reflection of their parents,” Teacher Kean comments. “I have seen a very clear pattern: disruptive or negatively behaved students frequently have parents, who are anxious or depressed. While on the other hand, successful and happier children, they tend to have parents who are more stable and emotionally adjusted.”

He adds: “So, if the parents are emotionally unstable, or if they’re unhappy for any reason, the children are going to learn the same skills from them – that’s the reality of the matter.”

Since the pandemic, Teacher Kean mentions that the number one complaint he has received from parents is: “How do I handle the stress of needing to deal with my children, and working from home at the same time?”, as parents have been thrown into the impossible shift as well, juggling between handling work and their children while stuck at home.

He muses that children are the same as they were 40 years ago, but it is the parents who are changing drastically. Nowadays, most households consist of dual-career parents, with little or no time to properly carry out their parenting roles with their children. Previous studies have shown that “83% of working mothers and 72% of working fathers experiences conflict between handling their job and family issues,” and “only few of them said that they can managed both roles simultaneously, while others found that they can be successful either at their workplace or at home, if they gave less attention on one of them.”

So, imagine the rock and a hard place parents were thrown into when lockdown restrictions were imposed!

Teacher Kean advises that one of the things parents can do to regulate their own emotions, is to: “slow down your thinking. While that sounds counterintuitive, it does give you the crucial one or two seconds not to react unbecomingly, when your children are somehow getting on your nerves.”

“That one, two seconds, don’t underestimate it. It is all the difference you need to deliberate and make a conscious decision, to either put work first in the meantime, or your children.”

4. Check-in Regularly on the Children

While it is important for the grownups to check-in on their emotions, let’s not forget to do the same for the school-going children as well; like anyone living through the pandemic right now, they are facing their own form of struggles as well – not only academically, but also non-academically.

“A lot of the time, when we see the students, we don’t see them as human. They may have trouble engaging, or communicating, or understanding the lessons, and we need to be understanding towards their struggles,” shares Kak Sarah, who even before the pandemic, has been conducting “housekeeping” with her students before classes begin; so much so that one of her students has joked that her parents not only pay Kak Sarah to teach her, but also be her therapist.

“I think it’s important for teachers to do check-ins with their students individually, should they have the opportunity to, so to provide them with whatever materials that they might need to catch up in their own ways,” she adds.

While Kak Sarah doesn’t think that it is a must for all teachers, especially those in public schools with close to 40 students in one class, it is also important to check-in with them on things that are beyond school.

“If they’re not in the right frame of mind, all of the things that they are feeling, and all the things that they’re telling us (or not telling us), actually affects their studying time,” she says. “I’ve always been a teacher that I care for my students; not only for them to excel academically, but I also care about their well being, because I know the importance of our mental health.”

According to Kak Sarah, parents should also do their bit at home in checking-in with their school-going children; if not for their mental wellbeing, at least for their progress in school.

It boils down to the educational culture the country has gotten used to, in which a lot of parents believe that whatever that’s happening in school is not enough, and therefore, students need to have additional classes in order to catch up with school; hours upon hours of “just in case” classes after school, if you may, where it will be a surefire for them to excel in their studies.

Kak Sarah shares: “There are some parents, who think private tutors after school are miracle workers; we are not. If they have so many classes jam packed after school, with no space for them to breathe, or actual time for them to revise what they have learned, then our classes are actually not helpful.”

“It’s something a lot of parents don’t do: they don’t check-in with their children about what they need,” she continues. “You can give them all the books in the world, but the books are never going to open, if you don’t ask them what’s wrong. Most of the time, it isn’t because they are resistant or lazy; most of the time, it’s actually because they aren’t able to connect with the subject. Because of that, they aren’t able to make their way around the subject, and excel in it.”

“Rather than seeing additional tuition classes as an endpoint to achieve excellence in their studies, switching from one tutor to another every six months, we have to find out what they need to properly study and understand the school subjects at hand,” she concludes.

Posted in Blog, InterviewTagged Behavioral Shaping, e-learning, featured, Kak Sarah, lockdown, mental health, Teacher Kean

A Guide to Setting Healthy Digital Boundaries at Home

Words by Celeste Goh
  • Adolescents spend more time in front of the screen than their parents know
  • Each family needs to set boundaries in different ways – cookie cutter methods rarely work
  • Set good digital examples for your children if you want them to follow your rules
  • It is all about give and take – what are you giving them in return for what you’re taking away?

If your child has been showing signs that he or she may be addicted to the Internet, based on the article we highlighted a while back, it’s high time that you start taking precautionary measures as a parent to curb the addiction.

Research has shown that: 25% of adolescents describe themselves as being ‘constantly connected’ to the Internet, whereby on a typical day, they are at least 2 hours in front of screens on weekdays, and twice as long on weekends. Moreover, they spend time online more than twice as long as their parents believe or know about.

If you have been getting advice from parent friends, and following step-by-step guides on creating healthy digital boundaries at home – but to no avail, we speak to child and family development specialist Racheal Kwacz once again this week, on how parents can go about with that without seeming like you’re about to start World War Three with your children.

“Your family is so important, I cannot stress that enough. So, it’s about asking what this family needs – what do we trust for our family, and doing what works for your family – and then building rules around it,” Racheal says. “We want to have healthy boundaries, and we want to have cooperation that feels empowering – like, I am taking charge of this, I feel part of this, and I feel part of the family.”

Understand Your ‘Why’s’

When it comes to screen time limitations in families with children under the age of 10, and teenagers under the age of 17, while the reasons restrictions are set in these families to protect the younger generations from practically the same things – physical, mental and behavioural side effects due to unchecked hours on the Internet; and cyber attacks such as catfishing, phishing scams and many more – each family’s approach towards digital wellness varies, and an all-encompassing curation from every member of the family is crucial to set up these online rules that fit your family in particular.

“If you’re going to follow what everybody else says to do, guess what, it’s going to work for a week, before it goes downhill really quickly and massively,” Racheal says. “Mainly because it doesn’t necessarily work for your lifestyle or your family; it just works for whoever wrote the article, or whoever passed on the advice.”

In terms of coming up with these safeguard pillars that suit your family, Racheal advises on understanding the family’s “why’s” before anything else: “When we understand our “why’s”, we tend to be more purposeful in what we do.” 

“I want to make sure that my daughter gets a good night’s sleep every night. So, I make it a point of no screen time one and a half hours before bedtime,” Racheal continues with an example of her creating a safeguard pillar for her five-year-old. “Besides that, I also want to make sure that she is getting enough physical activity. So, we’d make time to go to the playground or to the park with her.”

What’s next is getting down to the nitty gritty of putting these family rules in place: What are your expectations from these Internet/media restrictions? What are the boundaries you are looking to set? What are the potential consequences if they aren’t adhered? What are you doing to follow through on these rules?

“The most important thing is to have a conversation, firstly, with your partner or spouse, so that you’re both on the same page in creating these rules that feel right for the family,” Racheal says. “You pick resources that you trust – like American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) or Common Sense Media with its age-based media reviews for families – to help get an idea on creating these rules. With these resources, you sit down with your partner or spouse, and discuss what works for the family, and what feels right to the family.”

“Then, you sit down with your child, and you present these facts, and why these rules will be imposed to try fulfill the safeguard pillars you have set for your child and your family,” she adds. “Lastly, let your child have a say as well, so that it’s something every single family member can be a part of.”

Prioritise High Quality Programming

There is only so much a family can do when it comes to online limitations, before everyone feels like they are getting withdrawal symptoms, and eventually break down. While we can’t protect ourselves from not being exposed to everything that the Internet offers, what we can do is have boundaries instead, set up in sieving through content of your preference you let through the cracks.

For the Kwacz family, Racheal makes sure that what comes through for viewing is high quality programming with positive messages about relationships, family and life, as well as those that inspire off-screen ideas: “Think about the people that you follow on social media: Do they inspire you the follower to be a better person, to have greater off-screen ideas? Do they inspire you to be creative, and live the best of life?”

“If you follow someone that complains about life all day long, and constantly tells you what an abysmal era we are living in; or someone who all they do is complain about their friends, and their work – what happens after that? You start seeing the world through that lens in your life, and you start to feel that same way too,” she adds.

However, if as a parent, you are at a loss on what is considered “high quality programming” that will set good examples for your children to model after, Racheal advises to “fast forward 20 years”: how do you want your children to act or react to certain situations when you’re not there – that’s what you aim to teach them now, so that they are adults and they are confronted with the same situations, they would already have the skill sets to power through, because they had practice since they were young.

Racheal says: “20 years from now, I want my daughter to be able to control her gadget dependency on her own. I want her to know how to have scheduled screen time for a balanced lifestyle online and offline. So, right now, that’s what I teach her, and that’s what I put in place.”

“For our generation, we’re just beginning to learn these skills for digital wellness and self-care. Not to mention, skills to speak up, and fighting for our rights,” she adds. “Imagine if little kids were taught that from the start, how much more advanced are they going to be?”

Focus on Creating Connections, Not Restrictions

While adhering to the rules the family has set up together to curb Internet addiction and gadget dependency, it’s all too easy for the parents to end up over-controlling the children. Before you know it, you are hovering over their shoulders to see what they are doing online, and more often than not, you might even end up knocking on their door to check if anything fishy is going on – which may end up being overbearing for the children.

“We get so focused on trying to create rules and limitations, but instead, what we want is to focus on creating connection, instead of limitations. It doesn’t work long term, if you’re going to force it on them,” Racheal says. “Ask yourself instead: Why do kids ask for screen time? Why do we want screen time? Because we’re bored. We want engagement, we want connection, and we want to feel involved. So, how do parents meet that need for connection and involvement, without screen time? By creating connections with your children.”

Racheal implores parents to only look at themselves when meeting up with friends, and how when we are with friends we have a genuine connection with, we wouldn’t feel the need to look at our phones to pass the time. Hence, it is the same when it comes to the children and gadget dependency.

“All the lying, the hiding and the manipulating… These are signs that the trust and relationship between the parent and the child is broken,” Racheal states. “Because a connected child isn’t going to seek stimulation or connection in other places; if they don’t feel seen or heard at home, they’re going to look for this stimulus in other places, such as their peer groups or online. But if they feel connected at home, he or she is able to have a healthy conversation with the parents, and work together as a team to keep the whole family safe.”

It is also important for parents to ask why their children are dependent on their gadgets, and why they would go as far as hiding it from their parents for extra screen time. Racheal notes that such suppression nurtured while they were still developing as children, may shape their behaviours when they are grown up.

“It’s something that feels really small right now as a toddler, but in real life, this is going to show up in different ways when they are adults,” she states. “In situations when the children find themselves at odds with peers that don’t align with their values or beliefs, are the children going to conform because they want to be a part of the group; or will they be able to take a step back, and consider other healthier options they can go for?” 

“Growing up, children are constantly in survival mode: it either makes them fight – in which they rebel; or flight – in which they pretend cyberbullying didn’t happen; or numb – in which they suppress their feelings; or, the big one that they do, comply,” Racheal continues. “So, it’s the fine line between: ‘Yes, I will do everything you say, because I’m so worried that you won’t love me, if I don’t do it’; and ‘I’m doing everything that you say, because I understand why’.”

“We as parents want to make sure that our children understand why they’re not allowed to do something, instead of not doing it, because the parents said so,” she concludes.

Be Consistent

Another mistake that parents would unwittingly – or sometimes, consciously – make, is giving in to their children, when they try to bargain with you for more screen time. Especially with the puppy dog eyes they know you would go for, before you know it, you’re giving in to the extra 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour… Not to mention, the headache and embarrassment of them throwing tantrums in public places!

“What’s going to happen the next time they want things their way? They’re going to throw another tantrum, because the last time they escalated a tantrum, they got their way,” Racheal explains. “However, if this time around, the parent decides to not grant the children what they want despite the tantrum, it’s not as if they are just going to give up; they’re going to throw an even bigger tantrum.”

She continues: “So, imagine there is no consistency for the screen time rules you’ve set for the family: today you get one hour, but tomorrow you get five hours, and then the day after that, because the day before you’ve had five hours, so there’s no screen time – how chaotic and confusing it feels, even sounds, not just for the parent, but also for the child.”

Racheal suggests that upon setting scheduled screen time that works for the family, parents should be consistent in upholding the schedule, come rain or shine, tantrums, puppy dog eyes or no.

“Of course, they’re going to try their luck with you. Which child’s not going to try their luck? I mean, even we as adults try our luck with additional discounts, don’t we?” She laughs. “However, if you have consistent rules, boundaries and schedules, and if you do this consistently every day without fail, the child will stop asking eventually, because they will finally understand the need for healthy digital boundaries, based on how seriously the parents adhere to it.”

Practise What You Preach

Besides presenting the facts on the negative effects of using the Internet for long hours, and setting strict boundaries on healthy Internet usage, it is all for naught if parents themselves don’t set good examples for their children to model after.

“Children are not stupid, children are brilliant amazing little creatures that pick up on your nonverbal cues, more than verbal cues, and they will do what they see 100% of the time,” Racheal says. “Not only that, your kids will call you out on lots of stuff, when you’re using your phone or the Internet when you shouldn’t, and as parents, we often proclaim ourselves an exception to the rule because we were the ones who set it.”

From checking our phones for messages the moment we wake up, to sneaking a peek at the dinner table during meals, not to mention, the fact that we would binge watch an entire Netflix for eight hours straight… These are some of the notable cues that children will pick up on and use them against you. More importantly, they may turn out to be the cracks showing in the relationship between the parent and the child.

“Undeniably, not putting your phone on your bedside table but somewhere more inaccessible is really, really hard for us, but you know, we’re asking our kids to do things that may seem hard to them, so we have to be able to overcome the hardship ourselves too,” Racheal says. 

Besides showing the children how we as parents work towards healthy digital boundaries at home, based on our own screen time, Racheal also shares that children model after us taking breaks after screen time. In the Kwacz household, they practise the 20-20-20 rule: “The screen should always be 20 inches away from you, and every 20 minutes, you take a 20-second break, where you look away at least 20 feet away.”

Posted in Blog, InterviewTagged Behavioral Shaping, Digital Wellness, featured, Rachael Kwacz

Cyberbullying: How Parents Can Approach Their Child About it

Cyberbullying: How Parents Can Approach Their Child About it

Words by Celeste Goh
  • Malaysia has one of the highest levels of social media cyberbullying in the world at 71%
  • One in four Malaysian parents have revealed that their children had experienced cyberbullying
  • Most victims or parents do not escalate these cases to the police, even though the effects of cyberbullying are comparable to physical bullying
  • However the bigger problem is that up tp 70% of parents struggle to approach the topic with their children in a meaningful way

When it comes to cyber crimes, the Malaysian government is rather hands-on about preventing them escalating any further. While Malaysia may be one of the countries in the world with the highest level of social media bullying at 71%, in terms of awareness, the country also counters with a high degree of awareness at 85% globally. 

Besides that, cyberbullying is considered an offence under the Malaysia Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, and in 2018 and 2019 alone, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) has received close to 3,800 complaints of cyber harassment.

However, many more cyber crime cases have gone unreported: “Most victims do not come forward to lodge a police report, as they think cyberbullying is supposed to happen in the virtual world, and they feel that they cannot complain about it, as compared to being bullied physically,” says Supt R Chelvam, the Commercial Crime Deputy Chief in Penang.

source

Managing Director of Ipsos in Malaysia, Arun Menon says: “Cyberbullying can be as real as bullying in person. Our youth are growing up in a time, when there is little distinction between the digital and the physical, as their lives are heavily intertwined with social media. It is important for parents to help their children recognise the abuse when it happens, and from a very young age.”

But how can parents go about having a conversation with their children about cyberbullying, when reports have shown that around 70% of parents struggle to communicate meaningfully with their kids? With “the former saddled with the stress of adult responsibilities, and the latter the trials of growing up,” 82% of parents feel like their kid avoids talking to them if they don’t have to, with 78% of them feeling shut out of their child’s life.

“Why do I think most Asian parents don’t have talks with their children? It’s just because we weren’t raised that way. It’s not what we’re accustomed to, it’s not what we’ve been exposed to, and more so than anything, it’s scary to do the other way,” says Racheal Kwacz, a mother to a five-year-old, and a child and family development specialist in “Respectful Parenting”.

She adds: “Children don’t feel like they can explain to their parents, why they’re doing what they’re doing; and because they don’t feel like we can explain, they don’t think that the parents would understand. This, in turn, does not provide parents the mutual platform to explain their concern and love towards the children for doing what they do to protect them.”

This week, we seek guidance from Racheal, on how parents can approach a conversation with their children when faced with cyberbullying: how parents can not only make a safe and validated space for them to talk about it at home, but also empower them to face harassments in the future – whether it be online or offline, at the playground, in school or at work.

“It’s not realistic to say that nobody’s ever going to be cyberbullied; even as adults, we have been cyberbullied in some way or another. I don’t think it’s realistic to say it’s never going to happen, or to say that we can prevent it 100%. Instead, the bigger question to ask is, what can we do to address it when it happens?” Racheal says.

“We can spend all day fixing a problem, but it’s just gonna happen again, and again, and again, and again – until we address the bigger problem. We want to be able to meet them before they are withdrawn, or suicidal, or when they are hurting other people. We want to be able to address it at the root, not when the symptoms start showing,” she adds. “We want to be able to have connected relationships that are stronger and healthier, where the kids and the parents meet in the middle.”

Trust Your Child

First and foremost, Racheal advises parents to create a safe zone for your children to come to you, even when the problem is little in the adult’s eye, but may not be in your children’s; this is by trusting your child, whenever he or she tells you that something is wrong.

“Say, you’re at the playground, and your child comes up to you, and says that he or she doesn’t want to play with a certain kid anymore. Kids are not going to go in-depth about what happened; they’re just gonna say things like, ‘there was this person at the playground, and something was just off about it, and I don’t want to play with them,’” Racheal comments.

She also notes that parents would disregard such as mere playground politics, when in the child’s mind, he or she may already feel invalidated: “Usually, we’d brush them off, and tell them that we have to be nice to everybody, and we have to be polite to everybody, so just go back and play with them – but in reality, we don’t know what’s actually going on.

“Learning cannot happen, unless we feel safe or loved, and children feel safe or loved, if they feel seen and validated, when they feel hurt. Do they feel safe enough to come to you? Do they feel like you’re going to hear them, if they say something is wrong?” she says. 

“It’s so important to make them feel safe, and make them feel validated, and it starts with something as small as that. When the cyberbullying or social media bullying happens, or any other bigger problems happen, they know that they can come to you.”

Notice the Subtle Cues

Besides trusting your children when they tell you something is off, trust your motherly or fatherly instincts as well. When you get the gut feeling that something is off, but you can’t quite put your finger on it; when you start noticing that they are not acting like themselves, or doing things they don’t normally do, either they are a lot quieter and withdrawn, or rebelling and screaming a lot more – it is always a good time to look into what’s going on. 

Chairman of MCMC, Datuk Mohamed Sharil Tarmizi states: “For a while, all you hear from your eight-year-old daughter is about her new Internet friend ‘Ben’. Every day, it’s ‘Ben this’, ‘Ben that’. Then, all of a sudden, the ‘Ben-talk’ stops. In fact, all talk from your child stops. Once bubbly and chatty, your daughter is now quiet and morose. Be very worried if this happens to your child.”

“If they’re having trouble on social media, it has nothing to do with social media; it has to do with the internal makeup of the child,” Racheal concurs. “They will tell you in small subtle ways. While you may notice, and you may not actually know what is wrong, but you get the feeling that it’s wrong – it’s just whether you’re listening to those small subtle cues, and doing something about them.

Other than acting besides themselves, parents may want to take note of offhand comments their children make, including those that may not fit into the context at that precise moment. The family could very much be talking about a character that they like in the TV show they are watching, when they would say: “Nobody really likes me, like that character.”

“It’s that subtle, and it’s that quiet, but that’s usually a big clue to ask what’s wrong,” Racheal says.

Get Curious, Not Critical

Now that you have caught these cues your children have been sending your way, what then? This is probably the most important and delicate part in having a constructive conversation with your children, as Racheal advises parents to “just listen to their stories, [because] it’s so important to acknowledge, to validate, and to say: ‘I hear you’.”

“A big part of what we want to do, is to see the world through our child’s eyes, but respond as a parent,” she adds. “When you reply immediately with: ‘that’s wrong’, ‘that’s not true’, or ‘don’t do that’, what you’ve done is that you’ve shut down the conversation. You may think that you’re making it better by ‘reassuring’ them, but you’ve shut down the conversation for them to let you see what’s really going on through their eyes.”

In fact, the same not only applies to toddlers, but teenagers also, even adults. Racheal says: “Think about yourself as an adult: when you fight with your friends, or your spouse, or your partner, you want someone to ask you why you react the way you react, because there’s a reason why you did what you did.” 

For the 21% (13-15 years) and  the 16% (16-17 years) teenagers that have experienced cyberbullying – among them, 60% of them girls, whereas 59% of them boys, how can parents make them feel safe, not only in trudging through adolescence gracefully, but also when faced with cyber harassments?

“We validate their feelings, and let them understand that they have a right to what they’re feeling,” Racheal advises. “Growing up, we’ve all felt lonely and misunderstood, while trying to navigate our way as an adult and as a child, and trying to figure out independence as human beings.”

She continues: “Teenagers may not want the parents to baby them like toddlers, but at the same time, they also need the parents in some way, wishing they would understand what the teenagers are going through. So, we explore together, and understand why they’re feeling like that – we get curious, before we get critical.”

Let Them Come to You

More often than not, when children give out the subtle cues for parents to catch them, they are testing the waters to see if it is indeed safe for them to express themselves to you. When parents have proved that they are genuinely curious of what’s going on, instead of being critical towards their feelings and experiences, most intimate conversations don’t take place immediately either. 

Here is when the right kind of “reassurance” should take place from the parents. Racheal suggests parents to “not force the issue, because very frequently, that’s what we’re going to do”: “When they comment offhandedly that ‘nobody really likes me,’ and when you get curious and ask: ‘Why do you think that?’, the kid might just shrug and say: ‘Just because.’ 

“It’s always good to reassure them that ‘anytime you want to talk to me about it, I’m right here,’ because what they’ve done in that moment is testing whether it is safe,” she adds. “When you show them that it is safe, they’ll come back to you again, and have the bigger, proper conversation about what’s troubling them.”

But if in those small moments, the parents shut down the potential conversations by being critical of their feelings and experiences, or by just simply using the “wrong” words, the children will clam up, because they can’t feel safe with their parents, or even loved for who they are, and what they are going through.

“The thing is, words can have long lasting effects, especially on your children. The words you use with your children can either build them up, or destroy their self esteem,” says Joy Burgess, a 28-year-old wife and stepmother. “What you say to your kids is important, because your kids look up to you. Your approval or disapproval really means something to them. Your words have the ability to easily hurt your children, even if you don’t realise it.”

Don’t Jump the Gun

Lastly, Racheal mentions that some of the common mistakes parents make is intervening too early. When it comes to bullying – whether on social media platforms or at school, the parents may want to step in and protect their children, and the next day following the heartfelt confession, the parents may want to call up the teachers or the bully’s parents. In the case of cyberbullying, the natural parental instinct may be to leave a defensive comment on the bully’s social media, or head straight to the police to lodge a report.

“What that ultimately tells the children is that they are not able to protect themselves, and they will always need the parents to protect them. If the parents come in too soon, and fix everything, this child is always going to think, ‘I need my parents to fix everything for me, and without my parents, I’m useless’,” Racheal warns. “When the truth of the matter is, the parents never actually have a conversation with the child on a more important question: how can we make you feel safe again?”

Instead, Racheal advises parents to take a beat, and see what the children will do next. Yes, even after the heart-to-heart you have just pried out of your children after going through all of the abovementioned steps.

Racheal says: “It’s the hardest thing for a parent to do, but it is crucial to sit in the moment, and see what your child’s going to do, because this is the make-or-break part of respectful parenting: Can I trust that they are able and competent from here on out in the face of cyberbullying? Have I empowered them enough to speak up about it, even when I’m not around?”

The Norton Online Family Report in 2010 has stated that only 4 out of 10 Malaysian parents know what their children are doing online, when they are spending an average of 19 hours online per week, with their parents under the impression that they only spend 11 hours online.

As the old saying goes: give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.

What more can a parent ask for, when their children are armed with the intellectual and emotional smarts to protect themselves for the rest of their lives?

“Observe how they are going to react, and then talk to them about it, and debrief your child afterwards,” Racheal adds.

Posted in Blog, InterviewTagged Behavioral Shaping, cyberbullying, Digital Wellness, featured, mental health, Rachel Kwacz

4 Calmer Ways to Take A Break From the Everyday Hustle

4 Calmer Ways to Take A Break From the Everyday Hustle

Words by Celeste Goh
  • A recent survey shows that 1-in-10 Malaysian employees are going through anxiety or depression
  • The always-on, always-connected lifestyle is the main contributor to this high number
  • Breathing exercises and yoga can help detach from the digital world
  • Meditation and enough sleep are proven restorative methods for mental health

As the year 2020 draws to a close in the next few weeks, we would say that it is perfectly normal if you feel a little heavy in the head; modern urban life is stressful as it is, even without the ongoing pandemic that has so rashly entered our lives this year.

Last year, Malaysia’s Healthiest Workplace by AIA Vitality, the first science-backed survey commissioned by AIA, has shown that out of the 17,595 employees polled, with the bulk of them aged 18 to 40: 51% of them suffer from work-related stress, whereas 53% of them get less than seven hours of sleep each night. On top of that, 7% of them experience moderate to high levels of anxiety or depressive symptoms – that’s one out of 10 Malaysian employees going through anxiety or depression, with most of them being millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996).

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The American Psychological Association has revealed in their annual survey that millennials in the US were the most stressed-out generation, as CEO of SuperFriend Margo Lydon confirms: “Traditionally, work-related challenges for young people were often about building careers, and this is no different from any other generation. Except that, in 2020, we have a more globally connected world that is moving at a much faster pace, with greater levels of social, political and economic uncertainty, plus increased expectations of productivity, which often mean longer hours and increased work stress.”

Not only that, Dato’ Dr Andrew Mohanraj, President of the Malaysian Mental Health Association concurs that millennials are also synonymous with the digital boom: “Being more connected and, ironically, more isolated from the real world, being exposed to cyber bullying, with little opportunity for real interaction, or having limited actual interactions – all these have a negative impact on one’s ability to handle stressful situations.” 

“What is ordinarily not deemed to be stressful may seem like a psychologically overwhelming situation to millennials, who are immersed in the digital world,” he adds. “Burnout and depressive symptoms are not issues that can be taken lightly, as they may lead to more serious issues, such as suicidal behaviour.”

“We need to check in with ourselves periodically to find out how we are doing,” says April Kuan, yoga instructor and wellness practitioner. “We don’t pause enough. We’re always so busy constantly, and we’re always up in our heads thinking: what we need to do the next day, or in the next hour; what we haven’t done yet, or what we’re falling behind on; or what we did yesterday that we shouldn’t have done… We’re always constantly thinking, thinking, thinking – and when you’re thinking too much, that’s when you get stressed.”

That’s why this week, we’re checking in with April again, to find out the subtler ways to take a break from the everyday hustle – to stop whatever we are doing even just for a minute or two, to #lookup and enjoy where you are, and be conscious of where you are, even if it’s within the confines of your own home!

“While it is sometimes daunting to have to always constantly work at trying to be happy, it’s a practice that we have to just keep doing it every day diligently, and understand that this is part and parcel of taking care of ourselves,” April adds. 

“It’s like what the late Micheal Jackson said: look into the man in the mirror first, before you can change. If you’re not good in here, your life outwards will never be good, and the easiest way to change your life is to change yourself, because you know yourself the best.”

Breathe

That’s it, folks – just breathe! While it’s an everyday, autonomous occurrence to us, we don’t actually pay attention to our breathing – mainly because it’s automatic to any living being. In fact, even though it’s the easiest thing to do, not a lot of people want to do just that, putting aside some time to just breathe.

“When we actually sit down, close our eyes, and really just focus on breathing, it actually makes a whole lot of difference,” April says. “Just that pause at the end of the day is enough – take a few breaths, and not think about work for a while. When you come back to it, you will find that you are calmer.”

India Times have reported that “breathing correctly is important for your overall well being, and by taking just a few moments each day to practise some deep breathing exercises can decrease stress, relax your mind, body and can help you sleep better.”

From improving your blood flow, body immunity and digestion; to reducing inflammation, stimulating the lymphatic system, and detoxifying the body – deep breathing relaxes the mind and body, as well as calms down anxiety: “When you are angry, tensed or scared, your muscles are tightened and your breathing becomes shallow. Your breathing constricts, and your body cannot get the amount of oxygen it requires,” India Times says. “Deep breathing reverses this process, and it slows down your heart rate, allowing the body to take in more oxygen, and ultimately signals the brain to wind down.”

Practise Restorative Yoga

Besides the physical benefits of practising yoga, which April has shown us last week, she also mentions that “the real reason for practising yoga is to prepare the body for meditation.”

Meghan Johnston of Yoga Medicine has also said that “restorative yoga not only allows us to relearn the art of relaxation, while developing the skills and abilities to self-soothe, but also enhances our healing capacity through helping us regulate the stress response and re-balance the nervous system.”

Johnston states that restorative yoga can help strengthen our ability to move between states of stress and rest with more ease, by reconnecting with our parasympathetic nervous system – a branch of our autonomic nervous system that controls involuntary functions in the body, like our heart rate. 

She adds: “When we are in states of stress, or what is often termed “fight or flight,” we are in an elevated sympathetic state. In contrast, during periods of rest and recovery, we are in an elevated parasympathetic state.”

One of the restorative yoga poses you may look into is the Legs Up the Wall Pose (Viparita Karani), which as the name implies, you lie on the ground with your legs up on the wall for about 10 to 15 minutes. You may have a pillow underneath your lower body for additional support, or open up the hips by opening and closing your legs.

“If you just have too much in your head, and you just need to calm down, anything that gets your legs higher than your head is recommended for anyone feeling overwhelmed with stress,” April says. 

On the other hand, the Child’s Pose (Balasana) is another restorative yoga pose you may try out: from a kneeling position, bring the forehead to the floor, and relax the arms alongside the body, with the palms facing upwards.

“When you feel overwhelmed or stressed, anything that brings your head down to the floor and falls you forward to your body is very restorative, and very grounding,” April says. “It’s like you’re bringing yourself inwards, almost into a fetal position, where you’re getting in touch with yourself, and connecting back with yourself.”

Meditate

While we’re not talking about achieving monk-like nirvana, April states that meditation is the simple act of observing your thoughts: “When you observe your thoughts, you get to sift through the mental haze. You’d then get more clarity, and you’d feel more grounded.”

“Our brains are capable of thinking all kinds of things, and we are human beings that feel. We can’t escape from feeling, and we need to understand that it’s all part of the human condition, and we should not beat ourselves up about it,” she says. “What we can do is to accept these thoughts and feelings as clouds; we just need to go through them when they come, and then let them go.”

Mayo Clinic has also stated that “meditation is considered a type of mind-body complementary medicine. During meditation, you focus your attention and eliminate the stream of jumbled thoughts that may be crowding your mind and causing stress. This process may result in enhanced physical and emotional wellbeing.”

Sounds like a bunch of new age mumbo jumbo thus far? Well, Gaëlle Desbordes, an instructor in radiology at Harvard Medical School (HMS), and a neuroscientist at the Massachusetts General Hospital’s Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging has looked into the science of mindfulness-based meditation, and in 2012 Desbordes has discovered “changes in brain activity in subjects who have learned to meditate hold steady even when they’re not meditating.”

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The functional MRI scan reveals the activation in the amygdala – a collection of cells near the base of the brain that is key to how we process strong emotions like fear and pleasure. The imagery on the left is when participants were watching images with emotional content before learning meditation; whereas the imagery on the right shows the amygdala is less activated after eight weeks of meditation training.

Not only that, meditation may also help manage symptoms of certain medical conditions, such as asthma, cancer, chronic pain, heart disease, high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome and tension headaches. The National Library of Medicine has found that meditation is associated with decreased pain, helps reduce blood pressure, and even helps with alcohol addiction and other treatments for alcohol use disorder.

If All Else Fails, Nap

Now that most of us are working from home, it can be rather convenient to slip in some nap time, when the going gets tough during the daily grind. 

“Napping is a form of recharging. If you’re tired or mentally drained, and your body’s telling you that it’s too much now, and you need to shut down everything – napping is obviously good, and when you wake up, you feel recharged, because your body heals when it’s in a resting state,” April says. 

“When we’re in our waking consciousness, we’re in the Beta stage, whereas when we’re in a very relaxed state, we’re in the Alpha stage, and that’s when the body heals best,” she continues. “That’s why when we go on a holiday, we feel rejuvenated, and we feel great again, because we’re in a relaxed state. We want to always stay in this stage as much as possible, even in our everyday life.”

While it is known that adults should have 7-9 hours of sleep each night, (8-10 hours for teenagers, 9-11 hours for 6 to 13-year-olds, and 10-13 hours for preschoolers), The Sleep Foundation has also found that napping during the day diminishes homeostatic sleep drive, the technical term for “the feeling of pressure to sleep”.

They explain: “It is synonymous with the hunger we feel for food the longer it is after our last meal. When we wake up from a good night’s sleep, your homeostatic sleep drive is low. The pressure slowly increases throughout the day until bedtime, when we feel sleepy. Sleeping at night decreases sleep pressure, and then the cycle begins again the next day.”

That being said, we should also be careful not to “overnap”, as we might be prone to sleep inertia (the feeling of grogginess and disorientation after waking up from a nap), and sleeping problems at night, especially for those experiencing insomnia or poor sleep quality at night. Not to mention, missing out on an important video meeting with the higher-ups!

So, if you’re planning to take a break from the everyday hustle by napping, make sure you keep them to only 10 to 20 minutes, and before 3PM; napping any longer or later than the aforementioned may interfere with nighttime sleep. As we all know, insufficient sleep at night can lead to more serious repercussions, such as short attention lapses, reduced cognition, delayed reactions and mood shifts.

Posted in Blog, InterviewTagged Digital Wellness, featured, mental health, physical health, yoga

3 Simple Yoga Poses to Help Counter the Sedentary Lifestyle in the Digital Age

3 Simple Yoga Poses to Help Counter the Sedentary Lifestyle in the Digital Age

Words by Celeste Goh

Malaysia is currently in the midst of its second imposed Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO), in its effort to combat the rising COVID-19 cases during the second wave of the pandemic. Most schools and offices remain closed to encourage students and employees to practise social distancing and stop the potential spread of the virus, as recreational parks and sports centres have shut down under governmental order to have people stay at home. 

After close to nine months of self-quarantine at home, you may begin to feel aches and pains on your body that you may not experience before. Once, we were allowed the time for lunch breaks and recess outside of the office and classrooms, as well as the weekly workout sessions at the gym and strolls in the neighbourhood park. Now, they are replaced with unchecked long hours in front of your computer, whether it’s for work, for school, or for leisure – part and parcel of the “new normal” we are forced into, although not one that we should get used to.

“When I was in publishing, I would work long hours. I’d be in front of the computer working 12 hours a day, go home, and then come back the next day, and do the same thing – there was zero work life balance,” shares April Kuan, a yoga instructor who was a magazine editor in her past life. “At that time, you didn’t think about anything else: this is part and parcel of life, and that was it, just chasing the career and the money.”

“Nowadays, I can’t even look at my phone too long, never mind sitting in front of my computer for too long. While I’m on Facebook and Instagram, I only post very rarely, maybe once or twice a week, at most, twice a week,” she adds. “Any more than that, my body will reject the screen time, and I’ll start to get aches and brain fog with sudden headaches.”

Even before the pandemic, we are guilty of spending long hours in front of our computers and lazing on our couch strolling through our mobile devices, which contributes to the distasteful body postures Gerard Malanga, MD of Spine Universe calls the “sitting disease”. According to a 2012 study from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, as many as 70% of people spend 6 or more hours each day sitting down; and the impact of this level of inactivity often leads to neck, shoulder and back pain, which about 1 in 4 adults has experienced at least for a day during a 3-month period.

Meanwhile, studies have shown that there is a 65.3% overall prevalence of incorrect posture in children and adolescents; with the girls and students over the age of 10 having a higher prevalence of incorrect posture than boys and students under the age of 10. Nearly 80% of children and adolescents were reported to have at least one sign of incorrect postures, with less than a fifth of them having a correct body posture.

April shares: “I teach private yoga classes with a friend of mine, and she has two kids. Her 14-year-old daughter has very bad Scoliosis; it’s the curvature of the spine, and it’s super rounded. She’s been like this since young, and when you’re always looking down at your phone, the next thing you know, your back is used to the roundedness, and it’s very tough to keep it straight anymore.”

“While the daughter is all about Instagram and Tik Tok, her 6-year-old son is about gaming, so he’s always on his iPad playing games,” she continues. “When we want to do family yoga with the children, the son just doesn’t want to. He’d start acting up, and throwing tantrums, because we’re pulling him away from his iPad.”

For adults, years of unchecked slouching can already wear away your spine, making it more fragile and prone to injury; imagine the long-term repercussions it will have for children and adolescents, whose physical bodies have yet to settle and are still growing!

Children and adolescents are susceptible to postural alignments that deviate from a good neutral posture, such as Kyphosis, Lordosis, sway back and flat back postures. If not straightened out, they will be more prone to cardiovascular disease, certain cancers (breast, colon, colorectal, endometrial, and epithelial ovarian), and type 2 diabetes later in life.

Moreover, an extremely hunched posture, or hyperkyphosis, affects up to two-thirds of senior women and half of senior men. Such postural alignment, if not treated, has been associated with back pain, weakness and trouble breathing; and more serious cases can limit everyday activities, like brushing your hair and dressing yourself.

“One way to improve your posture is to be aware of it in the first place. It’s important to take a look at your posture before it becomes a problem,” says Dr. Cris Zampieri, physical therapist at News in Health. “Yoga, tai chi and other types of classes that focus on body awareness and mindfulness can help you learn to feel what’s wrong in your own posture.”

So, we have sought after yoga instructor April Kuan’s advice for some simple yoga poses to help counter the sedentary lifestyle that is prone to the “sitting disease – especially at a time when we are not allowed to head to the gym and parks for our regular exercises, but also something that we can practise at home, even after the pandemic has passed.

what they recommend is six times a week, and then rest one day. But, I think for me, for normal people, three times a week is good enough to see changes in your body. Obviously, the more you practise something, the better you are at it. So, it’s the same with any kind of exercise. You see that changes faster.

“When you’re age 7 onwards is the best time to start yoga. It’s like when parents send their kids to ballet at a young age, and they’re flexible their whole life – it’s the same thing with yoga,” says April, who also thinks that practising yoga three times a week is already good enough to see changes in your body. “It’s also never too late to start yoga, even if you’re 55. I mean, I started when I was in my late 30s!”

Cat-Cow Pose (Chakravakasana)

“Spending much of your day in a seated position can leave your spine sore, stiff, and in pain,” notes Gerard Malanga, MD of Spine Universe. “That’s because too much sitting, while it may be relaxing, puts stress on the muscles and discs of your back and neck.”

April adds that “sitting up straight for long hours is not easy – it’s very tiring. You start to get a backache, and you start to round your spine after you feel tired holding your body up.”

Slouching can cause the spinal ligaments to stretch beyond their healthy limit, and poor posture can strain your spinal discs,” Malanga also adds. “This often results in increased strain of the outer annulus of the disc and can increase disc bulging and disc pressures.”

The Cat-Cow Pose is a very basic yoga pose regular yogi does for warm up. It’s a spinal articulation move that opens up the chest and gets the spine moving in all directions. Not only that, the Cat-Cow Pose builds confidence, which affects one’s mental health, as Drs Zampieri states that “someone with depression may appear more closed in, curved, and tend to look down.”

“The energy centre comes from the heart, and it releases dopamine that makes you feel happier,” April says. “So, any pose that opens up the chest will in turn open up the heart, creating a more joyful and positive feeling.”

Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvāṅgāsana)

When we get tired of holding our body up while sitting, we may find ourselves leaning against the back of the chair, but before we know it, hours have passed as we stay in that presumably comfortable position, and we have slid further down the chair. We will have developed a posterior tilt unwittingly, whereby the front of the pelvis rises, and the back of the pelvis drops, creating a kind of scooped body posture.

“Such a body posture contributes to lower back pain, and a lot of people [with a desk job] suffer from that,” April says. “Lower back pain happens when we don’t have enough core strength to pull ourselves up and sit straight.”

The Bridge Pose is really good for lower back issues, as it helps lengthen the front body, and also the back body. Those who already suffer lower back issues, but may or not be aware of it, maye have trouble performing this pose. But April suggests a restorative pose in which the lower back is supported with piled up pillows while you stay in the Bridge Pose. Whereas for the ones with a healthier lower back may opt to move up and down while in the Bridge Pose.

Pigeon Pose (Kapotasana)

Another part of the body that has suffered due to the “sitting disease” is the hip flexors, the muscles near the top of your thighs that are key in the movement of the lower body. 

“The [sitting] position results in tightness of your hip flexors, such as the iliopsoas muscle, and pressure and ischemia (restricted blood flow) of your buttock muscles – the gluteus maximus. This muscle is an important supporter of the spine,” Malanga notes. 

In more layman terms, April mentions: “The front thigh muscles shorten and your hips start to get tight when you sit for long periods, and you want to counter that by doing yoga poses that stretch the legs to the back, so it lengthens the front thigh muscles, and also get the quads and hip flexors working.

The Pigeon Pose does just that, as it opens up the knees and hips, and helps lose the tightness in your hips, which contribute to lower back issues. 

Posted in Blog, InterviewTagged Digital Wellness, mental health, physical health, stretch, yoga

5 Ways to Protect Your Mental Health with Social Media

5 Ways to Protect Your Mental Health with Social Media

Words by Celeste Goh

Even before the global pandemic had us on lockdown in April with nowhere else to turn to but our mobile devices, an estimated 3.81 billion people were already on social media. Unsurprisingly, it is widely believed that extended use of social media can cause negative effects, but the numbers could surprise you.

In a recent survey, 25% of surveyed adolescents agreed that social media had a mostly negative effect, with 13% of those aged between 12 and 17 reporting depression, and 32% reporting anxiety. In the 18 to 25 age range, 25% of them reported that they were suffering from some form of mental illness. To top it off, 72% of the surveyed respondents admitted that they have been cyberbullied at some point.

This undoubtedly, led researchers to suggest that “this increase in mental illness is, at least in part, connected to the rise of social media use among adolescents and young adults.” 

“I work with a lot of teenagers, and they usually come in and talk about body image issues because of social media,” clinical psychologist Thong Shu Yi mentions. “There was a time when you just go to school and compare yourself to the few other people at school, but now the kids are faced with criticisms from the entire world, which can make you feel really bad about yourself.”

We speak with Shu Yi further on how parents and adults dealing with the younger generations can protect their mental health when it comes to interacting on social media.

Understand how social media works as a reflection of a projected world

Before parents or adults can protect the younger generations from the negativity of the internet, they must first minimise the gap between the generations, by learning to understand or perceive the internet world or social media the same way as the younger generations.

Shu Yi states that by the time we – the Gen-Xers and those before – are introduced to it, we are already older, and we have already had a taste of our own reality offline. Whereas for the younger generations, they exist in a world in which the internet and social media are very much present, and could very well be the reality to them.

“How we look at [the internet and social media] is very different to the younger generations, and it makes it harder for them to separate what is real and what is posted on social media. To them, what’s posted online equals reality,” she explains. “To us, it’s common sense that what’s online is not reality, but to these kids, they actually need to be shown and taught that it’s not reality. They need to be guided that there is another world beyond that.”

“By first having that understanding, it will allow us to empathise with the younger generations more,” she adds. “When we’re able to empathise with them, then they will feel like they can listen to us, rather than dismissing us by saying: ‘you don’t understand’.”

Be mindful of who you follow on social media

Part of the reason why we are so caught up in scrolling through social media mindlessly, is to do with validation. Shu Yi mentions that ironically, it’s a basic human instinct to not want to be wrong; and when we feel sad or anxious, we will always look for things to confirm what we are feeling, and people who feel the same what we are feeling to let us know we are not alone in all of this: “We take to the internet with the desire to seek understanding of ourselves, what we are going through.”

Thanks to the internet, children these days are more resourceful. When they have questions, they don’t go to their parents anymore; they go online. Therefore, it’s very important the kind of information they get, for the severity of how negative thoughts manifest themselves, really depends on what kind of resources they are getting to understand those thoughts.

“Rather than taking [social media] away from the children, it would be better to teach them how to screen profiles,” Shu Yi advises. “If someone wants to follow you, before you approve, you might want to check the person’s profile, and see if there are any red flags they should be mindful of.”

“At the end of the day, adolescents are looking for role models, especially at their age, and you don’t want to stop them from doing that by forbidding them from getting an Instagram account,” she continues. “We can instead help them identify which people they should follow to empower themselves.”

Comments from others are more of themselves than us

The more time we spend on social media being active and vocally involved in what we see, the more susceptible we are to negative comments from people out there who may not necessarily agree to our point of view on things. It is even more so for children and adolescents who have yet to come into themselves, and who are constantly seeking for relevance and understanding from the internet; due to their vulnerability, they are more open to attacks online.

According to Shu Yi, adults can educate kids and teenagers that whenever they hear someone say something negative to them, rather than very quickly absorbing that as the truth, they might stop and think that maybe what the commenters said isn’t really about them.

“When kids use certain vulgar words on purpose to hurt the other kids, they have to be victims of those words themselves,” she explains. “They are people who are wounded, and they have to carry within them all these emotions, and they don’t know how to express them so they become angry.”

“Bullying is a thread: if I’m bullied, then I will feel I want to bully another person, and that person will want to bully the next, so on and so forth,” Shu Yi adds. “If we can help the younger generations understand that when somebody says mean things to them, it just means that the ones saying them are hurting as well. This way, the bullying won’t continue on.”

Take ownership of your social media accounts

Countering these negative comments from strangers on social media is as easy as familiarising yourself with the privacy functions available on each platform. The functionalities of blocking, deleting and unfollowing certain profiles come in handy in situations like these, and everyone needs to be empowered to do so.

“The younger generations might think that if they unfollow or block certain friends, what would their friends think of them? This is where the adults come in – the parents, older siblings and teachers. We should teach them that it’s their right and prerogative,” Shu Yi says. “At the end of the day, it’s our social media account. If we think someone is being mean to us, and they are affecting how we feel, then it’s our prerogative to block or unfollow those people.”

Shu Yi also advises that for parents with children met with negativities online, especially from people they know, they should first and foremost pay attention to their own children: “Sometimes, out of wanting to protect their kids, parents may be quick to call on the school, or the other kid’s parents on how he/she is behaving. However, to the kids, it might translate as an embarrassment, rather than protection.” 

“Instead, the parents can focus on the child’s wellbeing: how they are impacted by the incident, how it makes them feel, how the parents should emphasise with their children, and what they can do to help their children begin the process of healing,” she adds.

Take a break once in a while to keep ourselves in check

Since the popularity of the internet grew in the 1980s and early 1990s, which eventually led to the creations of interactive computer-mediated technologies that we have come to know today as social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and many more, we have inadvertently developed a relationship with our gadgets. Pair that with the advances of mobile devices to make it more convenient for us to be constantly connected online, the gadgets have somehow become a friend that’s stuck onto our palms, and that we cannot put down.

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with being connected to what’s happening around us all the time, it is when we are not mindful of how much time we spend scrolling through our social media feeds, that we may gravitate to things that make us feel worse. This is what many these days may call “doomscrolling”, an act of consuming an endless procession of negative online news. It is also a word that has gained popularity and awareness during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, especially when countries go into lockdowns, and many have nothing else to turn their attention to at home but to the news feeds on our social media.

Shu Yi mentions that while it is very difficult to take some time off digitally, we may be able to sidestep the negativities online by enriching our life beyond the virtual one: “If you notice that when you’re busy, or if you’re having a very engaging conversation with a friend, you don’t actually think about your phone or wanting to scroll through your social media feeds. That’s because you are entertained by what is in front of you.”

“When we want to take some time off our gadgets, we need to make sure that we’re doing something that gives us joy,” she adds.

Whether it’s joining the “lockdown trends” of baking burnt cheesecakes or sourdough breads, joining Zoom yoga or workout sessions; or just simply reviving offline pastimes you have been putting off every time because of your busy schedule, such as reading, gardening or journaling – anything that brings you joy is helpful, because it takes your mind off the phone while you’re engaging in such activities.

“The worst thing a child imagines they can feel is to be bored, and parents need to teach their kids how to keep themselves occupied beyond the only world that they grew up knowing – the digital world,” Shu Yi says. “Creating activities for them is always very useful, even for the adults. It relaxes your mind, and your energy is focused on the activity.”

“I do think that once in a while, we need to come back to what’s in front of us, so that we don’t disappear into the virtual world,” she adds.

Posted in Blog, InterviewTagged Behavioral Shaping, Digital Wellness, featured, Gen Alpha, mental health, social media, Thong Shu Yi

4 Tips on Raising a Gen Alpha Child

4 Tips on Raising a Gen Alpha Child

Words by Celeste Goh

Parenting is different for each generation. There was once when parents would chase their kids around the backyard with a cane because they did something wrong. In the last few decades, however, have been slightly different, parents who hit their children will be scrutinised for child abuse. 

Once, doing squats while pulling your ears outside the house with your neighbouring friends watching was considered a proper punishment from parents. Now, public embarrassment may not even have an affect on the children – unless it’s the confiscation of their mobile devices.

The Gen Alpha children (born between the years 2010 and 2024) is predicted to be the most connected generation yet spend much less time talking to their peers in person.” Their parents are advised to look out for “clear psychological challenges with this generation as they will feel more alone, despite being so connected.”

While parenting tactics may have changed over the decades, one thing remains the same for all parents, even for those raising the Gen Alpha kids: to raise them into becoming functional adults in the future.

“The kids today are smarter in every way. They catch on to things very fast, and they will copy whatever they see or learn from anyone and anywhere,” says Debbie Soh, a mother of two Gen Alpha children – 7-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter. “One of the challenges of being a parent today is that, while we strive to provide them with a good upbringing, there are also other external factors that can influence them very easily – like the Internet, and their friends who are exposed to the unnecessary information from the Internet that may be unsuitable for their age.”

Known affectionately as “Cikgu Debbie” (or “Teacher Debbie) to her students, Debbie has seen some of the behavioural repercussions affecting the high school students at her tuition centre. Debbie shares with us her experience thus far in raising her children, whose upbringing is deeply integrated with the technological advancements of today, and which may someday reflect the same repercussions she is currently seeing in her students, if left unchecked.

Have the talk with them

Nowadays, before parents have the talk about “the birds and the bees” with their children, they have to make time prior to their adolescence to speak about the Internet and the potentially negative content that it brings; lest they get their lessons on “the birds and the bees” while at an age inappropriate website or streaming service.

Parents play the most important part in this society, despite the technological advances,” Debbie shares. “I may be different from many other parents, but for me, I feel that as a parent, we shouldn’t stop them from knowing what is bad. We should create awareness on such matters, and to let them know what is right from wrong.”

There have been instances where the parents are watching Netflix with the kids, but more often than not, they were not able to mute the television when vulgar words were spoken. Debbie would then have to sit her children down, and explain to them what they heard is not a good word, and why they should not use them in their everyday conversations.

“Even though he’s just 7, I’ve spoken to my son about the F word. So, he knows the word, but because his mommy told him that it’s a bad word, he doesn’t use it,” she adds.

Set strict gadget time for them

While we have mentioned before that prolonged screen time for young children will have negative repercussions on their mental and physical health, screen time for school and leisure may be blurred, especially during the pandemic when schools are closed, and education is brought online. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics may have recommended 1 hour a day of screen time for kids ages 3 to 5, and 1 hour to 1.5 hours a day for children ages 6 to 10, personally, Debbie caps her 7- and 4-year-olds’ screen time at a maximum of 30 minutes to an hour a day – even during the country’s partial lockdown.

She says: “We can let our kids use the many devices they are privileged to experience in this day and age, but we have to let them use them wisely too. As parents, we have the right and the power to control [their screen time]. We need to set the example, and the rules as well.”

While her children are smart enough to differentiate school time and leisure time during the lockdown, even though both activities revolve around digital devices, Debbie has to learn things the hard way, when once, she allowed her kids to watch television for the whole day: “When I switched off the television, they became very cranky, and they started throwing tantrums! Their attitudes are so much better on the days when they only have their toys to play with, or their books to read.”

“So, the difference does show drastically in their behaviour,” she says. “The longer the time spent on gadgets will definitely bring about a bad influence on the kids’ personality, their lives, the way they conduct themselves, and the lack of relationship with people around them.”

Studies have shown that 76% of parents at least somewhat agree that the less time kids spend with screen media, the better off they are. Universiti Pertahanan Nasional Malaysia counselling psychologist Prof Datuk Dr Mohamed Fadzil Che Din has also mentioned: “If there is no gadget (to play with), an aggressive child will get angry and show behaviours such as kicking doors, banging the desk and so on, while those who are not, may show their anger in latent ways such as sulking, staying quiet and running away.”

Set strict gadget time for yourselves too

When it comes to setting strict gadget time for the children, It does not count if the parents do not practise what they preach. Psychotherapist Christopher Willard, PsyD says that the best way to teach the kids to be mindful of gadget time is to practise it yourself: “The more we can avoid being on our phones at dinner time,… or show undivided attention toward our children, the more they will model the same behaviour.”

“Parents are the major influencers for the kids, and they definitely take after their parents more than anyone else,” Debbie says. “We need to always be attentive to what we are doing in front of the kids.”

She shares with us that once her kids “caught” her on the phone, doing her work a little bit longer than usual: “They came up to me and said: ‘Mommy, stop playing with your phone!’ That made me realise that they are actually observing me, and some things that I do, especially in front of them, have to change.”

Dr Willard also advises to be open and honest about what the parents want the children to do, instead of just telling them what not to do: “Instead of saying ‘Get off your phone’ say ‘Hey, I’m putting my phone down. Let’s go outside and do a treasure hunt, or draw chalk on the sidewalk, or play at the park.”

“When I let them know that I’ll be done in about 30 minutes, so that we can go have reading time, I’m telling them too that there is a time limit for everything that we do, especially when it comes to spending time on gadgets,” Debbie adds.

Be patient with them

While Gen Alpha children may be “the most connected, educated, and sophisticated generation ever,” parents raising these kids still have to bear in mind that, like every child in the generations before them: they are kids with much to learn still, and patience should be practised all the time when dealing with them.

Besides being a mother to two Gen Alpha kids, Debbie is also a tuition teacher to many more high school kids at her tuition centre. Yet, when it comes to teaching her 7- and 4-year-olds on school work, she realises that she tends to be less patient with them.

“I have noticed that when I’m teaching my students, I don’t get angry easily, and I’m very patient with them. However, with my children, I’d get angry easily when what I’ve taught them didn’t get across to them,” she says. 

“It’s something that’s a work-in-progress for the mommy in me,” she adds. “Because if I can teach my students with so much patience, I believe that I can provide the same kind of patience towards my children too.”

The perception of children is very different from that of an adult. You cannot expect a child to grasp things or make logical decisions like you would, [and] you may need to repeat something multiple times for the child to grasp it,” Childventure states in its article. “It is only with patience and endurance that you and your child can understand each other.”

Posted in Blog, InterviewTagged Behavioral Shaping, CIkgu Debbie, Digital Wellness, featured, Gen Alpha