How We Chose Our Daughter’s Pre-School

In Singapore, there are countless pre-schools the search for “the one” is daunting. I  visited over 20 before deciding. So I thought I’d write it to help  parents make this journey easier  🙂

Determine the kind of education you want for your kids

Our criteria:

  1. Play-based / inquiry-based curriculum
  2. Bilingual immersion in English and Chinese
  3. Daily physical (preferably outdoor) activity
  4. A music/movement program that is taken seriously
  5. No homework

With just five criteria, we managed to disqualify MOST schools within 5 kilometers from home. Many schools don’t offer daily physical activity and don’t have a qualified music teacher. There was one school where the teacher was singing off key and, in another, they had musical toys that were not chromatic. Many do not have bilingual immersion. We also disqualified every school in a shopping mall.

Determine how much you’re willing to spend

There was one school I was interested in but costs over $2,000 a month. We skipped it even though we heard many good things about it.

Check school reviews

Check online reviews, but be discerning. My daughter’s school gets consistently poor review by parents who think the school is not “academic” enough and wastes too much time on physical activities and music/movement. The poor reviews are actually my reasons for wanting to check it out!

But there are poor reviews that are off-putting. I crossed out a school for consistent review of “no clear curriculum, teachers not communicating with the parents, lack of discipline”. These are general bad things you want to stay away from.

Then it’s down to the visit

Once you have budget + criteria, your final choice would be dependent on what you see during the visit. Some important notes:

1. Bring your child. There was one school I had high hopes for – the curriculum was play-based, lots of physical activities, teachers very animated … but my child hated the classrooms. They  were tiny with full floor-to-ceiling walls and no natural light … even I felt claustrophobic.

In another, the school was located on such uneven terrain there were so many outdoor stairs to get in and out of the school. I just thought it was safety hazard.

2. Ask what sets them apart from other schools. Some school administrators / teachers have absolutely no idea what makes their school distinct. I cross these schools out immediately for lack of direction / focus.

There was one school that I loved (but beyond our budget) where they have a “library cart” that visits each classroom and every child gets to bring home 1 fiction + 1 non fiction book every week for their parents to read. I like their focus on literature 🙂

There was another school I really like that looks like Little House on The Prairie: huge playground on grass field, fishing pond, tree house, rabbits and chickens, big breezy classrooms that don’t require aircon. If this school is within 5kms from home, I probably would have sent my daughter there.

3. Ask them what they do to prepare kids for P1. This question doesn’t quite apply to me because I just want my child to love learning and develop confidence. But to many of you, the answer to this question could be important.

There was one school that prepares the kids for P1 by introducing a classroom concept (desk + chair for each child) at K1 and K2. There was another that starts introducing worksheet at K1/K2.

I intentionally don’t name these schools because what I find “unfit” for us doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. You can comment if you want to know which schools these are 😀 but hopefully the steps help you out!

My Take on Raising Multilingual Kids

I grew up trilingual: Indonesian, English and the Javanese dialect. I later spent two years learning Japanese at school (and forgot them all), two years of Mandarin (and forgot most of it other than very basic conversation), and two years of Spanish (which I still speak today).

Now I have a two year-old daughter exposed to three languages at home. So I get a lot of questions on how to raise a multilingual kid. Here’s a list of things that work in my situation:

1. Immersion

The four languages I still use are the products of immersion, not in-class learning. My parents never missed an opportunity to host an exchange student from overseas or entertain a foreign guest. Then they would occasionally leave me to entertain the guest. Ha! ☺

The result: I was already holding up hour-long conversations with English native speakers when my friends were learning “How are you?” in Grade 4.

And while I learned Spanish in a classroom as an adult, I spent a month living in Paraguay after one year of learning and I have friends in Latin America whom I continue to stay in touch with. They use me to learn English, I use them to practice Spanish.

2. Songs

Most people are not lyrical listener of songs, meaning they don’t pay much attention to the full lyrics. I do. Growing up in the 90s, I listened to songs while reading the lyrics until I could sing them by memory. I memorized all NKOTB’s songs to Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby”. Yes, including the rap bit.

I learned a number of bad words along the way, but most importantly I learned how to use words in various context, how words become sentences, sentences become stanzas, and how beautiful it is when sentences rhyme. Through songs, I also learned that Roxette’s lyrics are really poor English.

3. Bed-Time Stories

My mom read me stories since I was little. When she got bored reading the same books over and over, she made up her own stories or told me something about the family. My mom, an English lecturer, passed on her passion for language and literature to me. She never “taught” me to read, but nevertheless I could read at age 5, even before my friends started learning “ini ibu budi”.

4. Story-Telling

My mom and dad were really good about giving me opportunities to tell a story. Their questions were mostly open ended, like, “Why do you think that’s an elephant and not a tiger?” And I would blurt out sentences like because the “nose” is long, it’s grey, it’s huge, and the ears are floppy.

As I grew older, their questions would be more like, “What do you think?”

To them, language skills are never just about vocabs and memorization of greetings. It’s about being able to use it to communicate.

In addition, I should say that my dad only learned English in his late forties and he had no chance of passing an English exam. But he could deliver formal presentations and engage in day-long discussions on serious matters in English. If I’m an employer, I’d hire my dad over someone who gets A in English exams but is a terrible communicator.

5. Less is More

When I was a child, there was only one TV channel. So my dad recorded, like, 10 half-hour cartoons and I watched them over and over and over again. Eventually I remembered the dialogue line by line, and unconsciously learned sentence structures as well as proper (and improper) responses to questions.

There are so many content and materials these days, it’s really tempting NOT to stick to one set of materials or methodology. My advice: continue to use one set of materials that appeals to your child until he/she masters them before moving on.

6. Internal Motivation

I flunked Japanese real bad and managed to learn nothing in two years simply because I HAD to learn it as part of high school graduation requirement. I had no desire of learning it.

On the other hand, I really wanted to speak Spanish and I was conversational within a year even though I only spent two hours a week in a classroom. The rest was me happily and willingly doing my own practice, from listening to Gloria Estefan to chatting to Spanish-speaking friends.

In summary, what I could say to other parents is that my parents never forced language on me. They simply made sure we grew up in a home where good books are aplenty and the use of multiple languages is the norm. The love of linguistics and literature came later, unforced. And they never used flash cards!!!

Tentang Hasil Tes PISA Indonesia yang “Jeblok”

Saya memutuskan u/ blogging disini u/ menjawab artikel dari Esther Lima di blog Kompasiana yang mengatakan bahwa Indonesia meiliki “Sekolah Terbodoh Di Dunia vs Sekolah Juara Olimpiade Internasional”. Artikel lengkap ybs. bisa dibaca di sini, tapi komen saya nggak pernah bisa ter-upload.

Artikelnya secara eksplisit menyebut SMUK1, almamater saya. Jadi, sebagai alumni SMUK1 yg juga orang tua murid yang  sekolahnya diikutsertakan u/ PISA tes (mewakili Singapur), izinkan saya meletakkan “glorification” of SMUK1 dan hasil tes PISA dalam konteks yang benar:

Tentang SMUK1 – kurikulumnya tidak spesial. Yang spesial dr SMUK1 adalah mereka super selektif memilih anak yg bisa masuk ke situ. Rata2 ujian nasional di bawah 8, terutama untuk math english science? Jangan harap bisa masuk – berapapun uang yg anda punya. Jadi SMUK1 dipenuhi anak2 yang pada dasarnya sudah pintar, rajin, ambisius, berbakat dan biasanya punya nilai bagus di standardized test semacam PISA ini. Yg spesial di SMUK1 bukan kurikulumnya tapi bibit awalnya yg sudah unggul, sehingga SMUK1 punya “privilege” untuk bisa memberikan materi2 yang lebih challenging, seringkali dengan mengadopsi materi universitas terutama di subject2 Science, Math and Technology, u/ diberangus anak2 SMA.

Now tentang PISA. Peringkat PISA jelek bukan kiamat kalau kita lihat konteksnya. Pertama, negara peserta PISA cuma 60-an, yg semuanya adalah OECD members yang adalah negara2 maju dan emerging market. Gak heran Indonesia peringkatnya jelek kalau dibandingkan Singapura, USA, Norwegia dsb. Kalau kita peringkatnya di bawah Honduras, Uganda dsb baru saya heran …

Kedua, tes PISA bisa dimanipulasi dalam pelaksanaannya. Satu contoh. Anda lihat peringkat Shanghai yang sangat tinggi? Kenapa tidak seluruh China diikutsertakan? Karena Shanghai jauh lebih kosmopolitan dan berpendidikan tinggi daripada the rest of China. Kalau the rest of China diikutsertakan dalam tes PISA, saya rasa peringkatnya akan jauh dari Top 10.

Lalu, negara partisipan bisa saja memilih sekolah2 berprestasi untuk ikut serta tes PISA supaya peringkatnya terdongkrak, walaupun mestinya tes PISA mengikutkan representatif sekolah berprestasi, sekolah rata2 dan sekolah yang kurang berprestasi. At the end of the day, sampling-nya bisa dimanipulasi oleh negara partisipan dan tidak ada kontrol atas akurasi “representative sampling” ini. Misalnya: sekolah anak saya diikutkan tes PISA untuk Singapura, dan nilai rata2 PISA di sekolah anak saya lebih tinggi dari nilai Singapur, sehingga rangking Singapur terdongkrak karenanya. Important to note bahwa sekolah anak saya hampir tidak ada warga negara Singapur dan kurikulumnya bukan kurikulum Singapur. Menurut saya, tidak semestinya Singapur mengikutkan sekolah anak saya dan mengambil kredit untuk hasil yang keren yang bukanlah hasil kurikulum dari negaranya sendiri. 🙂

Satu lagi contoh “manipulasi”. Tes PISA seharusnya diambil tanpa persiapan. Tetapi Stephen Martin dari The Daily Telegraph menulis bahwa beberapa peserta dari negara yang rangkingnya tinggi mengaku bahwa mereka melakukan persiapan supaya hasil tes PISA-nya lebih bagus.

Ketiga, there are no instant results. Tidak adil kalau kita hanya memaki2 sistem pendidikan Indonesia ketika nilai PISA 2012 kita jelek. Yang justru lebih penting adalah melihat data per sekolah, year-on-year improvement, dan data angket di belakang hasil tesnya. Misalnya:

  • tahukah anda bahwa rata2 peserta PISA dari Indonesia jumlah hari bolosnya lebih banyak dari anak2 di negara yang rangkingnya tinggi? Selain itu, makin banyak bolosnya, makin rendah nilai PISA-nya. So … bagaimana kita menciptakan environment di sekolah (dan di rumah) yang membuat anak tidak ingin / tidak bisa absen sering2?
  • tahukah anda bahwa walaupun nilai Reading, Math dan Science Indonesia jeblok, anak-anak Indonesia adalah student yang paling happy di sekolah? Sementara yang paling stres adalah anak2 Korea Selatan yang rangking PISA-nya cukup mentereng. Pelajaran apa yang bisa kita ambil dari sini? Bagaimana kita improve prestasi tanpa membuat anak2 ini jadi stres seperti anak2 di negara2 Asia lain yang high achiever tapi kurikulumnya terlalu fokus di ujian2 standardisasi?
  • Selain itu, Depdiknas juga perlu melihat sekolah2 mana di Indonesia yang skor PISA-nya lebih tinggi dari rata-rata nasional. Apa yang bisa dicontoh dari sekolah itu untuk perbaikan kurikulum nasional? Depdiknas punya hasil tes PISA yang detil per sekolah dan bisa menjawab pertanyaan ini kalau mereka mau menganalisa datanya dengan seksama. Darimana saya tahu kalau data ini tersedia? Karena saya tahu hasil tes PISA Singapur overall dan hasil tes PISA khusus u/ sekolah anak saya. Kalau Singapur punya, tentunya Depdiknas punya.

Masalahnya, kalau melihat tren nilai PISA Indonesia dari tahun 2000 sampai sekarang yang selalu jongkok, saya ragu kalau data yg berharga dari PISA tes ini benar-benar digunakan u/ perbaikan kurikulum nasional …

Jangan Lupakan Bahasa Indonesia

VH4rAlBeberapa waktu lalu The New York Times menulis artikel tentang ortu2 Indo yang hanya mengajarkan bahasa Inggris ke anak mereka, sehingga anak mereka tidak bisa berbahasa Indonesia (lihat artikelnya di sini). Saya lihat sendiri fenomena ini … saya punya kerabat yang lahir dan besar di Indonesia tapi tidak bisa berbahasa Indonesia.

Now … banyak ortu2 ini ingin bahasa Inggris anaknya bagus karena itu bahasa internasional … bahasa Inggris yang bagus akan membuka banyak kesempatan bagi anak. Dan saya setuju. Sebagai anak yang dibesarkan dalam lingkungan trilingual (saya fasih berbahasa Inggris, Indonesia dan Jawa ngoko), saya mendapat banyak pengalaman berharga yang teman2 saya tidak bisa dapatkan karena pada saat itu jarang anak2 bisa berbahasa Inggris.

Tapi tidak dengan mengorbankan bahasa Ibu. Kalau saat itu orang tua saya lebih mementingkan bahasa Inggris, saya tidak bisa berkomunikasi dengan oma opa, banyak tante om dan sepupu saya. Hubungan saya dengan keluarga besar tidak mungkin sedekat sekarang. Saya nggak bisa tanya jalan kalau nyasar (and believe me, I get lost A LOT!), saya nggak bisa berantem sama polisi yang suka nilang sembarangan lalu minta uang pelicin. Saya nggak bisa komunikasi dengan pedagang kaki lima, tukang bakso, tukang ojek … what’s the point in living in Indonesia if all your life is sheltered in shopping malls, a bilingual school and a close circle of friends and family who only speak English? What sort of life experience are you getting out of it?

Pengalaman paling berharga saya tentang tinggal di Indonesia adalah ketika saya camping dengan anak2 jalanan … sama2 tidur di kardus bekas lalu ngobrol2 tentang aspirasi mereka sambil makan nasi bungkus. Atau tinggal di rumah2 penduduk di desa2 di Lampung dan Lombok, belajar cara hidup mereka. Atau nongkrong di studio lukis pendatang baru … sambil ngobrol tentang inspirasi mereka. Dan nonton Teater Koma, lalu duduk makan ayam bakar bareng sesama pecinta seni, membahas arti satire politik dari pertunjukan yang baru kita tonton 🙂

My childhood and teenage years would have been a sheltered and shallow one without my ability to speak bahasa Indonesia.

But here’s the thing … kemampuan saya berbahasa Indonesia tidak hanya membuat saya sangat menghargai orang Indonesia dan budayanya, tapi juga melicinkan karier saya di Indonesia. Kemampuan berbahasa Indonesia orang2 seusia saya (dan orang2 yang lebih muda dari saya) pun sudah cukup memprihatinkan, tidak banyak orang yang bisa menulis dan berkomunikasi dalam bahasa Indonesia yang lugas. Kemampuan saya menulis dan berkomunikasi lisan dalam bahasa Indonesia melicinkan karier saya, BIG TIME!

Tanpa bahasa Indonesia, saya nggak bisa bekerja sama dengan pejabat-pejabat pemerintah karena kebanyakan dari mereka bahasa Inggrisnya memprihatinkan (maaf ya Pak … but it’s true!!! 🙂 )

Dan saya nggak akan bisa jadi konsultan komunikasi senior dari banyak perusahaan ternama yang beroperasi di Indonesia … karena yang mereka butuhkan adalah orang yang betul2 bilingual, yang mengerti bahasa dan kultur Indonesia secara penuh, bukan sekedar bisa ngobrol dalam bahasa Indonesia.

So … apakah anda memfokuskan diri mengajar anak bahasa Inggris tapi akhirnya anak anda akan bekerja di Indonesia? Kalau ya, switch your focus back to bahasa Indonesia. Apakah anda rela anak anda tidak punya hubungan baik dengan keluarga besar anda hanya karena keterbatasannya berbahasa Indonesia? Kalau tidak, switch your focus back to bahasa Indonesia. Apakah anda yakin anak anda bakal sekolah di luar negeri dan kemudian bekerja di sana? Kalau tidak, switch your focus back to bahasa Indonesia.

Ketika Anak Mulai Berbohong …

Nggak tau gimana caranya, anak kok bisa self-learn bagaimana berbohong sejak kecil. Riset yang dilakukan Dr. Victoria Talwar (Kidder, Good Kids, Tough Choices, p. 10)  menyebutkan bahwa anak sudah MULAI bisa berbohong umur 3 tahun, dan ketika tidak diintervensi sejak awal mereka akan mulai SERING berbohong di umur 4 tahun. 😦

Waktu masih kecil, biasanya kita tahu lah kalo mereka bohong. Tapi, menurut riset yang sama, di usia 8 tahunan anak yang tidak diintervensi sudah MAHIR berbohong dan menutupi jejaknya.

Anak  saya sekarang umur 14 tahun, dan dia nggak kebal dari masalah bohong-membohongi ini. Dia termasuk yang jarang sekali bohong ketika masih anak, baru ketika mulai pra-remaja dia mulai coba2 berbohong – mungkin karena dipengaruhi teman2nya.

Tapi, untungnya, dia mulai berbohong di saat dimana dia sudah melewati pengajaran bertahun-tahun bahwa bohong itu tidak baik, jadi kalau ketahuan dia sadar bahwa dia salah dan dia menerima konsekuensinya dengan besar hati.

Kami pun masih terus belajar bagaimana caranya menanamkan bahwa bohong lebih banyak rugi daripada manfaatnya, tapi kami menemukan bahwa beberapa tips dibawah ini cukup efektif:

1. Ajarkan nilai-nilai truthfulness, honesty sejak kecil. Orang tua harus menyontohkan perilaku ini. Misalnya, ketika ada restoran yang memberikan kembalian terlalu banyak, kita kembalikan kelebihannya. Ketika anak saya terancam tidak ikut karyawisata karena saya lupa menandatangani surat izinnya, saya minta maaf dan berusaha menelpon gurunya u/ menjelaskan masalahnya daripada bilang, “Kamu sih, nggak ngingetin mami, kan kamu yang butuh!”

2. Jadikan orang tua teman-teman dekat anak anda teman anda. Ada beberapa kesempatan dimana kami realize anak kami bohong karena saya mengecek ke orang tua temannya, karena dia bilang dia pergi ke rumah temannya ini untuk bikin tugas kelompok. Ternyata mereka bilang anak mereka nggak di rumah juga – ngomongnya ke tempat saya u/ tugas kelompok jadi mereka tidak khawatir karena anak ini memang sering main ke rumah saya. Mulai lah ketauan bohongnya … dan setelah mengecek HP dua anak ini, ternyata dari 2 hari sebelumnya mereka memang menyusun rencana berbohong ini supaya bisa pergi LAN gaming sampai malam di hari biasa (dimana mereka tidak bisa main game di rumah atau pergi ke gaming center).

3. Beri hukuman yang melebihi benefit dari berbohong. Dengan berbohong di contoh kasus di nomor 2 itu, anak saya mendapat sedikit “benefit” yaitu bisa pergi LAN gaming selama kurang lebih 5 jam. Tapi sebagai hukumannya, papa-nya memberi konsekuensi dia nggak boleh main game selama 2 bulan. Ini berarti dia kehilangan 12 jam game per minggu selama 8 minggu = 96 jam, supaya dia realize bahwa berbohong jauh lebih banyak ruginya.

4. Jangan bosan ajarkan bahwa dalam kehidupan nyata, bohong pun sama saja akibatnya – enaknya sebentar, ruginya berlipat ganda. Kalau ada orang sekantor yang dipecat dan dipidana karena berbohong (e.g. mark up, korupsi, memfitnah bos-nya), ceritakan ini ke anak. Juga ajarkan anak untuk mengikuti berita seperti kasus Bernard Maddoff yang bisa menipu dan mengeduk uang kliennya beberapa tahun, tapi sekarang dipenjara 150 tahun. Dia dicerai istrinya dan satu anaknya bunuh diri karena depresi. Kekayaan dan asset-nya pun disita. Apakah membohongi orang dan menikmati uang mereka selama beberapa tahun worth it setelah ketahuan? Never.

5. Kaitkan ajaran agama anda dengan kehidupan nyata. Seringnya, susah mengajarkan nilai2 agama seperti kejujuran hanya berdasarkan pada nilai agama (mis: jangan bohong karena itu dosa). Kita terkesan old-style dan menggurui. Yang kita praktekkan di rumah adalah mengajarkan bahwa Tuhan mengajarkan nilai2 kebaikan, seperti berkata jujur, karena Tuhan tahu bahwa nilai2 ini lah yang akan membuat manusia dipercaya orang lain, sukses, bahagia, sejahtera, dan tidak mengumpulkan musuh.

Bisa berikan contoh2 ayat atau kisahnya – tapi selalu tarik ke aplikasinya hari ini, misalnya – kalo di Alkitab saya dari Mazmur 34:12-13 “Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies.” “Many good days” definisinya macam2 – bisa punya banyak teman, disegani, sukses dalam karier dan keluarga, diberi tanggung jawab dan kepercayaan yang besar, dsb. Dan kita bisa mengajarkan bahwa truthfulness dan honesty lah yang akan membuat “many good days” ini datang dan tinggal dengan kita, sementara kebohongan mungkin membuat hidup Bernard Maddoff (kembali ke contoh di nomor 4) enak, tapi semu dan sementara. Sekarang dia tidak punya teman, kehilangan keluarganya, tidak bisa menikmati hartanya, seumur hidup jadi kriminal, dan ketika mati tidak ada yang mengingat hal2 baik yang mungkin pernah dia lakukan.

6. Reinforce, reinforce, reinforce. Sama seperti kebanyakan peraturan lain yang perlu terus disosialisasikan secara berkala, jangan bosan mengulang value2 ini kepada anak ketika ada kesempatan. Setelah kejadian di contoh nomor 2, anak saya lumayan lama tidak bohong, tapi kira2 6 bulan kemudian ada kejadian lagi dimana dia “mencuri” waktu main game di jam tidur, dan ketahuannya setelah dia melaukan ini bbrp bulan. Pantes dia pagi gak pernah bisa bangun  dan di sekolah seringnya nggak memperhatikan lalu nilainya turun … lha wong malamnya tidur cuma 2-3 jam!

Sambil menunggu papanya pulang dari business trip sebelum kita “rapat keluarga” untuk memutuskan konsekuensi dari “pencurian game time” ini, saya menggunakan kesempatan ini untuk mengingatkan dia apa yang terjadi ketika terakhir dia kepergok berbohong. Buat dia ingat bahwa konsekuensi berbohong jauh melebihi benefit.

6. Ajarkan korelasi antara berbohong dan trust. Anak pra remaja / remaja sudah bisa diajari konsep ini, sementara anak kecil lebih ke sistem reward-punishment yang simpel (kalau kamu bohong, kamu grounded). Kembali ke kasus di nomor 2, selain anak saya kehilangan game time selama 2 bulan, tiap kali dia mau pergi ke mall bareng teman2nya (mis: karena temannya ultah dan mau nonton bareng), kita tanya filmnya mulai jam berapa (dan kita cek online, bener nggak jadwalnya demikian), lalu kita langsung jemput setelah film selesai dan kita mau lihat sobekan tiketnya – karena kita tidak membolehkan dia main di gaming center di mall2 dan kita ingin memastikan bahwa memang dia nonton film, bukan gaming.

Kita jelaskan bahwa saat ini, kita melakukan hal2 yang sepertinya keterlaluan ketatnya ini karena trust level is low dan dia harus berupaya dari awal lagi untuk win our trust. Anak perlu belajar bahwa ketika mereka berbohong, mereka merusak kepercayaan orang terhadap mereka. Akibatnya, orang2 ini (termasuk orang tuanya) mau tidak mau membuat aturan yang lebih ketat untuk memastikan bahwa mereka tidak dibohongi lagi.

Bedanya hanyalah orang tua akan memberi kesempatan bagi anak u/ belajar dari kesalahannya dan memberi maaf, sementara orang lain -di dunia nyata- banyak yang memilih untuk tidak memberi kesempatan kedua. Sekali ketahuan berbohong / menipu / cheating / plagiarize, konsekuensinya (kalau masih sekolah) bisa dikeluarkan dari sekolah atau tidak lulus subject tersebut. Kalau sudah kerja, sekali ketahuan bisa langsung jadi pengangguran.

7. Sampaikan bahwa anda melakukan ini karena anda care. Di awal dan akhir percakapan2 yang “nggak mengenakkan” ini, kita selalu sampaikan bahwa kami pun sebenernya nggak ingin sampai harus melakukan hal2 ini untuk make sure dia tidak berbohong lagi di kemudian hari. Jadi satpam anak bukan hal yang entertaining buat kami. Tapi ini lah tanggung jawab kami sebagai orang tua untuk mendidik anak dengan ethical values dan Godly characters. Kami melakukan ini karena kami care dan kami ingin anak2 kami menjadi orang-orang yang dipercaya, bertanggung jawab dan punya damai sejahtera.

Survei yang dilakukan oleh National Association of Secondary School Principals di AS membuktikan bahwa 80% anak tidak keberatan didisiplin oleh orang tuanya, dan mayoritas peserta survey yang diadakan oleh Howe & Strauss dalam bukunya Millenials Rising menyatakan bahwa walaupun di rumah ada banyak aturan, aturan2 tersebut fair. Jadi jangan takut mendisiplin anak karena takut relasi anda dengan anak memburuk – yang terjadi justru sebaliknya. Kalaupun anak anda belum bisa menghargai disiplin anda sekarang and suka ngambek, mereka akan menghargai didikan anda di kemudian hari, sama seperti saya sekarang sangat menghargai didikan orang tua saya dari kecil sampai saya umur 18 tahun 🙂

Monitoring your kids’ online activities

While my previous article “Parenting Teenage Children Don’t Have to Always be Difficult” (click here) focuses on general rules in disciplining your teenage kids in age-appropriate ways, this one focuses on having a grasp on their online activities.

Many parents find this an uncharted territory because they don’t grow up in the digital age. We didn’t either, but communication technology actually comes with measures to prevent inappropriate use, if we only know how to find and use them. So here’s some of the measures we have put in place for our child:

1. Check history on your child’s web browser. You can go to Safari, Firefox, or Internet Explorer (or any other browser), click “history” and see the list of websites your child visited. This is easiest, but at the same time also the simplest “footprints” for your child to erase. As well you can see which sites they have visited, but you cannot restrict their access to inappropriate or offensive content. Which brings me to my next two points:

2. Use parental control in the computer. Since I am a Mac user, I can say that all Mac computers come with built-in parental control that we can enable and customize depending on needs. For example, I block access to the computer during my son’s bed time, restrict access to inappropriate sites, and keep a log of all the websites my son visits, with an option to restrict or allow each one of them. He cannot trick this because the computer will continue to keep a log of the websites he visits even after his browser history is already cleared up.

Having said that, I don’t know if all computers come with built-in parental control, so the next solution is:

3. Install parental control software on the computer. Out of necessity (our kid is starting to show early signs of computer/game addiction), we decided to install a parental control software. His computer already comes with it, but there are additional features in the software (we use Content Barrier X5 from http://www.intego.com) that are not available in the computer itself. For example allows me to determine when he can use the computer each day (e.g. 2 hours max between 5pm to 9pm on weekdays – but the computer will log off between 7-8pm so he doesn’t forget to eat dinner. And the computer can’t be accessed on Tuesdays until 6pm because that’s his tennis day).

Content Barrier also keeps a screen shot at regular interval so I could see the look of the websites he visits. Other than that, it keeps track of keyboard movement so I could see if he is using appropriate language in his chats, or if he is being abused online.

Oh, come on … You don’t really have to be that strict!

I bet I started sounding too draconian by now. However, we do this out of necessity. Twelve months ago, there was no parental control whatsoever on his computer. We didn’t need to use it back then! We had the software, but told him that we will only install it if he gave us reasons to. After a string of game access while he was supposed to be in bed, dwindling grades, tendency to become anti-social, absolutely zero interest in anything but computer and games, plus a couple of visits to porn sites – plus many hard talks to no avail,  he really gave us no option but to put all the above measures to prevent him from being addicted to online activities, especially games and porn.

Other than that, would you rather sound a bit too draconian, or see your kid become a game addict or a victim of an online predator? I would prefer to monitor my kid’s online activities just like I ensure that he does his school work and chores, rather than see my kid not knowing the risk of addiction, predator and digital abuse, and then falling victim to one of those.

Research also proved that children who were given directions and boundaries on their online and computer use became much more responsible user of the internet once they’ve become an adult.

But when my children can’t access internet from their computer, they steal my computer!

Another thing you need to be alert for is when you have more than one computer in the house. We are a family of 3 with three laptops. The trick here is to enable parental control in every computer in the house. You don’t have to restrict access to any sites, but at least it will keep track of the web visits so you could see any irregularities. Through this we found out that just last night my son used my husband’s computer to play games while we were out.

These all sound good, but I don’t even know how to turn on the computer!

If the above measures sound too complicated to you, there are actually simple ways that you can implement in the house without being computer savvy:

  • Keep the computer in an open space where parents can see the screen. Insist that the computer (esp. if it’s a laptop) should not be moved.
  • Use shared computer instead of giving each kid a computer. This way they learn to share and won’t be able to hog the computer when their siblings need to do homework on it. There are downsides to this though, e.g. a lot of assignments may require typing, printing and online research … this may not be finished in 30-60 minutes and when you have more than 1 kid, this can be a challenge
  • Tell to your kid that they need to add you in their Facebook / Twitter / whatever social networking site and chat programs they’re on. This way you can go to their Profile and check their online updates. What if they don’t want to add you? Oh, well, too bad … then they can’t go on Facebook from home. However, note that this is not a tamper-proof arrangement. The kids can have more than one Facebook account and only add you on the one they don’t use. You can curb this by doing name search on Facebook from time to time, who knows the exact same name in the exact same location with the exact same face appears 🙂
  • Apply an open door policy. We have an open door policy at home, whereby the only time when door must be closed is when we are in the bathroom, changing or sleeping. Other than that .. be it we are doing homework, working from home, whatever … doors are open. Several months ago we started noticing that our son always closed his door when he was in his room (his computer is in his room, with the screen facing the door so we could monitor), which to us was a weird change. And, true enough, not long after that we found out that instead of doing homework, he was chatting with friends all evening and occasionally accessing internet porn. A serious chat about “open door policy”, being a responsible internet user, or losing his computer for good settled the matter.

I hope this helps … I can’t even start counting how many parents have shared with us their frustration on their inability to control their children when it comes to their online world. It doesn’t have to be like this, if you follow the above and all the general rules in my previous article. Happy trying! 🙂

Parenting teenage children don’t always have to be difficult (1 of 2)

Throughout my adult years I have heard many comments that parenting a teenage kid is super hard … they start clamming up and not saying anything to us, becoming rebellious, becoming creative in their ways to avoid punishment and restrictions, etc., etc.

We have a 13 year-old boy at home and understand how hard it can be, at times. But along the way we have also learned some tricks to get a better grasp of what our child is going through and ensure that he is not breaking the rules that we have set for him. Below are some of the things we are doing that are actually working:

1. Always discuss the expectations, perimeter and reward/punishment beforehand. With our son, for example, we agree with him that he will not have access to video and computer games during the week. And why. And if he misses a homework that week, he would lose his gaming privileges for the weekend. This way, when punishment needs to occur, it won’t be caused by some obscure reasons that the kid is not aware of. Many kids resent their parents because of punishment for “no reason”. What in fact happens many times is that the parents do have a reason to punish, however the rules are not clearly communicated beforehand. We have been blessed with the fact that when he is punished, he accepts it because he knew what got him into trouble to begin with.

2. Work with their teachers and school counselors. I have found my son’s teachers a great help in knowing some aspects of him that we wouldn’t otherwise know because we don’t know how he is at school. There were times when he’s got a zero in his homework / projects and said, “The whole class did it wrong, so everyone failed!” (excuse to not lose his games over the weekend) and upon inquiring about it to the teacher, apparently he simply did not submit that homework (he thus loses his games over the weekend).

There was also a time when we were not sure what he was interested in, other than games. Talking to his PE, music, and technology teacher as well as his home room teacher helped us discover that he is not musical and not into competitive sport, but very engaged in anything involving designing, building and programming. This way, we could start making plans for his future based on his strengths and weaknesses.

3. Get to know your kid’s friends. Some times we don’t know how troublesome, or awesome, our kid is until we see other kids his age. For this reason, I prefer my son to bring friends over to our house instead of having him go  to a friend’s place whose parents I don’t know, or whose parents both work and are not available to provide a level of supervision to the kids. By observing and talking to other kids at our place, I get a feel of how strict or lenient we are to our kid and if anything needs adjustment.

4. Be friends with your kid’s friends’ parents. I have a number of friends whose sons hang out with my son. Every now and then we call each other, or meet, to see if we are facing common issues with regards to our kids – and what we’re going to do about it. Recently I found a math tutor for my son through my son’s good friend’s mom. Another mom learned about parental control software from me. Parenting is not supposed to be a lonely task. It is much lighter when you share the burden with other parents.

5. Be consistent in applying the rules. Quite some times husband and wife are not consistent in enforcing the rules. We also fall into this mistake several times. Kids will see this inconsistency and would play one against each other, with the hope that the “softer” parent would have the upper hand. We try to prevent this by dividing the task: my husband is tasked with “introducing” the rules and reward/punishment system, while I’m the one enforcing the rules because I’m home a lot more. Whenever I have a problem in enforcing something (because, after all, my son is now 20cm taller than me and I am “just” the stepmother), my husband steps in and supports me. This way, he knows that not listening to me would only bring more trouble to himself.

6. Be wise in applying tough love and lenience. There was an occasion this week where our son was given a 6-7page reading/writing assignment and given a week to complete it. We repeatedly told him that he won’t be able to do that all in one day, and that he needed to do the write-ups in 3-4 different chunks so it doesn’t become a burdensome task. He chose to leave everything to the last day, thus spending six hours (and past midnight) sitting down to finish it. During that six hours he repeatedly begged us to help him, complained that he got a headache from having to edit his own work, and that he was too tired and sleepy and he would rather get up at 4am the next day to finish it. We could have stepped in to help him structure his thoughts, or given him some clues, or made him sleep and woke him up early the next day. We chose not to – a dose of tough love was needed here so he learned to manage his time better and pay a bit more attention to his parents’ suggestion next time.

On the other hand, I have also seen parents who assert too much control  on their kids – no play dates, tuition every single day, no pocket money, no taking public transport, … and for what? I can understand imposing such rules on young children … but teenagers? Come on … they will only resent you if you put such measure. We need to start letting go and let our kids learn decision-making, independence and being street-smart at this age.

We were utterly surprised one day when we realized that one of our son’s good friend did not know how to cross the road at an intersection. Several times he’s almost been hit by a car when he did that. And then he said, “I’ve only crossed the street using pedestrian bridge, or with accompany.”   There was also one boy that I know whom, at age 13, didn’t know his home address because he’s never taken taxi before. He’s always picked up, never had to go home alone other than going home from buying food across the street. He never needed to remember his address.  Some times, more control over our kids is not the best way to teach them to grow up and be responsible.

7. Don’t set a trap for them. I was so tempted to “set a trap” for my son last week. He just lost his gaming privileges for 2 months for some serious issues. However, we decided to let him go to see a movie with some friends. The problem was … there was an cyber game cafe right next to the cinema. I was planning to ask him for the movie ticket when he got home, to make sure that he was indeed in a movie theatre, without telling him first. Thank God I realized that this would be unfair to him – most people threw away their movie tickets and he would resent me for trying to set him up. After all, parenting is not about proving to your children that you’re smarter and sneakier than them.

So I asked my son which movie he was going to watch and what time would it start. I checked online to see if the movie did start at the time he mentioned (it did). Then I told him,

“You know you have done things in the past week that have made us wondered if we could really trust you.” (he said yes)

“Trust is earned, not given.” (he nodded)

“So until you prove to us that we could fully trust you, every time you go out with friends for a movie, we will need to see your movie ticket and you need to go home straight after the movie is over. If you go to a friend’s birthday party, we need to see the invitation and talk to their parents before letting you go” (he agreed)

“You know we hate doing all this cross-checking, right? This is extra job and extra stress for us, but it’s the only way for us to be able to give you a level of trust after what you’ve done. We do this because we care for you … we want people to respect and trust you” (he said he understood, and has been complying religiously since then)

Consistently applied, these seven principles will do wonders not only in applying discipline and a sense of responsibility, but also in preventing your kids from resenting you.

Please also check out the second part of this article: Monitoring your kids’ online activities (click here) for more specific ideas 🙂