SINGAPORE - Building a strong family network where problems can be openly shared with parents is one way to help children navigate the changes brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, said Education Minister Chan Chun Sing.
Speaking at a virtual panel discussion about children's mental well-being, he added that the culture of constant comparison between peers online and lack of extended family support could adversely affect them.
Hence, there is a need to encourage children to practise cyber wellness by limiting their access to digital devices.
"I think we need to have a conversation with our children, to allow them a 'disciplined access' to such devices so that they do not keep fearing that they are missing out on something if their friends are chatting on various apps, exchanging information or exchanging photos," said Mr Chan.
As information is easily accessed online, he added - at the event organised by ground-up initiative Makan Already - that it is important for children to develop the skills to critically analyse the content they come across.
Other panellists at the event included co-founders of Makan Already Tan E-Ching and Larry Loh, who spoke about parenting concerns during the pandemic.
In response to questions from Mr Loh on how parents could strike a better balance between work and responsibilities at home, Mr Chan said he hopes to strengthen parent support groups within all schools in Singapore. The move will allow parents to draw from the experience of others.
Mr Loh shared his experience in caring for his toddler. He said: "Immediately after my daughter's birth last year, Singapore had a circuit breaker. During my wife's confinement, my daughter developed a feeding aversion, where she refused to drink milk.
"There was a lot of anxiety and stress as a new parent. And I struggled with caring for my child and my wife while working from home."
Mr Chan noted the need for parents to seek help from peers and family during this period.
"One of the biggest challenges about help-seeking behaviour is that people still feel judged, and we need to create that environment to let everybody know that all of us require some help from others at some point in life," he added.
Dr Tan asked Mr Chan what values could be inculcated in children from an early age.
Taking the example of cyber bullying, Mr Chan noted that it is more effective to address the issue at its root by teaching children to be kind to their peers .
He said: "To be able to project kindness and to take care of other people is really a sign of confidence and a sign of that magnanimity of spirit that we want our children to grow up with. This is the first value I believe we should teach our children."
Mr Chan also touched upon the need for parents to adjust their own expectations and focus on their child's improvement and growth as opposed to examination results.
He said: "In life, there may be many situations where they may not get the result they want despite trying their best. If that is the case, we should encourage them to push on and try again."