“As teenagers become engrossed in the Internet, gaming and social media after school, they invariably do not have the opportunities to learn and practise their soft skills in the real world,” says Dr Ong Say How, a senior consultant psychiatrist and chief of the department of developmental psychiatry at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH).
Soft skills, he says, are social “lubricants” which help one to successfully negotiate and navigate through life. Often not explicitly taught in school, these areas include critical thinking and problem-solving.
Working in teams can be a challenge for some teenagers too. They can be overly assertive during group work and disregard other people’s opinions. There are also those who do not know how to resolve conflicts, leading to angry outbursts.
“I have seen teens reacting in situations where they feel stuck, becoming really angry and turning physically aggressive on their peers,” Dr Ong says.
He notes that from 2015 to 2020, the number of youth aged 13 to 19 seen at IMH for depression increased by 60 per cent.
Former primary and secondary school teacher Faeza Sirajudin advocates honing young people’s soft skills to better prepare them for their future.
From her observation and experience as an educator, she finds that Singapore teens mostly lack initiative and leadership skills.
“If they don’t develop and activate the skills, they are continually reacting and responding, rather than having real influence,” she says.
Parents can help by asking their children to choose and organise family activities. “The more they get used to making decisions, the more confident they will be to take initiative and exercise leadership,” she adds.
Ms Sirajudin is the co-founder of Singapore education-tech start-up Face The Future, which will run a four-day event in December for youth aged 14 to 18.
Through activities and board games designed by her company, the Crackerjack Convention aims to help participants hone the skills needed to navigate complex and unpredictable situations.
They will learn, for instance, that good leadership means listening to opinions, but still having to make tough and unpopular decisions sometimes.