Singapore expats: Are our children street smart enough?

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Parents of Singapore – whether or not you’re an expat family or born and bred in this city – it’s time we ask ourselves if we’re equipping our children with enough life skills to cope on their own out there in the world. There are SO many things we love about living in Singapore: from the fabulous local food scene to the beach parks and playgrounds, the year-round warm weather to the easy-peasy vacation spots on our doorstep – Singapore has it all and more. As an expat living in Singapore, our kids have an idyllic childhood spent barefoot, tanned and happy in one of the world’s safest cities. But what happens when it’s time to repatriate to home countries that our children have never actually lived in? How can we turn our – let’s face it – slightly naive kids who’ve led a pretty easy life, into street-smart individuals who can transition into a life of independence at home or at college overseas?

The pros and cons of living in a safe bubble
For many of us the pros are huge when it comes to living in a safe environment like Singapore. Our kids think nothing of choping a table with a mobile phone and would think we had gone mad if we suggested accompanying our tweens to a public toilet: but this complacency is exactly why life could be tough when it’s time to move away from the safety of Singapore. They need to get to grips with the fact that overseas there are no helpers to run a forgotten book to school, teens wouldn’t be caught calling us ‘mummy’ and shoes need to be worn at ALL times. There are also the serious issues to prep our kids for: no one wants to have to warn their kids about stranger danger, muggings and *shudder* worse, but are we doing our kiddos a disservice by not arming them with the less savoury aspects of life beyond Singapore?

What happens when we go home?
With a teenager approaching his final year in high school, a future relocation is always on my mind. He wants to join the police force when he’s older – a career which I know will be great for him in all respects except one: how can he be a street-savvy copper in London when he hasn’t got the faintest idea of how tough the UK can be? He has lived here since he was five years old and his idea of wild ‘n’ crazy is choosing Tom Yam noodles over chicken ones in 7/11. He has NO idea what teens of his age can, and do, get up to in England, so how is he going to chase down hardened crims when he can barely chase down his mop of unruly hair? We are going to have to toughen him up, stat.

Can we turn them into street-wise kids?
My kids don’t KNOW the UK. To them it is an exotic place with great sausage rolls and cool farm animals. They are tourists in their own country, and it’s time to start sharing some of the less delightful aspects of life back in Blighty – and if you’re from a major city anywhere else in the world, this all applies! When we go back they will stick out from their classmates: they sound different, they act different and they don’t have a Scooby Doo what a Scooby Doo is (that’s London speak for ‘clue’ – these things WILL trip them up). So I’ve been trying to make my kids a bit more British and a bit more streetwise with these pointers… 

  • Read newspapers and watch news channels from home with the kids. There is going to be bad stuff, so filter appropriately. Send news articles to your teen to help them brush up on local culture.
  • Watch TV shows and listen to radio stations from your country. Try and expose them to as much pop culture as possible. 
  • Make kids take responsibility for their own stuff. If they lose a favourite toy (or mobile phone!) then that’s just tough. They need to grasp that looking after their things is essential if they want to keep them. They also need to know that choping is NOT a thing outside Singapore! Leave your phone on a table in a food court anywhere else in the world and you can guarantee it won’t be there when you get back.
  • On this note, if you’ve all gotten into the habit of leaving your belongings on a park bench, cafe table or letting them out of your sight, snap out of it. Now. Always make sure your bag is securely shut and keep it close when you’re in crowds.
  • Same goes if you walk around the street using your phone. Yes, phones DO get swiped out of your hands by passing cyclists in London. And sadly, kids and teens do get mugged. Our parents taught us not to walk around flashing expensive goods and to be careful when carrying cash, and it’s worth passing this on to our kids too.
  • Get kids of all ages helping with the housework. There won’t be smiley-faced aunties at their beck and call outside of Asia, mummy won’t have time to dash to school with forgotten PE kits, and dirty washing will not walk to the laundry bin by itself. And while we’re at it, start teaching the kids now how to cook. 
  • Talk about stranger danger. Define who a stranger is (keep it precise with younger kids and honest with older kids) and explain why talking to strangers can be risky. There are lots of great books for kids that cover this topic.
  • Give them a lesson in all things ‘home’. Currency, history, national anthems,  and important local dates are probably all alien to them, and it’s stuff like that that will set them apart. Well, that and their ‘international’ accents…

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