As many as four in 10 who call Tinkle Friend, a helpline for primary school-aged children in Singapore, are bored.
Director of Singapore Children’s Society Rachel Tan said that children typically call in after school, when they are done with homework.
“Trained volunteers will usually explore with the child his interests and some of the things he can do at home such as drawing, reading a book, or doing some handicraft,” she said.
Smaller family sizes may be one reason why children are bored at home, said Cecilia Soong, who is head of the Counselling Programme at SIM University.
“Two-child families are typical these days. Children don’t have many siblings to play with, unlike families of yesteryear,” said Soong.
“In many families, both the parents are working. Some grandparents may still be in the workforce as well,” she added.
An overwhelming schedule could also explain their boredom.
“Children are plagued with schoolwork, remedial and enrichment classes – even during the school holidays! Because their friends are also saddled with work, they are not allowed to come out to play.”
But not all who approach Tinkle Friend are bored.
About 21% of callers talked about their peer relationships. Some 23% shared about school issues, including academic stress and bullying.
According to Soong, children may have decided to call in because they have experienced a ‘talk-down’ approach from family members and friends, who may be inclined to give them “clichéd responses”.
Tan said that children generally choose to speak with someone they are familiar with, like their family, teachers or friends.
“Tinkle Friend provides an alternative platform for children who are lonely and distressed, especially in situations when their parents or main caregivers are not available,” she said.
“But Tinkle Friend does not mean to replace these important human interactions,” she added.
And now Tinkle Friend has gone online.
Since its inception in December 2013, Tinkle Friend Online Chat has provided support to 222 children.
Soong advised that children will have to be educated on cyber-wellness and in particular, online safety.
“The Ministry of Education has resources in place, and student ambassadors are trained to advocate responsible online citizenship.”
Parents have an even more crucial role to play in ensuring their children’s online safety.
“Not only will they need to ensure that the hardware is being installed, i.e. computer’s security features, more importantly they will also have to focus on the “software” – strengthening the relationships with their children and communicating with them openly about the dangers on the online world and how to mitigate them,” she added.
Tinkle Friend’s toll-free hotline, 1800-274-4788, operates from Monday to Friday between 9.30 a.m and 11.30 a.m and from 2.30 p.m. to 5.00 p.m. Alternatively, one can chat online with a trained counsellor at www.tinklefriend.com between 2.30 p.m. and 5.00 p.m on weekdays.