Wed, Dec 02, 2009
The New Paper
Did S'pore stint help change Aussie teens?

By Benson Ang

THEY have been labelled two of the world's strictest parents by an Australian reality TV show.

And their challenge was to set two wayward Australian teens on the right path.

Related link:
» 'How we see ourselves'
» After being with Singapore parents... One teen gets better...but the other stays bad

So, this Singapore family gamely opened their home to the teens and a camera crew for a week. During the eventful week featured in an episode of the show, there was a tussle at the door of a bus outside Raffles Institution, when the teens found school "boring" and tried to run away.

And there was also a tongue-lashing for trying to sneak out at night.

Ms Yeo Miu Ean, 46, her husband Mr Chua Hung Meng, 52, and their children starred in an episode of World's Strictest Parents.

The show sends headstrong Aussie teens to live with strict parents overseas for a week. This is in the hope that the teens will pick up a thing or two about self-discipline and respect for others.

The show is not available here, but was aired on Australia's Channel 7 on 19 Aug. It attracted an audience of about 1.5 million, according to online sources.

In the show, Ms Yeo and Mr Chua were labelled as "two of the world's strictest parents".

It showed Ms Yeo barring the teens, Zaine Edwards, 16, and Memphis Fitzgerald, 17, from entering their condo unit until they were willing to show respect for her.

This was after the two, who did not complete high school, went for a General Paper lesson at Raffles Institution Junior College with Ada, 18, the Chuas' older daughter.

But they got bored and tried to "go for a walk".

Ada, who was responsible for them at school, tried to talk them out of it. But the teens gave her the slip by hiding under a staircase.

They then ran out of the school gates. But Ada spotted this, and ran after them.

Outside the school compound, Ada tried her best to persuade the teens not to board a bus and leave.

She told them that they couldn't go anywhere without her parents knowing where they were.

She pleaded with Memphis to stay and promised to "take her around".

She called her mother on her handphone, asking her to come quickly.

She then tried to physically prevent Memphis from boarding a bus, and told the bus driver to close the door.

All this happened with the cameras rolling.

But she couldn't stop the teens, who were determined to go sightseeing in Orchard Road. Ada told The New Paper that she was "quite scared" during the incident, because she is not used to speaking up.

She said: "I was hoping they would compromise, but at some point, I realised they were going to run out (of school) no matter what I said.

"I tried my best and held myself responsible, but after a certain point, there's nothing much I could do, because I had to go back to school."

Ada ended up missing the whole lesson trying to stop the teens, but she did not get into any trouble because she said her GP teacher knew about the programme.

Ada also explained that the teens probably found school boring because they couldn't understand the A Level subject, since they don't attend school back home.

"I actually felt quite sorry for them because they already disliked school, and had to listen to stuff that they don't understand."

A Raffles spokesman said that the Chua family had asked the school to allow the two teenagers to attend classes for a day or two, as the teens were meant to experience everything that Ada goes through.

The programme also showed Memphis getting scolded for entering Ms Yeo's bedroom at night and rummaging through her things.

Memphis was hoping to find the house keys so she and Zaine could go out at night.

The next morning, when Memphis apologised, Ms Yeo punished her by calling off a dinner the teens were supposed to have with Ada's friends.

So, is Ms Yeo really so strict?

She told The New Paper: "I don't consider myself strict because our boundaries are age-appropriate. I don't think we did anything wrong."

"I practise authoritative parenting, which is taking the responsibility as a parent, bearing in mind that you love your children. It's not authoritarian parenting."

However, as witnessed in the programme, Ms Yeo had to be firm when it mattered. She said: "Even if the teens were my kids, I would not tolerate them skipping school.

"I also don't think any parent is okay with their children smoking. I don't think even Australian parents can completely accept it."

Throughout the lives of their kids, the Chuas have been laying down boundaries. But she qualified that her family also concentrated on playing, and spending time as a family. Ada said she was shocked when she saw the show's title. They didn't know till a week before the show what it was to be called.

"When I found out, it was like: Huh? My mother? Strictest?"

Unspoken rules

Ada said she has already been used to the rules because she was brought up with them. These rules, she said, are mostly unspoken.

Ada and her sister Esse, 14, stayed at home during the week the show was filmed. Looking back, Ms Yeo felt participating in the show was a wonderful project for her family because planning activities to do brought them even closer together.

Ada, signed them up for the show in January, after the producers called for applicants. The Chuas agreed to host the two teens in January this year, and the episode was filmed around the start of April.

Mr and Mrs Chua, a work-life professional and a bank employee, were paid a fee, which they donated to a charity. They declined to reveal how much the fee was, and which charity they gave it to.

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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