"Dear Thelma" is a relationship advice column that appears in The Star, a publication that is part of the Asia News Network.
I was a happy kid until I entered secondary school. Then a lot of problems cropped up in school and at home. Under the negative influence of my friends, I started to smoke and watch pornography. My grades started to slide. I used to ace my exams, but now I am in the last class. I got into fights in school. I felt lost and my confidence dropped. I started to play truant because other guys were doing it.
My parents married late.
My cousins are all adults, and I feel left out during family gatherings.
When I was younger, my mother told me that we are temple-going people, so we should keep a distance from party-going people.
She made me go to the temple to sing hymns but I am not that kind of person. I feel like I am wearing a mask.
She does not allow me to talk to the boys in my neighbourhood. So I go cycling alone and do not have any friends for company.
When I was in primary school, one of my friends invited me for his birthday party and I told my mum about it. On the day itself, she did not talk to me and ignored me, so I did not get to go to my friend's party.
After my UPSR exams, my friend invited me to his house for a small gathering with friends. While driving me to my friend's house, my mum scolded me and told me it was a waste of time. She told me that it was the last time she was sending me to a gathering. Actually, it was my first gathering with friends.
My mum seems to think that hanging out with friends is a bad idea. I loved going to school on my own, but my mum would not allow me to do so. She is so over-protective and I hate her to the core. Please advise me. - Miserable Teen
Dear Miserable Teen,
The first thing you have to realise and accept is that you are in charge of your own behaviour. Others around you may be engaging in undesirable activities, but no one forced you to do anything.
You have to take responsibility for your own actions. You chose to smoke. You chose to watch pornography. No one put a gun to your head and forced you to do these things.
If you can tell that these behaviours are less than desirable and you don't want to do them, you have the power to stop. You have to make that mental decision to do so. And then you have to find the discipline to stay true to your decision to stop these behaviours.
You have to stop making excuses. You engaged in those activities because, at some level, you enjoyed them. Perhaps they allow you to fit in with some of your friends, or make you feel good about yourself.
Once you acknowledge this, you will be able to step out of the victim mentality. There are many positive things you can do to feel good.
Before you do this, though, you will have to come to terms with your parents. It does sound like your mum is overprotective. As far as she is concerned, there are two types of people in the world: temple-going people and party people.
Reality is far more complex and you will find that temple-going people can also party. However, it may be futile to argue this point with your mother as she is unlikely to change her opinion.
You feel stifled as a teenager. You are at that stage when you want to enjoy the simple things that teenagers do. You want to hang out with friends and have fun. There is nothing wrong with that. However, you have to see it from your parents' point of view - that the world is not a safe place.
Even within the confines that your parents have set for you, there is still a chance to make friends and do normal things that young men your age do.
For one, the hymn sessions that you attend must have other young men your age, or close enough. Have you tried to befriend them? This is, after all, within your mother's confines of a safe world.
As much as you hate being forced into this box, you may be surprised to find that there are others who think the same way as you. You will only know if you find out. So stop feeling sorry for yourself and look around - there are plenty of opportunities in the world.
If your mother does not want to drive you to your friends' homes, why don't you invite your friends to your home?
Perhaps when your mother meets them and gets to know them a little better - they are all polite young people, surely - she may come to see that they are not that bad after all.
These get-togethers need not be elaborate, expensive or labour- intensive in preparation. They are just about a small bunch of friends hanging out together.
Get your parents to meet your friends' parents. When family is involved, your parents may see that your friends are not a bad influence. The message here is that in order for you to engage more with friends, you will have to let your parents in on your world.
Being older, they may not be up to date with what it is like for teenagers in this day and age. You cannot expect them to change completely, but involving them this way may open doors for you.
You say you feel like you are wearing a mask. But do you really know who you are? How do you know that the boy singing the hymns is the one with the mask, and not the boy who is doing all those other things?
It seems obvious that you do not know who you are just yet. You will be able to, in time. Until then, you will never know who you are and what you like unless you try different things. Despite your parents' strict attitude, you still manage to do all those things which you deem bad. If there is a will, there is a way, correct?
What you have to do now is to harness your energy and focus on something positive. You can find friends and hang out with them. You just have to stop looking at yourself as a victim, and see that you can exercise some control over your life. - Thelma