Help for troubled youths

SINGAPORE - If you have a hot-blooded, hard-headed teenager who has fallen foul of the law, do not give up on him. Keep trying to reach out to him and bear with the pain of his rejection of you.

No matter how long it takes, he will come around, say reformed youth and experts.

"Children will respond better with tender loving care and talking. Tough love, including scolding and ultimatums, might work for those who are younger," says Ms Joyce Chan, 34, executive director at Teen Challenge Singapore.

For troubled teens, patience and many hours of talking and listening to them are key to understanding their rebelliousness and returning them to the right path, says Mr Wilson Tan, 41, deputy executive director of Youth Guidance Outreach Services.

Youth behaving badly came into the spotlight recently when a full-time national serviceman Wilson Siau, 20, was slashed outside Cathay Cineleisure Orchard.

A 23-year-old man was left in critical condition after he was attacked by a group of men at the same mall last December.

Reformed gang member Kenji Joo, 30, says delinquent youth can change for the better, if there is home support. "People join gangs and fight in groups to get attention or if they have bad peer support or if they have no one to look up to at home, especially fathers who should be role models for their sons," says Mr Joo, who is now a personal trainer.

His father died of cancer when he was 18. By then, he had fallen into bad company. At 14, he was picked on by gang members daily and badgered to join them. He joined so that the beatings would stop.

When asked about the bruises all over his face and body, the avid sportman brushed them away as sports injuries. "They could see I had changed a lot but they were not clear why," he says of his parents' queries.

For about 12 years, he got deeper into the underworld, leading a group of 50 men at one time and trafficking drugs.

Helping to take care of household expenses was an "excuse" for his thuggish behaviour. As debts piled, his mother held down two jobs as a coffee shop assistant to feed him and two younger siblings.

At 19, he was busted and jailed from 2002 to 2003 for drug consumption, then jailed again from 2005 to 2010 for trafficking and fighting in prison. He made up for those wasted years from around 2006 while in prison, where he prepared to sit his O-level examinations.

He has earned a string of certificates qualifying as a master trainer for sports therapy, yoga and pilates, among other things.

His company Best Core runs fitness programmes for gymnasiums. He also volunteers to run boot camps for neighbourhood kids. He says his Christian faith helped him find himself but ultimately, parents must "find a way to interact" with their kids, be it going out for karaoke sessions or to Sentosa.

"Parents need to recognise their child's worth and motivate him. Every child wants to be a hero in his parents' eyes."

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