Book to help decode, defuse family angst

Clinical psychologist authors book with ST editor on deciphering family struggles

A 16-year-old girl was cutting herself and scars criss-crossed her abdomen and arms.

A charming boy who did well enough for an elite school ended up leading a team of gangsters.

And a tween, just 12, was more sexually mature than her age belied.

The stories of these young people, who found themselves in Dr Carol Balhetchet's counselling room, have now been written in a new book that helps families decipher rocky relationships and behavioural issues.

Dr Delinquent: A Guide To Decoding The Teenage Years brought together clinical psychologist Balhetchet, who has worked for more than 20 years with troubled young people, and The Straits Times Schools editor Serene Luo, who edited the book. The duo worked on the book over the past two years.

Written in easy-to-understand jargon-free language, the book answers real letters from young people, who ask about everything from romance to abrasive parent-child relationships, and includes chapters on what divorcing families can do and building resilience in children, among other things.

Dr Balhetchet said: "The book is timely because, more than ever, we are seeing small nuclear families, where families focus so much on the child without the parents realising how much stress they are giving their children."

Ms Luo, who has covered the youth beat for nine years, said: "In the media, we always see the problems young people experience, but I wanted to go deeper, to find out how they got into trouble in the first place, and, more importantly, how to help them."

As for the teenager who cut herself, her family turned to Dr Balhetchet after they found out that she was stealing.

But the bigger issue was that she was cutting herself.

It began in Secondary 1, when a group of popular girls in her school started cutting themselves. Back then, the teen felt honoured to be included.

When a teacher found the cuts on her arms, she referred her to the school counsellor.

But the teenager felt she could not tell the counsellor the full picture as she would have to report such cases to the principal.

After investigation, Dr Balhetchet believed the problem was related to the bigger issue of the teen and her mother competing for the same man's attention - that of the girl's father.

However, he was an absent figure. On the other hand, the mother seemed responsible for everything in the family and, as a result, was a controlling figure.

The advice is that parents need to learn to listen to their child talk about their problems, and to be empathetic.

If parents are unable to communicate with their child, seek help from an expert to mediate.

The $25 book is available at all major bookstores and

Dr Balhetchet, with another author, psychiatrist Chong Siow Ann, will be speaking at The Straits Times Book Club event on Oct 31.