Teen Talk: My mum calls me stupid

Q. I am the only daughter of a single mother and I am currently in secondary school. As my mum has to work to provide for the two of us, she often comes home late and we hardly get to talk.

Recently, I accidentally upturned a big bottle of prickly heat powder, not knowing it was open, and a whole lot of it got into one of my eyes.

I cried out in pain to my mum, who was then in the room with me. Finally came a “What?!!” from my mother, who sounded really annoyed.

I yelled that I had prickly heat powder in my eye.

“Stupid, who asked you to play with powder anyway?” she shot back. That eventually escalated into an argument.

“Anyway, are you done? Go do your work. Go and study and do your work, your results are horrendous. Look at your cousin, so smart, made it to ACS (I) and excelling there. Look at you, playing all day long. I’ve never seen such bad results in my life – so disappointing, so embarrassing. Oh my gosh, you’re so stupid.”

Like really, thanks a lot, mum.

I tried to do well after my grades slipped. I tried my best, but she didn’t help me like she used to. Who am I going to rely on now? At least she should let me talk to someone, some people, my friends? Teachers?

I’m not even allowed to talk to my dad. Great. Physically distant from dad, mentally distant from mum. Isn’t that equal to having no parents?

I do hope that someone could help me and my mum understand each other.

Thanks for your time. I really appreciate it.


A. I am very sorry to hear about your difficult and emotionally draining experiences with your mother. It is only natural for you to want to vent your frustrations.

Her single-parent situation is no excuse for her neglect of your emotional needs. On the other hand, you as her only child will also need to acknowledge that as a single parent, her role is much more demanding in that she has to juggle many mental and emotional tasks to balance the nurturing, disciplining and physical needs of your family.

Sometimes, these various roles that she has to take on can be overwhelming and take their toll on her.

Nevertheless, it’s sad but true that there are just as many ineffective parents as there are many misunderstood teenagers today.

Ineffective parents are too self-absorbed, thinking their problems are more overwhelming than your problems. As a result, they assume you will understand them without communicating to you their needs, so that you can partner them in some of the household responsibilities.

Even though these parents are not trained in psychology, they appear to use unusual methods to force their children into doing things and meeting their expectations.

Hence the repeated comparisons to others and the use of demoralising words such as “stupid”, “useless”, “so dumb” and “underachiever”.

In order to move forward, I wonder if you can learn to let go of some of the battles you have with your mother.

Both of you could do with some counselling. A third party or experienced counsellor can mediate your differences and come up with constructive arrangements so that both of you can work as a team in this family.

Try not to wait too long to get help so that the misunderstandings will not fester and create a bigger barrier.

• Answered by Dr Carol Balhetchet, PhD, a clinical psychologist, for The Straits Times. This excerpt first appeared in Dr Delinquent: A Guide To Decoding The Teenage Years. The book is available at

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