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State of the Family 2023 launches practical solutions to raise children in a highly sexualised world

Mr Vijayendran with his fellow panellists, as he comments on the important role of parents, counsellors and educators

Focus on the Family Singapore (FOTFS) held its 9th State of the Family Singapore (SOTF) on 2 February. This year’s theme was “Family in the Coming Age”. About 340 representatives from schools, social service agencies, faith-based organisations, and community partners attended.

The Guest-of-Honour was Law and Home Affairs Minister, K Shanmugam. In his opening address, Minister Shanmugam reiterated the Government’s reasons for the repeal of Section 377A (S377A), and outlined Singaporeans’ concerns about the definition of marriage and the impact on current housing policies after the repeal. Minister Shanmugam said that the Government has no intention to change the existing definition of marriage, and is committed to ensuring that there are no challenges to this definition. He emphasised the Government’s decision to amend the Constitution and define marriage to be that between a man and a woman.

Minister Shanmugam also mentioned the government’s commitment to strengthening and upholding families at every stage of life, describing the family as a “cornerstone” of Singapore’s social compact. Additionally, he raised the importance of building a society where different views can flourish and where “cultural intolerance does not take root”. He spoke on the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices as a framework to keep society safe and healthy, and expressed his hope that different parties, including the Government, schools, employers, individuals and organisations can work together.

Minister Shanmugam in dialogue with FOTFS CEO, Mrs Joanna Koh-Hoe

Youth representatives shared their views in the next segment: Mr Raphael Zhang, a counsellor, highlighted identity politics as a contemporary societal issue, while Ms Nairul Farah, a researcher, raised the difficulty of expressing views on divisive issues, and questioned how we can build a more gracious Singapore. Minister Shanmugam, in dialogue with FOTFS’ CEO Mrs Joanna Koh-Hoe, explained the need to caution against being “hard-lined” with our own views, and also highlighted the importance of managing global influences on our culture.

Ms Alicia Boo, Chief of Impact at FOTFS, presented research findings regarding the state of the family. She highlighted the threats facing marriages, such as the lack of marital intimacy and the rising use of pornography. This was reflected in FOTFS’ Marriage Quiz in 2022, where 30% of participants faced challenges in sharing things deeply with their spouse, and in the Whole Life Inventory (2016-2020), where 39% reported viewing porn in the past twelve months. She mentioned a rising trend of younger people being conflicted about dating, marriage and having children, and concerned about issues of redefining marriage and family.

Ms Boo highlighted the challenges of framing sexual identity for children in a post-S377A Singapore, listing four frameworks which are used to frame sexual identity today: biological sex, social constructs, sexual inclination or sexual expression. She cited that 79% of respondents in a Family Champions survey felt that parents ought to play the largest role in sexuality education, and that conversations about sexuality ought to be undertaken by parents. The Whole Life Inventory (2016-2020) revealed that only 17.5% of youths and 9.5% of young adults have open conversations about sex with their dad or mum.

A panel discussion on “Solutions for the Family” followed. Moderated by Chong Ee Jay, Lead of Programmes at FOTFS, the panellists were: Mr Gregory Vijayendran, Partner, Rajah & Tann, Chairman, Law Christian Fellowship, and Marriage Builders Alliance Co-facilitator; Ms. Yvonne Kong-Ho, Parent, Educator & Youth Developer; and Ven Daniel Wee, Vicar, Church of our Saviour.

On the topic “Who can help the next generation well?”, Ven Wee raised the importance of starting young when helping children to frame healthy perceptions about gender. Citing that parents should begin when their kids are as young as pre-Kindergarten, he lamented the difficulty in reframing gender concepts once children are older. He also encouraged parents to be invested in their children’s education.

Ms Kong-Ho shared anecdotes of her parenting experiences, illustrating her model of “conceptualisation before contextualisation”. She outlined how she communicates with her children, for example, by emphasising the roles of “mummy” and “daddy”. She explained that this would help her children understand sexual identities, and if there was an instance where a same-sex couple was shown on a television drama, the model of sexual identities would help her talk to her children about what is portrayed in drama.

Mr Vijayendran acknowledged that the youth are in a cultural battle today, and stressed the importance of parents, counsellors and educators on staying ahead of the values game.

After a short Q&A session, the event concluded with Mr Chong introducing the Celebrate Marriage campaign. He also showcased some of FOTFS’ resources, designed to help different parties in their respective journeys of dating, parenting or marriage. FOTFS also launched the Talk About Sex video series, a micro e-learning programme where parents receive a video, tips and conversation guides weekly in their email inbox. The series helps parents to nurture an open and healthy approach to sexuality education in the home. It covers curious topics such as “Where do babies come from?” and “What is a crush?”.

Amos and Karen Ang, who are volunteers with FOTFS and attend Wesley Methodist Church, found State of the Family 2023 helpful. Amos mentioned that the discussions provided “different solutions that people, especially parents can use to address the challenges that they have”. Karen added, “It’s not only all talk, but includes actionable and doable strategies.”

Dominique Wang is the Digital Content Producer at MCS Communications. / Photos courtesy of Focus on the Family Singapore