What is Sexual Abuse and How Do I Prevent it?

Primary years (7-9)

Sexual abuse like molest or rape can happen to both boys and girls. Since most perpetuators are known to the victims, children might be reluctant to “tell on” someone they are familiar with, especially if it is a person they respect or have affections for. This is why it is important to teach them that their bodies are private and they have the power to speak up when they feel uncomfortable with any form of physical contact, even if it is just holding hands or receiving hugs from someone they know.   

Statistics on sexual abuse show that shock and surprise keep victims quiet. To avoid this, role-play possible scenarios, for example, “Let’s say you are on the bus and someone sits next to you and touches your thigh, what do you do?” You can also equip them with sentences that they can fall back on, for example, “Don’t do that, I am not comfortable with it,” or “I don’t want this, you need to stop now” and establish a standard protocol of what they can do if something happens. This can be as simple as Speak Out, Walk Away and Talk to A Safe Adult. If you have not already done so, teach your primary schooler how to identify a safe adult, for example, someone in authority or a mother with kids. 

Tween years (10-12)

As your child grows in independence, it is critical for us to keep communication open and to be aware of the different ways a stranger could get in contact with them, such as through popular online games or social media platforms.  

Sexual abuse can also come in the guise of “fun” or “games”. The perpetuator might ask the victim to keep what happened as a secret, because it is part of the game or even use threats, blame or shame on the victim. To pre-empt this, talk to your child about these common tactics and teach them to raise the red flag if someone asks them to keep a secret from you. On your part, be on the look-out for anyone who is giving special attention to your child especially if the person tries to get your child alone with him/her. 

It is important to build trust with your tween, through showing your unconditional love and your ability to handle whatever is shared with you, for example, by staying calm and not becoming overly upset with them.

Your child needs the assurance that you will not fault them or dismiss what they share, but that they can depend on you to support them emotionally, give good advice and help resolve the situation.   
 
Watch both your verbal and non-verbal cues when you hear about sexual abuse cases because our children could pick up any negative attitudes we might have towards the victims, and that could make them feel unsafe should they need to share with us in future.

Teen years & Late teen years (13-18)

Continue to make yourself a safe place for your children to come to even as they grow into the teenage and emerging years. Even older teens can go into a state of shock when sexual abuse happens. They may passively go along with what’s going on because they do not know what to do or even disassociate and “blank out” the memory as a coping mechanism.  

If you suspect your teen has experienced something because he or she is suddenly withdrawn, depressed, or fearful of certain places or people, reach out to find out how your child is doing.

Let your teen share at their own pace. It may take more than one conversation to get the full story. 

At this age, our teens may have started romantic relationships, so it is a good time to talk about boundaries within relationships and respectful and consensual physical touch.  

Help your teen see that sexual abuse is any unwanted sexual touch, especially if he or she feels coerced. Coercion can range from “If you do not do this, I will…” statements to “I thought you said you love me…”

It can also involve grooming methods like buying things and paying for your teen over a period of time so that eventually, your teen feels like he or she “owes” the person and has to repay them.  

Empower your children to develop and believe in the power of their own voice. Emphasise that they can say “Stop” or “No” at any time and that it is okay to realise they have gone too far or made a mistake and insist on a stop. Help them avoid the trap of thinking they are in the wrong for being in a situation and thus, have no right to stop. “You can always stop” can be a very powerful belief.  

Any sexual activity that takes place when one party is unable to give consent—for example, being incapacitated, asleep or drunk—is also sexual abuse. Taking photographs or videos of someone in a state of undress like upskirt photos is also sexual abuse; possessing and/or distributing sexual images is considered a crime in Singapore.  

You can approach these conversations holistically, for instance, as you explain upskirt photos and why they are wrong, teach your daughters to be observant when wearing skirts, and your sons to avert their eyes if they notice exposure, and for them to step in to help someone if their modesty is threatened. Part of our children’s growth into adulthood may also include experiencing sexual desires. Acknowledge that and avoid letting them feel guilty or ashamed over it. 

Sexual abuse is a huge topic and one we hope our children will never experience. To safeguard them, chat with them regularly about sexuality and growing up. Help them gain a solid understanding of how love and relationships work. Knowing how sex is good in the context of a loving and committed relationship like marriage can help them understand why any form of sexual coercion is wrong.  

Conversations About Sex Need Not Be So Tough

Research shows that when parents engage their children in topics on sexuality, their children grow to make wiser choices in relationships and sex. To help you overcome your fears in broaching the topic, we have designed a Talk About Sex video series specially for parent and child (aged 7-12) to enjoy, engage with and learn together!

The Emerging Family Report

Introduction

The Emerging Family Report presents a summary of the discussions held at State of the Family 2024: Shaping Next Generation Relationships. State of the Family is Focus’ annual event which aims to provide our key partners with an analysis of emerging trends impacting the Family.

Who exactly are the 
Emerging Families? They consist of the young families of today and the youth of our nation, both of whom represent the future of Singapore.

Key highlights include the results from Focus’ 
Fatherhood Involvement and Marriage Aspirations Survey and FamChamps® #FamilyForTheWin Survey, which were both conducted in 2023.

The observations, discussion questions, and insights presented in this report aims to help you think through the trends surrounding 
Emerging Families and determine how you might be able to apply these in the your context.

Research Findings

Overcoming My Body Image Issues

Battling negative body image can often feel like a futile fight. But take heart, it is possible to overcome them.   

John Lim, now a writer who also speaks on youth and young adult issues, shares his own struggles with body image issues.  

“I remember when I was in primary school, I was in the trim and fit club, or the ‘tough club’. Despite exercising, my weight never went down. And my friends would tease me, ‘Eh, John, why you exercise so much still so fat.’” 

“I would try to laugh it off, but inside, I felt discontent with my weight and body image,” he said.  

From that early exposure to body shaming, John found that he would binge eat at major events in his life, such as when he was deciding what course to study at university.   

“I tried to quell the anxieties, and things got better because I saw a therapist. But the issue resurfaced when job hunting,” he adds. 

The desire to control is actually a coping mechanism.

Comparison and Control

When eating disorders emerge in children, parents often ask, “Why?” John wondered the same. “Dealing with the disorder was hard. I kept asking, ‘Why am I so weak? Why can’t I stop?’ It wasn’t just about the food,” he reflects.

“In Singapore’s competitive environment, it can be common to feel that one is not good enough. Comparisons in academics from parents and peers weigh heavily. This spills over into other areas like body image. You start thinking something’s wrong and try to control it through dieting or an eating disorder,” he explains.

Comparison can be unwittingly encouraged by social media and peer comments about weight and appearance, but the desire to control is actually a coping mechanism. There are many things our children can’t control like their peers’ behaviour or their academic grades but they can control their food intake.

John puts it this way – “It’s like the things that you do externally to gain a sense of control over your circumstances.”

Even though it seems more fun to be elsewhere, being with them matters. 

Relational Risk

Everyone needs people willing to connect with them, even when they’re not receptive.  
For John, a friend from volunteering was a turning point in his recovery.  
 
I was bingeing heavily and was not in good shape. But my friend kept asking me, and never gave up on me. He also kept trying to joke and lighten the mood, even when I wasn’t fun to be around,” John shares.  
 
He urges parents and friends to take the relational risk and reach out to those who are struggling. “Even though it seems more fun to be elsewhere, being with them matters. You can pick up warning signs of eating disorders, like changes in eating habits, excessive bathroom time, or social withdrawal, he advises.  
 
Some common signs could be the intake and output of food. Are there extreme changes to eating habits, are they spending excessive time in the toilet, or withdrawn from social circles?  
 
Investing in our children’s internal health is crucial. “In social work and psychology, we often talk about psychological safety. As a parent, providing a safe space is essential. It’s about showing  empathy and compassion, and being there for your child,” he says. Instead of questioning why they act a certain way, assume they’re doing their best. “This changes how we support our children,” John concludes. 
 
With support, overcoming eating disorders, like John’s, is possible.

 

What to do if you or your child has eating struggles

1 – Acknowledge the struggle  
It can be daunting to have to face the issue but the start to recovery is recognising there is a problem. Instead of pretending things are okay or that the problem will resolve by itself, we have to accept that something serious is happening and it needs our attention.  

2 – Ask for help 
Often, guilt and shame prevent us from asking for help. We may even justify this by believing no one can help us or even blame ourselves for having a problem. Can you identify with what John shared about using unhealthy eating habits as an attempt to gain control over your life? If so, please be honest about the care you need. Asking for help is you choosing a better life for yourself and breaking this vicious circle.  
 

3 – Isolate your triggers 
Eating disorders don’t appear overnight. They are the fruit of seeds that have been sown in your life for a while. For some, it could be repetitive judgmental words from people about weight. For others, it could even be from coming from a household where being a certain size or looking a certain way was obviously important. Isolating your triggers can help you work at the core issue that caused the symptom of poor self-image or eating habits. 
 
4 Be kind to yourself  
Now that you isolated your triggers, you must have clear-cut action points on what to do when you are triggered. When the familiar pull towards harmful thoughts and actions gets strong, these are a few simple things you can do Get up from where you are, put on music that takes your attention away from self-defeating thoughts, call a trusted friend or family member, or go out for a walk. Be kind to yourself. There may be times you don’t manage to do these. Instead of sliding back into self-blame, choose to try again.  
 
5 – Establish truth reminders  
As you rebuild your life, having building blocks of truth is important for you to sustain your healing and growth. What do you need to remind yourself? Is it “I am loved” or “I can do this”? Is it hopeful thoughts about the future like “One day, this will not be a struggle anymore”? Try to find people and things in your life you can be thankful for. Gratitude helps to prevent us from slipping into comparison. 

How do I Teach my Child to Dress Modestly?

Tween years (10-12 years)

In the early tween years, your child is formulating their sense of identity. They may do this through experimenting with their personal choices and decisions, such as dressing.  

If you’re taking your tween shopping, this is the best time to impart the value of modesty! Set clear guidelines for appropriate dressing right at the start and pick out apparel that makes them feel presentable and confident.  

Pay attention to your child’s role models, whether they are singers, celebrities or admired figures whom your child looks up to, and observe their fashion choices. Recognise the influence these figures can have on your child’s dressing.  

Discuss how clothing that reveals too much skin will get them unwanted attention and put them at risk of being objectified. Keep an eye out for subtle messages on clothing that may carry suggestive undertones. Frame your concerns as a way to teach your child to respect and honour their body, fostering in them a sense of self-worth that goes beyond how others view their appearance.  

If your child thinks you are old-fashioned, stay calm in the moment and explain how dressing modestly can still be stylish. Listen to your child’s viewpoints and stay curious instead of making judgmental remarks, which may push them away from you.  

In this phase of discovery and self-expression, having a supportive and open environment makes all the difference for your child to know you are on their side!  

 

Teen years (13-15 years)

Late teen years (16-18 years) 

The societal pressure to dress like their peers and famous personalities will be more apparent in the teenage years. This is also the time when teens may develop romantic interests. 

If you have not talked about modesty with your child, it is not too late. In family meetings, have conversations on why modesty still matters in today’s day and age, and what is an acceptable standard for your family. Emphasise on values like modesty and inner beauty while expressing understanding for your child’s need to fit in.  

Share candid stories of fashion disasters when you yourself may have blindly followed trends in your youth. Your willingness to share your life experiences with them can go a long way in building connection. Offer to go shopping with your child and give practical guidance and suggestions on what is acceptable to both of you.  

Encourage your child to think critically about the reasons behind your family’s guidelines rather than simply imposing them. Have them consider questions such as,  

      • “Why do you think I have concerns about this outfit you picked?”  
      • “How does your choice of clothing reflect who you are and the way you want to be perceived by others?” 
      • “What do you think the messages and graphics on your clothing could convey to others?” 

Fathers, do not underestimate your role in your growing teen daughter’s sense of identity. You play a significant role in building your child’s self-esteem when you affirm how important she is to you. Pay genuine compliments when your daughter dresses appropriately to reinforce her self-worth so she does not have to look elsewhere for approval.  

Besides her character and inner beauty, complimenting specific physical traits such as her hair, eyes or even a specific (modest) outfit can do wonders to boost your daughter’s confidence in her growing years.  

Maintaining modesty may be an uphill challenge for teenagers in an increasing hyper-sexualised world, but by showing our teens we are on their side, we can instil hope that modesty is achievable without compromising their personal style, tastes, and sense of belonging. 

Conversations About Sex Need Not Be So Tough

Research shows that when parents engage their children in topics on sexuality, their children grow to make wiser choices in relationships and sex. To help you overcome your fears in broaching the topic, we have designed a Talk About Sex video series specially for parent and child (aged 7-12) to enjoy, engage with and learn together!

Should I Allow my Child Privacy on Devices?

“I’m really worried about my daughter. I don’t know who she’s talking to, and now she’s even bringing her boyfriend into our house when I’m not at home. I didn’t know giving her privacy on her phone would result in this.”

I could see how distraught Amy was at her 16-year-old daughter Betty’s behaviour over the past few months.

Wanting to offer her sound advice, I turned to Chong Ee Jay, a Family Life Educator with Focus on the Family Singapore.

Balancing a child’s autonomy and his privacy can be a challenge, but here are some helpful guidelines.

If your child is 12 and under 

“The device should be seen as a loan instead of belonging completely to your child. And you should have full view of your child’s usage on the device.”

Ee Jay shares that it is typically not recommended to give kids aged 12 and under a device.

Of course, you might argue that schools these days require the use of technology for education. But your child needs to understand that the device is for the purpose of communication and studies, and not entertainment.

For example, one helpful way is to set up parental controls on the device you give to them, especially for entertainment apps such as games, YouTube, and the Internet browser.

This way, if the child wants to access these apps, they will need to ask you for access.

Ee Jay elaborates, “Access to entertainment apps should be given only with your permission. The device given to your child should be seen as a loan instead of belonging completely to your child. And you should have full view of your child’s usage on the device.”

With your child’s mind still developing, it is critical that we take active efforts to curb device use. “The online space is filled with a mix of good and bad content, and your child does not yet have the maturity and knowledge to keep themselves safe.”

This is reinforced through global guidelines. We see that almost all online activities and platforms do not allow users below 13 to set up an account.

Another way is to learn from the technology entrepreneurs who invented these devices.

In late 2010, Steve Jobs revealed to New York Times journalist Nick Bilton that his children had never used the iPad.

Jobs explained, “We limit how much technology our kids use in the home.”

Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired, enforced strict time limits on every device in his home, and refused to allow his children to use screens in their bedrooms.

But what happens when the child grows older? Are such limits still necessary?

If your child is above 13

Ee Jay explains that in an ideal world, we would hope that a child’s maturity linearly equates to their age and we can therefore give them more autonomy as they grow. But reality is often not as neat and tidy.

“Greater autonomy on devices is given upon considering child’s age and maturity and when they have demonstrated responsible behaviour.”

He encourages parents to consider the first ownership of a device as a rite of passage.

For example, when a child turns 13, a device is often needed for the purpose of communication on school-related matters, especially on WhatsApp. Class chat groups, CCA chat groups, and social connection with peers on social media platforms are typical examples. Personal learning devices are also purchased for use in most schools during Secondary 1.

Treating it as a rite of passage means there needs to be conversations on rules, expectations, and consequences of flouting the rules.

It may be helpful to draft a contract containing these elements:

  1. Rules around phone usage
  2. How often, and when the phone can be used
  3. When the phone cannot be used
  4. Consequences if these rules are broken
  5. Why these rules are set
  6. Privacy

 

“Explaining why is important. We can say, ‘If we wish to access your phone, we will let you know. We do this because we want to ensure your safety.’”

It is not recommended for the child to be given full privacy at the beginning.

Explaining why is important; we can say something as simple as, “We respect your privacy and will not invade your privacy without your knowledge. For example, if we wish to access your phone, we will let you know. We do this because we want to ensure your safety.”

The degree of privacy given is dependent on your child’s maturity and track record of responsible usage.

We should also emphasise that the device is a privilege that can be removed if rules are flouted. 

Engage in regular conversations

When Amy began imposing limits on Betty’s phone usage, such as by refusing to pay for her data plan, Betty struck back with a vengeance. She refused to talk to her mother for days. When Amy asked Betty something, Betty would just stare at her.

Imposing limits didn’t seem to work that easily.

Ee Jay recommends a different approach. He says, “We need to engage in ongoing conversations with them to better understand what is driving their needs for devices and for privacy.

“Do they experience a strong need to connect with their peers online? Are there things that the child is trying to hide from his parents due to its inappropriate nature? Reprimanding or giving a straight “No!” response tends to shut the door for future conversations.”

He recommends 4 simple steps:

  1. Be curious to hear from them
  2. Probe deeper into the issue through asking more questions
  3. Take an empathetic approach to demonstrate that you care for your child’s wellbeing
  4. Seize the opportunity to share with them your concerns too.

Keep building trust

We’ve all heard how important it is to connect with our children. But as parents, it’s often hard to do because we have different commitments to juggle.

Remember that trust is a bank that needs to be deposited slowly through quality time, conversation, and love.

So even as we push our children out to spread their wings, there are times when we need to pull them close by setting limits on how much privacy they can have.

Balancing supervision and autonomy when it comes to devices is tricky. But ultimately, remembering why you do it will make the tension easier to navigate.

For privacy reasons, pseudonyms have been used in this article. 

What a Mum Wants

Introduction

In conjunction with Mother’s Day last year, Focus on the Family Singapore conducted a survey from April 5 to April 24, 2022, to allow mothers to reflect on their motherhood journey. The survey received a total of 311 responses, with more than half of the participating mothers being employed full-time.   

Research Findings

How to Foster Healthy Body Image in Your Child

Primary years (7-9)

Instill Healthy Habits 

For younger children, we serve as the primary influencers through our actions and attitudes.  

At this stage, it’s all about integrating healthy eating and regular physical activity into our family life. This not only helps our children establish beneficial habits but also sends a powerful message about the value placed on our overall well-being.  

We should also steer clear of fad diets and crash programmes, while keeping open conversations about the uniqueness of our body, no matter what size and shape we are.

Tween years (10-12)

Use Language Mindfully 

As we parent our young teens, we must be vigilant about the language we use. Simple comments can have a profound impact on a budding teenager’s self-perception.  

Rather than focusing on appearance, we can shift the emphasis towards character traits and qualities such as resilience, kindness and helpfulness.   

Avoid Sibling or Relative Comparisons  

Each child is unique, and comparisons among siblings or relatives can be detrimental to their self-esteem.  

We should acknowledge and celebrate our children’s individual strengths and qualities. Wherever possible, emphasise that differences in appearance are natural and do not determine a person’s worth.  

By focusing on each child’s unique strengths and gifts, we foster an environment where siblings can support and uplift each other rather than compete based on physical or intellectual attributes.  

Refrain from Weight-Related Comments 

Negative comments about weight, even if well-intentioned, can contribute to low self-esteem and body image issues. Instead of focusing on appearance, keep family discussions around health, balanced lifestyles, and well-being.  

You can encourage healthy eating habits without associating food with weight, by emphasising the importance of nourishing the body through balanced nutrition and regular exercise.  

Teen years (13-15) 

Navigating the journey of teenhood — a period marked by a whirlwind of physical changes and external pressures — can be a complex maze of self-discovery, where a young person’s sense of self is under constant construction.  

Instil Positive Food Habits  

Parents, you play a pivotal role in shaping your child’s relationship with food. Create a positive atmosphere around meals, emphasising the enjoyment of a variety of foods for their taste and nutritional value. Avoid labelling foods as “good” or “bad”, fostering a healthy and balanced approach to eating.  

Introduce your teen to the joy of cooking and involve them in meal planning! This can help cultivate a positive relationship with food that extends well into adulthood. Also, encourage physical activity as a fun and enjoyable aspect of daily life, rather than a means of weight control.  

If you notice red flags like frequent skipping of meals, severe dieting or over-exercising, you may wish to ask your child if he or she has concerns about their weight, or consider seeking professional help. 

Cultivate an Overall Healthy Lifestyle 

Promoting a healthy lifestyle encompasses more than just physical well-being.  

As parents and caregivers, we can set the tone by celebrating achievements that are unrelated to appearance and fostering an environment at home that values self-care and a balanced life! 

Written by Nicole Hong, a Sociology and Psychology Undergraduate 

What Is Sexual Grooming?

Preschool (4-6 years), Primary (7-9 years), Tween (10-12 years) 

Sexual grooming can happen to both boys and girls, online or offline. Most perpetuators are known to the victims, so children might be reluctant to “tell on” someone they are familiar with, especially if it is a person they like or respect.  

This is why it is important to teach them that not everyone they meet or know is a safe person, and it is best to always come to mum or dad whenever they feel confused or have questions. 

We also need to teach them that the covered areas of their bodies are private and should not be shared with anyone, even in the form of a photo or video. Teach them that they have the power to speak up when they feel uncomfortable with any form of physical/virtual contact.    

Statistics on sexual abuse show that shock and surprise often keep victims quiet. To avoid this, role-play possible scenarios, for example, “Let’s say someone chats with you while playing a game, and he asks you to send him a picture of yourself naked, what do you do?”  

You can also equip them with easy-to-remember handles to use, for example using SWAT as a mnemonic device: 

1. Shut Down 

2. Walk Away  

3. Talk to A Safe Adult 

Groomers often use social media, gaming platforms, and other online chat rooms to target young people. Sexual grooming can begin in very subtle ways or disguised as a game. The perpetuator might ask the victim to keep what happened as a secret, because it is part of the game or even use threats to scare the child.  

Groomers may start by simply talking to the child, but they will quickly try to build a closer relationship. They may offer compliments, gifts, or other favours. They may also listen to the child’s problems and offer support. 

To pre-empt this, talk to your child about these common tactics and teach them to raise the red flag if they notice any of these things. On your part, be on the lookout for anyone who is giving special attention to your child.   
 
It is important that you and your child build an open and trusting relationship, grounded in your unconditional love and in your ability to handle whatever is shared with you, for example, by not panicking or becoming upset with them.  

Reinforce that they have done the right thing whenever they come to you with questions or doubts. Your child needs the assurance that you will not fault them or dismiss what they share, but that they can depend on you to support them emotionally and help resolve the situation.   

Teen (13-15 years), Late teens (16-18 years) 

Continue to make yourself a safe place for your children to come to even as they grow into the teenage years 

Even older teens can go into a state of shock when sexual abuse happens. They may passively go along with what’s going on because they do not know what to do, or because of the internal confusion they’re facing. 

If you suspect your teen is going through something because they are suddenly withdrawn, depressed, or fearful of certain places or people, reach out to find out how your child is doing. Let your teen share at their own pace. It may take more than one conversation to get the full story.  

At this stage, some teens may have started romantic relationships, so it is a good time to talk about boundaries within relationships and respectful and consensual physical touch.   
 
Help your teen see that sexual abuse is any unwanted sexual touch or sharing of explicit/naked photographs. Possessing and/or distributing sexual images is considered a crime in Singapore.   

Any sexual activity that happens when one party is unable to give consent—for example, being incapacitated, asleep or drunk—is also sexual abuse.  

Talk about various grooming methods like buying things and paying for your teen over a period of time so that eventually, your teen feels like he or she “owes” the person and has to repay them.  

Coercion can take many forms. It can range from “If you do not do this, I will…” statements to “But everyone is doing this”, or “I really like it if you do this. Can you do it for me?”  

Empower your children to develop and believe in the power of their own voice. Emphasise that they can say “Stop” or “No” at any time and that it is okay to realise they have gone too far or made a mistake and still demand the person to step.  

Help them avoid the trap of thinking that they are in the wrong for being in a situation and thus, have no right to stop. “You can always stop” can be a very powerful belief to instil in them.  

Do approach these conversations holistically, for instance, as you explain upskirt photos and why they are wrong, teach your daughters to be observant when wearing skirts, and your sons to avert their eyes when noticing something inappropriate.  

Part of our children’s growth into adulthood also include experiencing sexual desires. Acknowledge that this is a normal and healthy part of growing up!  
 
Sexual grooming/abuse is a huge topic and one we hope our children will never experience. To safeguard our children, regularly have sex education talks at home and remember to be a calm and loving presence in their lives.   

Conversations About Sex Need Not Be So Tough

Research shows that when parents engage their children in topics on sexuality, their children grow to make wiser choices in relationships and sex. To help you overcome your fears in broaching the topic, we have designed a Talk About Sex video series specially for parent and child (aged 7-12) to enjoy, engage with and learn together!

The Big Deal About K-pop Idols And Hollywood Stars

Did your child beg you for permission to attend the Tomorrow X Together concert, or cry over unsuccessful attempts at getting tickets to Taylor Swift’s only stop in Southeast Asia?

Queueing overnight at the post office for concert tickets. Hours spent “camping” on several devices on the day of concert ticket sales. Buying numerous music albums, merchandise and products endorsed by one’s favourite celebrity.

“What’s the big deal about [insert name of singer/band]?” you may ask.

The extent that people would go—just for a chance to see their favourite celebrities and show support—reveal the depth of emotional investment one has in them. Understandably, you may be concerned about your children getting caught up in chasing stars and singers.

Unhealthy obsession, moral values held by the celebrity in question, body image issues, distraction from studies – all these can be worrying.

But what if having a celebrity to look up to isn’t all that bad? How can we guide our teens to navigate the celebrity craze in a healthy manner?

The bright side

As a young adult who spent her teenage years being invested in Taylor Swift and The Hunger Games franchise, and has developed a deep appreciation and love for Korean entertainment (I happen to stan/be a fan of the best K-pop group ever), I would like to humbly suggest that good can actually come out of these seemingly frivolous pursuits.

These include:

1) Encourage hard work and creativity

For starters, most—if not all—of the  celebrities we know have worked hard to get to where they are, and continue to put in lots of time and effort to do what they love and remain in the game.

K-pop idols don’t become stars overnight. They start off as trainees who are put through gruelling training and intense competition, spending years of their youth going through hours of dance, vocal, acting and even language classes every day. They practise for extended hours to prepare for monthly evaluations, where they get graded and ranked for their performance.

Many audition to be trainees, some undergo training, but only a handful of them debut – and that’s when the real work starts.

Tight and long schedules filled with promotional activities, photo and video shoots, performances, ongoing dance and vocal practices – K-pop idols continue to work hard to make a name for themselves. Part of the process also involves discovering one’s style as they grow as creatives.

Other than K-pop artistes, actors, singers and social media influencers also put in many unseen efforts and hours to be where they are and keep improving.

Seeing the blood, sweat and tears poured into one’s craft can motivate young people to also work hard in the things they do and strive to be better. Some of these celebrities also demonstrate humility and a work ethic worth learning from.

While I am not into acting, singing or dancing (I wish I could dance well), the drive, dedication and discipline of the K-pop groups I love inspire me in my sporting pursuits, motivating me to push hard and to become a better version of myself.

Seeing the blood, sweat and tears poured into one’s craft can motivate young people to also work hard in the things they do and strive to be better.

2) Inspire our own interests and dreams

The talents and passions that celebrities have can inspire young people to try new things like acting, singing and different genres of dance.

I know of many people who picked up dance because of K-pop, realise they have a flair for it and branch out to explore other genres of dance. In particular, one of my friends who used to get bullied in school for being overweight, picked up K-pop choreography out of interest and not only lost weight, but also discovered a hobby that she continues to enjoy as a young adult. This greatly restored her confidence and self-esteem.

Having opportunities to discover interests outside of academics helps teens develop holistically, grow in their self-esteem, and can boost their mental wellbeing. In the process of exploring what one enjoys and/or is good at, young people may also unearth dreams.

Having spent a good deal of my teenage years following British and American YouTube content creators, I developed an interest in producing videos – a skill that I use in my job, and a hobby that brings me joy. Making my own videos has also helped me to appreciate creative content a lot more, and I continue to find ways to improve my skillsets.

Having opportunities to discover interests outside of academics helps teens develop holistically, grow in their self-esteem, and can boost their mental wellbeing.

3) Expose us to other cultures and perspectives

Following celebrities from other countries has given me the chance to learn about other cultures and get a glimpse of what life is like around the world. It has also broadened my outlook on life as I hear perspectives I wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to in my usual social circles. I have grown to appreciate different cultures and my own, develop empathy and a curious mindset when meeting different people.

The thought of your children being exposed to values and perspectives that you may not want them to adopt can be scary. Yet at the same time, we need to recognise that children can’t and won’t always be shielded from external influences.

Allowing room for them to chase celebrities and putting measures in place is a delicate balance that every parent-child pair can navigate through. You can help your teen remain grounded through ongoing open conversations and intentionally passing down values through word and action.

Having a celebrity they look up to can mean a lot to your teen. On our part as caring adults, we can first build a bridge by showing an interest in what they love.

Here are some questions to kickstart conversations with your kids about their favourite actor/singer/band:

1. What do you like about them?

2. What do you know about their life story/band history?

3. What are some of your favourite shows/movies/songs they have created?

4. In what ways do they inspire you? What are some positive traits you can learn from them?

5. Are there any social causes they are passionate about?

6. Are there any values/behaviours you don’t agree with?

Even as a young adult, it gets me excited when my dad shows me news about Blackpink, or when my mum listens to me talk about how pretty and talented they are.

At the same time, I am wary of the dangers and downsides idol-chasing can bring – especially when it is taken to an extreme, such as stealing money to attend a concert, or exhibiting disordered eating behaviours.

As adults, let’s keep the conversation open so we can guide the young and equip them with principles to help them navigate fan culture in a healthy manner.

This article was written by Faith Wong, a gen-Zer who loves gymming, K-pop bands, and coffee. 

Cyberbullying: How can we protect our children?

In today’s digital age, where children are so immersed in technology, the threat of your child experiencing cyberbullying is very real.

Cyberbullying is a form of harassment that occurs online, often targeting children and adolescents through digital platforms, such as social media, messaging apps, and online communities.

Not sure if your child is experiencing cyberbullying? Some signs to look out for include:

  • A sudden change in daily routines and device use habits
  • Deleting of social media accounts
  • Showing strong negative emotions after social media usage or after school
  • Decreased self-esteem, shown through statements like “life is so difficult” or “everything is meaningless”

Encourage your child to share their online experiences, both positive and negative, without fear of judgment.

Here are some proactive steps we can take to protect our children from cyberbullying.

1. Create a safe space for conversation

Encourage your child to share their online experiences, both positive and negative, without fear of judgment. Creating a safe space for conversation allows you to better understand their online interactions and respond effectively when issues arise.

2. Educate and empower

Teach your children about online etiquette, responsible internet usage, and the potential risks associated with sharing personal information. Empower them with the knowledge and skills to recognise and report cyberbullying incidents. Encourage critical thinking and empathy to foster a healthy online community.

3. Set clear boundaries 

Establish guidelines for screen time, app usage, and online friends. Emphasise the importance of privacy settings on social media platforms and the risks of accepting friend requests from strangers. Setting boundaries helps children understand the limits of their online activities and promotes responsible behaviour.

Always be transparent about your monitoring practices.

4. Monitor online activities

While respecting your child’s privacy, consider implementing parental control software and monitoring tools to keep an eye on their online interactions. Regularly review their friend lists, messages, and posts to identify any signs of cyberbullying. However, always be transparent about your monitoring practices.

5. Encourage offline activities

Balance is key, so encourage your child to participate in offline activities like sports, hobbies, and social gatherings. Engaging in fun, non-digital experiences can help reduce the overall time spent online and minimise your child’s exposure to cyberbullying.

6. Teach resilience

Cyberbullying can be emotionally distressing, so one life skill that we should intentionally build in our children is resilience.

Emphasise the importance of not taking hurtful online comments to heart and how to seek emotional support when needed. Teach them to respond to online bullies with a protective phrase like, “So what?” or “They cannot tell me who I am.”

In conclusion, protecting our children from bullying requires a combination of proactive measures, including education, communication, and fostering the life skill of resilience.

By staying involved in our children’s online lives and guiding them through the digital world, we can help create a safer and more positive online environment for our kids, and for many generations to come!