Bullying – Is Punishment The Way To Go?

Bullying refers to the use of strength or power to frighten or hurt weaker people. (Dictionaries, 2023)

I recently came across an account on bullying that took me by surprise. It wasn’t the act of bullying but the way the parents handled it that caught me off-guard. It was the first time I had ever heard of such an approach.

James is a quiet and reserved boy who loves helping those who are in need. When he entered primary school, his friends took advantage of his kindness and started bullying him. He had a classmate who was bigger in size compared to him, and bullied him often. He pushed James around and caused him hurt by pinching him. He also poured water on James out of his own bottle. Fearing that he would be bullied further, James did not dare to raise this to his teacher. Fortunately, because of the close relationship he has with his parents, he shared with them these incidents as soon as he got home every single time.

One would have expected his parents to fly into a rage and even lodge a police report because of the physical harm that was caused, but they did not.

I know that I can approach the school anytime

James’s father had a close relationship with the school because he was part of the parent support group. It gave him the confidence that he could go to the school to ask for assistance on this matter and it would be a better solution than to take matters into his own hands.

James also highlighted to his father that this boy was his classmate after all, and he did not wish to escalate the matter. His father took his advice.

There is wisdom in this approach. Escalating the matter could make things awkward for James to continue to be in the same classroom, because he would not know how to face this friend that his father had lodged a formal complaint against. And it would probably create more stress for James eventually.

Communication and education are better solutions to bullying, rather than punishment.

By punishing we will not learn

Rather than to get the form teacher to punish the boy harshly, James’s father requested for the bully to be counselled and educated on the detrimental effects of bullying. He also reiterated to the teacher that he does not wish for the bully to be punished. He believes that communication and education are better solutions in the long term. He was right.

This father’s story was a breath of fresh air. I realised that he was not only concerned about what his son had gone through, but he was also concerned about what the other boy would learn. He wanted to protect his child, and he also wanted the boy to learn what is right.

Often as parents, we tend to jump into the situation to defend our child. This is the parental instinct to protect our young in times of danger. But James’s father taught me to go one step further, to not only protect my child but also to champion what is right.

Punishing the child will only reiterate that what he did was wrong. It does not solve the root issue that he is going through. It does not equip the child with the right handles to relate to a classmate, to express his emotions in a safe manner. Communicating and educating does. It helps the child process why he acts in a certain manner, and it trains the child to think of how his actions impact others. This will result in real and lasting change.

This sharing has given me a fresh perspective on bullying, and a good one.

Bullying occurs anywhere, but children are a more vulnerable group. Especially younger children in the preschool and lower primary range, who may be unable to defend themselves.

Educating a child about bullying helps them process why they may act in a certain manner, and trains them to think of how his actions impact others.

While discussing this topic with some of my friends who are teachers in a preschool and primary school, they shared with me some very practical handles.

Tacking bullying in young children:

1. Safety first

Get away to a safe place. Do not engage or retaliate because it might result in more injuries. Go to a place where there are adults.

2. Seek help

Find a reliable adult, whether it is a teacher or parent, and seek help. Get them involved so that they can handle the situation. Adults are equipped with the knowledge and ability to deal with these matters in a safe manner.

3. Look out for changes in child’s behaviour

More often than not, young children are not able to articulate the stresses that they are undergoing. However, it shows up in their behaviors such as: Loss of appetite, isolation, emotional instability, overwhelming fear etc. These are major signs that your child may be going through something in school.

4. Get the full picture

Children do not have an accurate concept of time, and they also are not able to remember entirely what had happened. It is best to speak with their teachers to find out what exactly happened before deciding the best course of action. Relying on their words alone may not be helpful.

5. Work towards a win-win situation

Work together with the teacher for a win-win situation. It is not only important to protect the child, but also to ensure that there is a real and lasting change.

Bullying has to be corrected, not just prevented.

For privacy reasons, pseudonyms were used in this article.

Why Did My Parents Separate?

Primary years (7-9 years)

The separation or dissolution of a parent’s marriage can be devastating for children of any age. As children at this young age may not fully understand the complexities of human relationships and why their parents cannot stay married, keep your explanations simple. Focus on providing as much security, stability and assurance that they will continue to be loved and cared for by both parents, where possible.

Younger children may find it hard to process and describe their feelings at the onset of the news. But as they adjust to the changes or when they start seeing less of one parent, a mixture of sadness, fear, or anxiety may set in.

They may ask questions about how their parents’ separation will impact them and their daily routines. These include, “Who will I be staying with?”, “Will I still see my other parent regularly?”, “Will my parents get back together?”.

Some children may even wonder if they did something wrong or were the cause of the separation. Assure them that they are not the cause.

Reiterate that while there are going to be changes to the family and living arrangements, nothing will change your love for them, and they will continue to be loved and cared for. It is important not to badmouth your partner in front of your child, as this may add to the feelings of conflict and confusion.

Tween years (10-12 years)

Older children may experience a sense of loss with their parents separating and have a negative view of themselves compared to their peers. They may also feel anger, sadness or even resentment toward their parents for the breakdown in their marriage and family life.

Look out for any unusual behavioural changes as tweens may act out due to their difficult emotions, particularly if they find it hard to express their feelings with their parents. They may become withdrawn or develop attention-seeking behaviours due to the fear of being abandoned or neglected.

Some preteens may even vent the anger they feel on their siblings; bullying them, shouting at them or directing their frustration at them.

Instead of trying to make them accept the change and move on, take time to listen to check in on how they’re doing. Ask them to share their feelings, even if these are negative and you instinctively want to shut them down. Validate their feelings by saying, “I can see that you are upset/scared/angry. Can you tell me more?” This helps your child feel seen and heard and let’s them know that they can come to you with any of their difficult feelings.

Teen years (13-15 years)

Parents may assume that teenagers have greater mental capacity to deal with the adjustments now that they are older. However, this depends on the maturity of your child. If teens have heard their parents argue or seen one parent staying out a lot more, chances are they’ve picked up on what is happening.

Even when a separation or divorce is amicable, it’s natural for your teenagers to grieve the loss of their family. Give them space for their reactions or non-reactions, and time to process their feelings.

The pain from their parents’ separation can sometimes impact their identity, self-esteem, and future relationships. Remember that in this teenage stage, there are many changes taking place in their life, emotionally and mentally as well. This makes open and honest communication even more crucial in the time surrounding a divorce. Make sure your teen understands that they can come to you to talk about anything.

To maintain stability in their lives, it’s crucial to surround your teens with other nurturing relationships. Be intentional about building a supportive community around them, such as with their grandparents, extended family members like uncles and aunties, cousins or others trusted adults in their life, like a teacher, counsellor or coach.

Be patient even if your child seems like they are pushing you away. Open and honest communication reduces the chance of deep emotional problems festering beneath the surface.

Coping with divorce is hard at any age and children especially can have a more challenging time. If you are considering divorce, do consider how it can potentially impact your children and take time to help your children navigate the complex emotions surrounding divorce. If you are seeking counselling help, look no further.

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!

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What Teens Really Want From Their Parents

Adolescence, with its associated issues and angst, has baffled parents from generation to generation. You can almost hear them asking: What exactly does my teen want, and how do I maintain my relationship with them?

Recently 4 teens went on CNA938 to share with Susan Ng what teens really want from their parents, and how parents can bridge the communication gap with them.

‘More independence and space to make mistakes please’

Most teens want independence, but what does this look like?

17-year-old Nicole recalled adapting to a very different environment and culture when she started her polytechnic studies. “I think initially, you really want to be your own person and just do whatever you want without your parents controlling.”

At 14, Zoe felt that life now is “in an awkward zone when you’re expected to behave like an adult but you’re treated like a kid.”

While she craves independence to juggle her different responsibilities, it does not mean she wants to be left completely alone.

She confessed, “It’s not like I have my whole life figured out. I definitely need my parents’ help because they have gone through so many experiences, and made so many mistakes and learnt from them.”

That said, Zoe thinks parents can give teens some space in areas where they are more aware of what they are doing.

“I think they can have some freedom to actually make their own decisions as we all have to go through certain experiences to learn. If we make a mistake, we’ll learn not to do it again,” she added.

While she craves independence, it does not mean she wants to be left completely alone.

Okay, we get it. Teens just want more independence and space. But often parents want to know that their teens are safe, and be informed of what they’re doing or who they’re hanging out with.

Parents want to keep the communication lines open but at times it seems like the teen is retreating and distant.

So how do we begin to bridge the gap?

1. Start slow with us

Inspired by a Pinterest post, Zoe shared this quote with those tuned in, “Don’t discourage your children just because they are making a change.”

If your teen has grown distant, and one day he or she starts to open up to you, don’t respond with sarcastic remarks like, “Oh, you’re finally telling me all this” or “Wow, you’ve come out of your cave”. Offer a listening ear and empathetic comments like, “Oh, that sounds tough” or “I think you gave your best”.

For Nicole, what works for her is to open up the conversation during meal-time. She mused, “As a family, we treasure our dinners very much because that’s when we can have ‘together time’ and have those conversations that are important to us.”

Another 14-year-old, Jillian, also suggests starting slow. Make small conversations often, beginning with questions that are safe and neutral, such as “How’s your day?” or “What have you been working on at school lately?”

Don’t discourage your children just because they are making a change.

2. Let us know you’ll be there for us

Even when our teens seem distant and quiet, they like to know that somebody is looking out for them and will always be there if they need help.

Zoe confided, “I might not want to share what’s bothering me, maybe I’m not ready yet. But it feels good to know that my parents are there for me. It’s like an assurance that I’m not alone in this problem.”

For Jillian, knowing her parents are available to talk about her worries at the end of the day is very comforting. Decompressing together makes her feel safe in their relationship. Such moments help build the emotional connection between parent and teen.

“Even though my parents may not have gone through the exact same thing, they can still relate to what’s going on.”

Sometimes it gets overwhelming, and we really don’t need you to shoot us down. We only hope that you’ll try to understand our struggles.

3. Empathise and don’t judge

When our teens approach us with a problem, it’s vital that we listen first, withholding judgement or reacting quickly and emotionally.

Zoe shared, “Accept us for our problems and flaws, and don’t underestimate the issue just because we are kids. As teenagers, life can feel pretty crazy, with homework, sports training and other responsibilities.

“Sometimes it gets overwhelming, and we really don’t need you to shoot us down. We only hope that you’ll try to understand our struggles and points of view.”

4. Tell us we are loved

It can be hard to express love to a teen, what with their sometimes erratic and difficult-to-read behaviour. But it doesn’t mean we stop trying to say “I love you”.

16-year-old Sean said, “Sometimes friendships don’t go well, and school is stressful. At times, I feel that there’s nobody here for me. Then I remember that, oh yeah my parents are always there for me. They always tell me they love me, so okay I’m not alone.”

For Zoe, that feeling of being loved in spite of her mistakes and blunders is hard to describe. The assurance of her parents’ love reminds her that they trust and believe in her, and it can carry her through some of the hard days.

So parents, don’t hold back the “I love you” even if it seems awkward. Look for opportunities to keep that door of communication open, and to find ways to express your love and admiration for your teen.

Connection with our teenagers is established with a million little steps, and we only fail when we stop trying.

© 2019 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.

Surviving the Teenage Transition

“I don’t know what to do with him! He used to be my little boy, and he would come to my room every day to tell me what he does in school. Nowadays he doesn’t even want to eat dinner with us. It’s the phone. He takes the phone and goes into the room and closes the door. I don’t know if my son is even the same person anymore!”

When she came to my counselling room, Mrs Chan* was an emotional wreck. She talked non-stop about how her 14-year-old son Jeremy* spent hours on end playing Internet games. And it affected him so much that all his grades suffered.

Jeremy no longer had a desire to do anything other than play games, and even when the family went on a recent trip to Australia, he was on the phone for most of their car journeys, and even bugged them to return to the hotel room early so he could get back to his games.

On the surface, Jeremy’s issues centre around gaming addiction. And I have referred him to a centre known for their work in this area. However, there are also deeper issues that stem from his parents’ lack of understanding on how to manage their children as they negotiate the difficult transition from being a tween to a teen.

Human development theorist Erik Erikson identified 8 stages of psychosocial development that all individuals go through. The 4th Stage, “Industry vs. Inferiority”, occurs during childhood (from 5 to 12 years old). During this stage, children begin to do things on their own and their peer group starts to gain greater significance.

As children move into the 5th Stage between the ages of 12 to 18 – Erikson described it as a tension between “Identity vs. Role Confusion” – they become more independent, and begin to look at the future in areas such as relationships with families and friends.

There are also deeper issues that stem from his parents’ lack of understanding on how to manage their children.

This is a crucial stage where the child learns the roles he will occupy as an adult. There is a heavy emphasis on identity and on discovering exactly who he or she is. Successful development leads to a strong sense of identity, while inadequacies result in a poor self-image and role confusion.

To help children manage this difficult transition between stages 4 and 5, parents need to support their child in negotiating the complex issues of peer influence, relationships and identity.

1. Help Them Manage Peer Influence

Friends are a major influence on a child’s life. And the process apparently starts during the pre-school years. I happened to be outside a childcare centre one evening after they had organised a Christmas party. I observed a girl who was dressed in a lovely princess dress. As the child was picked up by her father, one of the other mothers made a comment, “Quite pretty. But I think my girl’s dress is nicer.” It dawned on me then that sometimes the competition between children stems from their parents.

Some years back, my niece told me that she was the only one in her Primary 2 class without a handphone. She was in a top school, and it seemed like everyone in her class had the latest phone. But her parents refused to give her a phone. Though her classmates had made fun of her then, my niece refused to bow to peer pressure. I think it’s because she understood the reasons why her parents did not want her to bring a phone to school.

When our children understand the purpose behind us making certain decisions, and imbibe the underlying values, they are in a better position to stand up against peer pressure.

2. Model Healthy Relationships

Like peer pressure, a child’s notions of relationship are largely formed when they interact with their friends in pre-school and in primary school. Sometimes, an unintended consequence of adult teasing is that children begin to believe that boys and girls cannot be good friends without the presence of romance and love.

Children also form an understanding of these concepts from the media and entertainment they consume, where there tends to be an over-emphasis on the physicality of the relationship. In addition, the media does not present a full picture of love, and often fail to accurately depict conflict and conflict resolution.

It is therefore imperative for us to address these gaps; the best way to do this is to model what relationships are about through our day-to-day interactions. For example, we tell our kids that Daddy and Mummy love each other very much. But there are times when we don’t agree on things, and may quarrel with each other. However, at the end of the day, we choose to talk to each other about how we feel, and try to come to a common understanding on what to do about the problem.

3. Give Them Space to Express Their Identity

Identity formation is one of the most important struggles of a teenager. Most of the parent-child battles that occur in the tween-to-teen years arise from this struggle to understand, and express, who they are. This is characterised in terms of their physical appearance, emotional and spiritual preferences, as well as their expected role and place in society. Pop singer Britney Spears said it best in her song “I’m not a girl, not yet a woman.” While I’m not a Britney Spears fan, I feel that sentence encapsulates what a tween/teen is going through.

To help children in their quest of self-discovery, we can practice the concept of “loving boundaries”. As adults, we have to set the boundaries of the exploratory process. How far would you allow your child to go in the process of finding himself or herself? It would not be wise if there are no limits, and the child ends up wandering off a cliff in the search for his or her identity.

Identity formation is one of the most important struggles of a teenager.

At the same time, we also need to provide warmth, a listening ear, and a touch of love. When the child is young, a strict parenting style might be effective in terms of achieving compliance. However, as the child approaches adolescence, a more measured response is preferable. We may find that a more collaborative approach in the way we communicate with our kids, rather than barking out instructions, more effective in the long run.

Be honest with your children about the difficulties that you are going through but only provide them with age-appropriate information.

4. Support Their Decisions

As our children grow up, they begin to make more and more important choices that will affect their future. As parents, we can empower our kids in their decision-making. On one hand, we want them to be independent to make their own decisions. Yet on the other hand, we want them to make the “right” choices. Sometimes these two paths do not cross, so we need to be at peace with whatever choices that our children make, even when they may not appear to be the best.

A collaborative approach in the way we communicate with our kids, rather than barking out instructions, is more effective in the long run.

There will be ups and downs in this journey as your child grows and enters adulthood, but remembering that you’re on the same team will help your relationship to thrive. Here are some tips you can practice today!

  • Don’t take rejection personally. Understand that they’re going through challenges of their own.
  • Do less talking and more listening.
  • Assure them you are there when they need to talk.
  • Schedule regular one-on-one dates, whether it’s for a walk, or for coffee.
  • If limits need to be set, broach the subject when you’re both calm and are not in a rush. Brainstorm together for solutions, rather than directing. Communicate your concerns and feelings about the issue at hand.
  • Give your teen room to grow and make mistakes.

* Names have been changed to protect clients’ privacy.

Mark Lim is Consultant & Counsellor at The Social Factor, a consultancy and counselling agency which conducts training on life skills such as parenting, mentoring and special needs. He and his wife Sue co-write a parenting blog Parenting on Purpose, where they chronicle the life lessons from parenting two young boys aged 9 and 7.

How to Understand Your Teenager Better

Teenagehood – that awkward and angry phase of development that we’ve come to view with trepidation and confusion, but did you know that adolescence is marked by three different stages? I read about this concept, and I saw it happen in my children. In fact, my three teens are roughly at each of the three stages now.

Early adolescence

My youngest, who is turning 13 soon, is in the early adolescence stage – he is still emotionally attached and dependent on us. However, he experiences sudden outbursts of anger and frustration, and is often short-fused.

During such times, the best thing I can do is to stay calm and tell him we will only continue the conversation when he is calm. I don’t always succeed so sometimes we end up quarreling.

However, when we’re both calm, he would apologise because he knows that he was being unreasonable. He has explained his behaviour by saying, “I don’t know why I am like that. I don’t know what is happening.” I apologise often too, because he is sensitive and easily hurt. His logic of how I offended him is often difficult to understand but his feelings of hurt are real.

It isn’t always easy but I try to shower him with loads of affection even as I continue to help him to cope with his schoolwork and life in general.

I did not have such wisdom and maturity when my first two sons went through adolescence. I was often very hurt and angry with them. I practically trashed my relationships with them. Things only started to turn around when I realised that unless I changed (because they sure were not going to), I was going to lose my sons.

Things only started to turn around when I realised that unless I changed (because they sure were not going to), I was going to lose my sons.


Mid-adolescence is typically characterised by more frequent conflicts and tension between parents and teens. But it’s not just the teen who is at fault. While teenagers may have their angst, we have our fair share too. One of the reasons I think that teenagers are difficult to deal with is that they become disappointed with their parents and act out in disrespect and anger.

One of my sons often said I was a hypocrite and sneered at my declarations of love. I had to wrestle with those words – first to accept that he was right, and then to come to terms with the fact that I would never reach the standard of perfection he expected of me and for which he used to adore me for. I mourned the loss of his devotion and thinking back, it took me more than 3 years to grow out of that angst.

The words of author Paul Tripp, “His selfishness hooks my selfishness,” capture the experience of mid-adolescence well. The teen is as selfish and self-centered as he was when he was a toddler. However, the expectations of the parent are now higher.

On my part, I expect him to consider my needs now because I think he can. But to him, he is not ready to do so and sees his mother’s love as conditional.

Do I choose not to love him because he brings me little comfort, pride or joy? If my son does not possess a single redeeming quality, would I still love him? Interacting with this teenager reveals to me the limits of my love. His selfishness has hooked mine.

If I could turn back the clock, I would have been less exacting on my demands on him and given him the benefit of the doubt – that he was trying his best, no matter whether his best was good enough for me or not. If I had done that, my relationship with him would have been stronger.

If I could turn back the clock, I would have been less exacting on my demands on him and given him the benefit of the doubt. If I had done that, my relationship with him would have been stronger.

Late adolescence

Late adolescence is an enjoyable phase as our teens start to be more aware of the impact of their actions on others and vice versa. I recall how one son recently explained to his brother about how I could get a heart attack from hypertension. Another son also told me how he would ensure he knows the lyrics of the songs (including songs in a foreign language) he listens to.

Now that I am seeing my older children move into late adolescence and adulthood, I realise that many of the anxieties I felt in the past were unnecessary. Someone said this – teenagers nowadays are not much different from those in the past; they still respond to love.

Now that I am seeing my older children move into late adolescence and adulthood, I realise that many of the anxieties I felt in the past were unnecessary. Teenagers nowadays are not much different from those in the past; they still respond to love.

The way they spend their time is very different, but if you are genuinely interested in them, they will respond to you. I saw this happen just recently. My son was on his phone, but a young adult came up to him to chat. She is a youth leader in church who has known him for 3 years. She started talking to him and asking questions, and he quickly kept his phone to talk to her. We did not have to remind, nag or threaten him. He did it on his own accord.

Two lessons I’ve learnt

As our children get older, we need to start relating to them as friends. While we do not abdicate our role as parents, we need to also become people whom our children will choose as their friends.

As parents, we have the greatest advantage as we know their interests and personalities. I may not know as much as my sons about politics or military equipment, neither can I keep up with their computer games, but I can be a good listener.

I find that my children can happily talk to me for a long time about their areas of interest without me actually understanding much, so long as I stay interested.

When they become teenagers, they need their own space and freedom to try out life. That should be celebrated because they will not learn wisdom and discernment otherwise.

The second thing I’ve learnt is that I need to cultivate my own interest and circle of friends. Children take up a lot of our time and energy, and they give us a joy and comfort. However, when they become teenagers, they need their own space and freedom to try out life. That should be celebrated because they will not learn wisdom and discernment otherwise.

However, this means we suddenly have excess time and energy for ourselves. This may seem like a good thing at first but it can be hard to deal with the emotional void that used to be filled by our children.

When I have my own pursuits and friends, I am firstly emotionally fulfilled and more able to deal with their angst, and secondly, more interesting to be with when we spend time together. I have something to share with them – my life, my friends, my passion and my dreams. I no longer need to live through them, nor need them to fulfil my dreams.

I always remind myself that while I chose to have children, they did not choose to have me as their parent. While they might be alive because of me, I do not ultimately own them. I cannot demand devotion from them just because I choose to give them my love.

My job as a parent is to help them to be successful and at peace with their chosen path. While I pray that they will grow up sharing my values and be counted among my soul-mates, I can only do my best and leave the outcome to God. I am content now to just treasure every moment I have left with them.

Think about:

© 2019 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.

How to Help Your Teens Cope with Bad News

The news of the tragic incident at River Valley High School (CNA, 19 Jul) brought shock and caused concern to many of us this Monday afternoon. Reading the messages that were sent through my various parent chat groups, I could hardly believe what I was seeing.

“Is this real,” I wondered to myself, as I allowed the weight of the news to sink into my heart. The parties involved are merely teens, youth who belong to families of their own. “What could have possibly gone wrong?”

When tragedy strikes close to home, it is often difficult to detach from the event. We cannot wave this off as something that happened in another part of the world. If as adults, we struggle to deal with bad news, what more for our teens?

Perhaps the only way to cope with this is to walk through it with them.

How to talk about tragedy with your teen

The unfortunate incident happened at an IP (Integrated Programme) school, meaning the children most closely involved in the case or who witnessed/heard about it are aged from 12 to 18 years.

Although some details of the case have not been brought to light yet, we can already start thinking about how we can help our teens process the news. Here, we will need to first consider the different personalities of our teens.

You may be able to identify your child among the following personality types:

  • Doers want to protest or create new laws or programmes.
  • Talkers want ongoing discussions about what happened and the possible core issues.
  • Thinkers process what they know about the tragedy and may form deep thoughts about solutions. This personality tends to be a bit more pessimistic and may make negative comments about the overall trustworthiness of people. You may want to give your thinker some space before approaching them.
  • Peacemakers would love for everyone to get along. They could usually empathise with everyone involved and would avoid conflict and opinionated discussions.

Help your teen understand his/her own personality and how it affects the way he/she processes information. You can also encourage him/her not to rush to a conclusion, and to be open to other points of view.

What can parents of teens say/do?

Kids, especially teens, want to know what to do in response to a tragedy. As parents, we will do well to connect with them at the heart level and coach them to:

Practice discernment together

We live in a culture that thrives on disseminating information quickly. While speed is of the essence when it comes to news, how do we really tell that what we are sharing on WhatsApp or Telegram is indeed true and factual?

We often think it’s just a message and it’s just a small group of people we’re sending it to, but it could end up muddying the facts or worse, hurting the people who are closely connected to the case.

How can we better discern the facts before spreading them?

Look at the events through your child’s eyes

Each child filters news differently according to his or her personality. Kids with more inhibited or anxious personalities may stay focused on worrying while others move toward thoughts of action or fixing. Taking time to understand how each child processes the news will help you craft your approach.

If you have an anxious child under your wing, it may help to give them the space to air their feelings and worries. Or even to write them down in a journal.

Encourage honesty

Encourage your child to be honest with his emotions. It can help to use simple analogies to present the importance of facing our feelings. Take for example a wound. A wound needs to be cleaned and exposed to air (even through a bandage) to heal. It can be painful to clean a fresh wound, but doing so allows it to get better.

A child may develop behaviours that numb their fears or hurts. Social withdrawal, passivity, aggressiveness, rebellion or busyness may be used to push the negative feelings away but they may never be fully resolved.

Pause and listen

Let your child ask questions. Put aside your own world to enter his as he tries to process information. If he feels anxious, reassure him. Don’t brush aside their emotions. Instead, help them identify it and manage it. If we dismiss their emotions, we lose a precious teaching moment.

Practice empathy

Developing empathy helps our kids grow up and expands their world. It’s part of understanding that our own selves and our families are not the centre of the world but there’s a bigger world outside of our home and many people live in different circumstances.

Ask questions like:

  • How do you think they may feel?
  • Is there anything we could do to help?

Such questions help our children learn to feel empathy for those involved in the tragedy, and also think of solutions and to play their part in the larger good.

As parents, we are human beings too—we grapple with the same difficult emotions that our children feel. Instead of thinking we need to have all the answers to the most difficult questions in the world, or that we need to have the solutions, perhaps we just need to be present with them in their time of need and confusion. And face up to our worries and fears together.

Adapted from How to Help Your Kids Process Tragic News by Danny Huerta © 2018 All rights reserved. Used with permission from Focus on the Family.

Dads Need Other Dads to Grow in Their Parenting Journey


Our third Survey for Dads was conducted from 04 May – 31 May 2022 through the databases and social media channels of Focus on the Family Singapore. A total of 269 fathers responded.   

This year’s survey focused on understanding dads’ self-efficacy in parenting, and uncovering the importance of “dad-friends” in supporting a dad’s journey of fatherhood.

Research Findings

Is It Possible to Change a Person’s Sex?

Tween & teen years

No. A person’s sex cannot be changed. Biological sex is determined at conception (genotype) and during the baby’s development in the womb (phenotype). 

Sex differences are expressed in many bodily systems and organs, not just what can be seen and observed by the human eye. While it is possible to change many areas of our lives, such as our dressing, hobbies, diet, or friends, it is not possible to change one’s biological sex. 

It is possible, however, to change a person’s outward appearance.  

Some people may use clothing, accessories and make-up to modify how they look. For example, a female might bind her chest in order to reduce breast visibility. However, it is also important to note that chest-binding is associated with negative symptoms such as rib pain or musculoskeletal symptoms (Jarrett et al., 2018).  

Others may take sex hormones (oestrogen and testosterone) or turn to cosmetic surgery to further alter their appearance. These actions are taken as part of a process known as “medical transitioning”, but they do not change a person’s underlying biological sex. 

Emerging years

What about gender dysphoria? 

The word “dysphoria” is a clinical term for a sense of unease or distress when one experiences a mismatch between their gender identity and biological sex.  

There are three types of gender dysphoria: 

Early onset gender dysphoria typically begins in early childhood, usually between the ages of 2 and 4. According to Psychology Today, only a small number of children with gender dysphoria will continue to experience symptoms in later adolescence or adulthood.  

Late onset gender dysphoria first appears in early to mid-adulthood. Persons who experience late onset gender dysphoria are almost exclusively male. This may simply involve experiencing sexual arousal through dressing as a woman, but it can also involve medical transitioning and living as a female. 

Rapid onset gender dysphoria, an increasing social phenomenon, affects adolescents who have identified with their own biological sex for years, then decide they want to change genders and sometimes alter their bodies.  

This developmental problem, which seems to predominantly affect adolescent females, is said to be associated with social influences such as:  

  • Social media influencers embracing and celebrating the idea of gender fluidity. 
  • Peers embracing transgender behaviour as popular and as an avenue for social celebration. 

If you suspect your child may be experiencing gender dysphoria, it is important to acknowledge their struggles and to seek therapeutic help. Approach them from a posture of listening, gentleness and patience.  

Be present with them when they are willing to share and be open about their thoughts and experiences, while also remembering that loving your child need not mean you have to affirm and agree with everything they do. 

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!

Why is Porn So Readily Accessible?

Why is Porn So Readily Accessible? 

In a previous article where we explored “Why is porn so addictive?, the pervasiveness of porn came up as a contributing factor because of how easily accessible they have become today. A quick look at the figures published by a cybersecurity company underscores the extent of this accessibility: 

Every Second: 

  • 28,258 users are watching pornography on the internet. 
  • $3,075.64 is being spent on pornography on the internet. 

In this follow-up piece, we will explore “Why is porn so easily accessible?” by taking a deep dive into the forces that drive the proliferation of porn, and offer a few practical handles for kids in dealing with such exposure. 

The ubiquity of technology and devices 

There is no doubt that technology has greatly changed the way we live. For example, we certainly enjoy numerous conveniences and entertainment the Internet brings us – ordering our favourite dinner and embarking on a professional development course are now just a few clicks away. Lockdowns and quarantines during Covid years have only deepened the intensity and accelerated the rate of our digital connection. However, the flip side of having such a high connectivity, also means that it is probably easier to access sexually explicit materials than to avoid them.  

In the early 2000s, porn used to be contained in age-restricted print materials and subscription-based platforms. It was a service only paying customers could access. This was the chief revenue model for the porn industry, until video-streaming platforms started to revolutionise the way we consume information and entertainment.  

Inspired by YouTube’s success, the porn industry was swift in adapting to streaming platforms that were not only free for any user to access, but also offered better means of generating revenue for companies. 

Given how much of our lives both at home and at work now relies on staying connected, it would be unimaginable for one to be without a device. Yet, we often forget the tremendous power of connectivity this small device yields. A double-edged sword hidden in pockets, our devices have opened us up to the very best technology has to offer, while proving to be equally, if not more, dangerous, at the same time.  

Under Singapore Law, it is illegal for an individual to keep, possess, or download porn. Although IMDA has banned approximately 100 websites as a token gesture of disapproval, it is not illegal to watch or stream pornographic content online. That means any child with a connected device will still be able to easily access or stumble upon porn at the click of a button, in the absence of rigorous parental controls. 

A profit-driven entity at its finest 

Revenue estimates for the porn industry vary widely, and understandably so. Not only is it impossible to obtain accurate figures from privately-held porn companies, it is also challenging to account for the entire porn industry. For instance, the membership platform, “OnlyFans”, has become synonymous with porn even though it was originally meant for creators to directly monetise their content, adult or not.  

The steady rise of individual porn creators through such membership platforms further complicates the effort to obtain an accurate estimate to how much the industry is really worth. Nonetheless, several estimates clearly put it as a multi-billion-dollar industry.  

To understand how the rest of the porn industry continues to generate revenue despite offering free-to-stream videos, we need to first understand how porn advertising works. They do not work the same way as advertising for a handbag or a pair of shoes.  

Since porn companies are blocked from advertising on traditional media outlets, they have only other porn companies to turn to, for their advertising. For perspective, Pornhub’s annual report revealed a staggering 42 billion visitors in 2019 alone, reflecting a very robust base of potential consumers that could be funnelled through advertising into another paid porn site. In other words, Pornhub receives lucrative advertising fees in return for offering free-to-stream videos.  

Apart from advertising dollars, porn companies are also able to monetise user data and profiling that they capture from their online visitors. For these reasons, porn companies are motivated and invested to continue offering free content that generates the highest possible viewership, because every click on their website translates to dollars and cents.  

Practical handles for when your child is exposed to porn 

In the effort to safeguard our children, some of us turn to parental control apps on their devices. However, even the best app will fail, as Google search engine reminds us that there are always creative ways to bypass restrictions.  

If there is one thing parental control apps are good for, it is buying us time for building up a more reliable “internal filter” in our children, and time for teaching them practical handles to deal with exposure to porn.  

A few practical handles include (when speaking directly to your child):  

  1. Look away immediately – Close the laptop or put down the device and walk away immediately. Resist the urge to linger or dwell on the image/video.


  2. Look to daddy or mommy – Seek out daddy or mommy in person, or if not possible, reach out to one of us as soon as possible via a phone call. You are not in trouble for being exposed to porn, you can always approach us. 


  3. Share what you saw – Let us know what you saw, how the images made you feel, and if you have any questions. We will journey through this together.  

Porn may be more accessible than ever, but as parents, we have greater influence when we ensure that our presence and guidance are even more accessible in our children’s lives.  

© 2023 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.

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!