How to Nurture Your Youth to be a Confident Young Adult

We all want our children to grow to become responsible, competent, and confident adults. 

But what exactly does that look like, and how do we get there? 

Adulting is a term that’s been bantered around rather frequently now and is used by young adults to describe their new roles and experiences. Often, this is done with humour and tagged onto chores you have to pick up, new financial commitments and so on.  

But more than these things, young adulthood is also about stepping up – stepping into bigger responsibilities, wider social circles and navigating what the big (and sometimes scary) world means for you as an individual.  

Focus on the Family Singapore spoke with two young adults, Nicole Soh, 20, and Jakin Tan, 21, recently on IG Live, on this topic. Here, they share from a young adult’s perspective what adulting looks like, and some tips on how you can set your teen up for success in navigating this life transition and beyond. 

Tip #1: Create a safe space for conversations 

As Nicole is graduating very soon from polytechnic, for her, adulting for her means making a lot of big decisions about school and career. 

She recalled the time when she had to help her dad see the merits of a polytechnic education. Prior to this decision, she felt that conversations with her dad revolved mostly around grades. But as she became more intentional about engaging him in other matters, she found him gradually becoming more open about her pursuing a polytechnic education. Today, she appreciates that she has a safe space to discuss with her parents about the things she learns in school and other happenings around them. 

As for mum, Nicole is most appreciative of how she would ask probing questions as she was growing up, questions that would help her to form her own opinions on things, and to have greater clarity on why she wants to make certain choices. 

She said, “Dad and mum played different roles in my growing up years. I appreciate that they are able to bring very unique approaches to the table. And that they are willing to discuss things, and go back and forth with me.” 

Tip #2: Give them opportunities to make decisions 

Jakin is currently waiting to start his university studies in linguistics. But he still remembers vividly how his parents empowered him from young to make his own choices and weighing the pros and cons of each option. (He even kept the notebook he wrote in when deciding on whether to opt for homeschooling or formal schooling!) 

He credits his parents for instilling in him a strong sense of independence, and thinks it has helped him to be able to make his own choices, including understanding the “whys” that go into each decision. 

Tip #3: Let go, gradually 

Jakin described the process of letting go he witnessed in his parents when his elder brother started university, “Because my elder brother is living in a university hall and only comes back on weekends, so a lot of the time he’s living his own life. So I’ve seen my parents be able to chill, and recognise that they have no control over the choices he makes in school. All they can do is just trust that their parenting has been good enough.” 

“Now it’s my turn. When I make my own choices, I will have certain reasons, and if I explain it to them, they will let me do what I think is best for myself.” 

Nicole chimed in, “If you have younger teens aged 13-14, like just starting secondary school, not only do they have the world to explore, but there are also the dangers of the world. So, it’s totally valid and understandable to be a helicopter parent, to make sure the child is safe.” 

“So, on one hand, there are some things parents cannot be there 24/7. On the other hand, there are also instances where the kid wants to hang on for a little bit longer. I think when we have the foundation, we won’t be easily swayed and we know we can always come home to our family, where it’s a safe space.” 

“As parents, it’s natural to worry,” Jakin added, “but instead of telling your child not to do this or that, just educate them on what’s good and bad. Your kid will find out anyway, whether it’s about porn or sex, so it’s better to guide them as it will teach them how to make logical decisions.”  

Very often, parents may feel guilty for not doing enough. But very often, we already feel very loved when you’re just sitting there beside us, listening to us share about our day.

Tip #4: Sit beside them and listen     

It doesn’t mean that parents always have to do the hard work of education or encouraging our teens. Most of the time, our quiet presence is enough. 

As Nicole said, “Very often, parents may feel guilty for not doing enough. But very often, we already feel very loved when you’re just sitting there beside us, listening to us share about our day.”  

As parents, it can be hard to restrain ourselves from jumping in and making big decisions for our children, so we can “save” them from making mistakes. But if we look at the longer term, we may begin to see the benefit of allowing them some leeway as they grow to make certain choices and to raise their own viewpoints. 

By providing a safe space for conversations and heartfelt sharing to take place in the home, we are actually helping them gain a strong sense of self and identity, promoting confidence and responsibility, while also building a healthy parent-child relationship.  

© 2022 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved. 

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!

Playing to My Strengths As A Father

In today’s world, fathers are increasingly expected to play equal roles with mothers in terms of hands-on care. However, many of us grew up in an age where fathers played more traditional roles, leaving childcare mostly to the mothers. Lacking in role models from their own lives, some fathers may find it intimidating to bond with or care for their little ones, or even struggle to juggle both traditional and modern expectations of fathers.  

As a father to two young children, I too have felt inadequate. I often compared myself with mummy, who seems to tackle modern motherhood effortlessly, whether it was bringing home the bacon, cooking, cleaning, or caring for the children. Her list seems infinitely longer than mine! 

Though self-doubt continues to be a struggle, I have come a long way in building my confidence as a father. A time of personal reflection, as well as regular affirmation from my wife, has led me to realise that as a father, I play a unique and irreplaceable role in the family.  

Here are some ways I have learnt to step up in my role as a father.   

Parents each have unique interests and personalities that can contributed to enriching our children’s development.

1. Leverage one’s unique personality and interests  

While it is good for parents to recognise our weaknesses and build on them, it should not blind us to our existing strengths. My wife and I have unique interests and personalities that have contributed to enriching our children’s development.  

In terms of interests, my wife exposes the children to arts and crafts, cooking, and applies her experiences as an educator to help them learn subjects such as English. As for myself, I bring my sense of humour and creativity to playtime and storytelling, expose my children to mechanical and open-ended styles of play through toys such as Lego and Transformers, and introduce them to other interests like coffee-making. 

Personality-wise, my wife brings more energy and spontaneity, and a sense of adventure to our outings together while I bring a tender love and warmth to our relationships, which creates an atmosphere of safety and acceptance in the home.  

Avoid unhealthy comparisons with other parents, and zero in on each other’s strengths and contributions to the family.

2. Recognise that we contribute to the family differently

It is human nature to compare ourselves to others, especially in terms of performance and ability. While this can sometimes serve as a benchmark for growth, such comparisons can become toxic when we cling too tightly to unrealistic standards.  

Rather than compete on who is the “better” parent at home, it has been helpful for my wife and I to take time to reflect and affirm each other – and ourselves! – on the different ways we contribute to the family.  

For instance, my wife is better able to juggle the many tasks at home, spanning from household chores to caring for the kids. She is more natural at keeping the house looking fresh and homely, in part by keeping a lookout for good deals on household items. As an educator by profession, she keeps a better pulse on our children’s learning needs and school schedules. Finally, as the more adventurous parent, she keeps abreast of events and activities that the family can enjoy. 

On the other hand, I am better at managing conflicts and meltdowns at home, whether it was between my wife and I or with the children. I am also good at giving the children undivided attention and tuning in to their interests and thoughts, which helps boost their confidence and self-esteem. Finally, I feel better able at guiding the family on making bigger decisions, such as career choices, choosing where to stay, which school our children should go, managing finances and big-ticket expenditures.  


3. Surround yourself with resources and like-minded persons  

Nobody wakes up as a competent parent from day one. Many skills that experienced parents demonstrate today are hard-won from experience or passed down from other parents. Similarly, I had to educate myself in the areas where I lacked. One key way was to leverage modern technologies to accommodate my busy lifestyle. For example, I follow parenting accounts on social media for bite-sized tips and tools which I can absorb on-the-go. 

It is also important to get connected to gain support and learn from others. For example, we got connected with fellow parents of younger children and have regular get-togethers. This exposes us to various styles of parenting, while simultaneously helping us and our children to build lasting friendships. We are also members of online parenting groups where we regularly get advice from on a wide variety of parenting issues.  

“Papa’s home!!”
Every day when I come home, my children shout for joy and run towards me for a giant bear hug. 

This image of my children welcoming me home is seared in my mind and heart. It keeps me going as a father. I once thought that my role as a father was easily replaceable, but this could not be further from the truth; there is no replacement for the role that we play in our family.

To my fellow fathers, if you are struggling with self-doubt over your ability as a father, take heart: At the end of the day, our children do not want a different father, or a “better” father to be at the door. All they want is for their very own Papa to return home to them.

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

Dealing with the Stresses of Youth

A survey on mental health last year found that 90% of undergrads in Singapore felt that work and study commitments were their greatest sources of stress. How can parents respond to their youth in times of stress?

Join our host, Chong Ee Jay, who hears from Hosanna Nazar, a 25-year-old studying psychology in university.

From societal to financial pressures, Hosanna unravels the hardships of navigating stress in today’s world and provides practical advice on how to cope with them. Through her personal experiences, parents can better understand the challenges that young people face and ways to support and encourage them.

If you have enjoyed this episode, please leave us a rating and review on Apple Podcast or Podchaser. It’ll be very helpful for others to find our podcast. You can also help us by copying this link to share with your friends.

You can also support us by giving monthly. We appreciate your generous giving as every dollar helps to sustain our efforts in strengthening families. Do note that if you are based in Singapore, one-time gifts above SGD$50 or monthly donations above SGD$10 are eligible for 250% tax-deductible benefits.

Mum, Here are 5 Signs You’re Being Too Hard On Yourself

We recently passed the halfway mark in 2023. Some people like to do a mid-term life review to ensure they are on track with their goals. Educational institutions have assessments or exams to evaluate their students’ learning.

Have you done a mid-year assessment of your role as a mother?

This may sound like a strange question to ask mothers, but if we care to admit, we are evaluating our “performance” more often than we realise. And the bad news is our self-assessment is often biased because as mums, we are our own harshest critics.

Here are five signs that we are too hard on ourselves.

1. We engage in unhealthy comparison  

Comparison is a killjoy in parenting. Knowingly or unconsciously, we compare ourselves with other parents – in the areas of academic performance or in aspects that we or our children are weak in. Does the following inner dialogue sound familiar?

“Why can’t I be like Macy, she is so adept at juggling work and family life…she just got promoted and her children are doing so well in school. What’s wrong with me?”

2. We overlook the “little wins” in parenting 

There is a good mix of bad days and good days for mothers. However, when we are hard on ourselves, we are less inclined to notice the significant moments. When our child shows kindness to a sibling, we take it for granted; when junior puts in the effort to study for exams, we are slow to affirm; instead, we emphasise to junior how much more can be done to do well.  

3. We blame ourselves when things go south  

There is a good mix of bad days and good days for mothers. However, when we are hard on ourselves, we are less inclined to notice the significant moments. When our child shows kindness to a sibling, we take it for granted; when junior puts in the effort to study for exams, we are slow to affirm; instead, we emphasise to junior how much more can be done to do well.  

4. We frequently use negative language

Whether it is expressed verbally or an inner conversation, we are inclined towards negative self-talk. 

“I am not good enough”, “I just can’t get everything right”, “I should have known better than to….”, “I am a bad mother.”

If any of these critical statements ring a bell, you are not alone. However, being overly critical of oneself can be unproductive and ineffective. It does not benefit anyone, much less our children, even if we are hard on ourselves and push ourselves to do better or to make our child behave.  

5. We put self-care on the back burner

Our children’s needs often take centre stage and we are so focused on meeting their needs that we forget to care for ourselves properly. Truth is, we can provide the best care for our children when we first care for ourselves. Prioritising ourselves can make us more effective in our parenting and ultimately, happier as individuals. 

One effective antidote to combat such self-defeating thoughts is self-compassion. So, what can we do to develop the art of self-compassion? 

1. Embrace unconditional positive regard  

Carl Rogers, a humanistic psychologist introduced the concept of unconditional positive regard as a key component in his person-centred approach to therapy. It involves showing care and prizing a person by unconditionally accepting whatever the person does or is feeling.  

While unconditional positive regard is often associated with counselling, it can also be applied in other relationship contexts (e.g., parent-child, husband-wife) 

We can apply unconditional positive regard to ourselves as mums too – accepting and valuing ourselves regardless of circumstances we face in our parenting.  

2. Learn to silence the inner critic  

    • Find the belief statements to set off the negativity
      For example, it could be: “What’s wrong with me; I can’t get anything right as a mother.” 
    • Fix the critical script by challenging it 
      Is it really true that you cannot get anything right? Even if you made many mistakes in parenting, there are instances where you have gotten things right. Recall those positive incidents instead of focusing on that one poor judgment call. 
    • Flip the self-defeating thought to a healthy or empowering belief 
      For example, replace the negative statement with, “It is not true that I can’t get anything right as a mother. There are instances where I did the right thing. I wish I had made a better choice in this matter, but I can learn from it and exercise better judgment next time.”

      Silencing the inner critic takes time, patience, and practice. Do not lose heart if you do not get it right in the initial stage of practising this technique. Keep at it and you will experience a positive mindset change.  

3. Prioritise your self-care

One of the best gifts we can give our children is a healthy and happy mother. So, make time to nurture ourselves through activities that strengthen the body, mind and spirit. 

Parenting is hard work. While it is beneficial to reflect on our actions or take stock of ourselves to learn and grow, as mums, we often take ourselves too seriously and judge ourselves more harshly than we deserve.  

Let’s learn to value and accept ourselves unreservedly and develop the skill of silencing our inner critic. What is one thing you will do today to be kind to yourself?  

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

Growing Trust Through the Teenage Years

How do we build trust in our relationships with our children? How do you keeping trusting your kids after they’ve messed up? Is fear motivating you to control your kids’ behaviour? 

As our children grow older and forge their identities through independence, it can be hard to keep the bond of trust. Yet we have to keep trying because trust in a relationship is what provides safety and respect.  

Mother-daughter duo Jenni Ho-Huan and Abby share with us their stories and tips on how to cement their bond of trust.  

Explain the why behind the what 

Time is needed to build trust. Abby, who’s in her third year of university, said that she learnt to keep trusting her parents through the repeated conversations they’ve had over the years. 
“For example, when we were younger and Mum wanted us to do something like our 10pm curfew and I was like, oh, my friends’ curfew is 11pm’, but Mum always explained why. It was never like ‘because I said so’ but they explained the why behind the what.” 
The way her parents separated the issue from the person also helped Abby learn that being corrected does not mean her parents think badly of her as a person but instead, they were merely correcting the behaviour.  
So, when trust is broken because of certain wrong actions, consequences are given through lots of thoughtful communication. 
So its not that you inherently are a bad child,” said the eldest child.  
Jenni tries to have pockets of time daily to think through what she wants to say to her child and how to say it. 
Pulling back and processing has helped her approach conversations clearly and intentionally so that it goes “better than me saying 10,000 things and none of them makes sense.

Apologise when we get it wrong

Parents can also default to the mode of “we know better”. However, as our kids grow into teens, we have to help them grow by actually listening to them, giving weight to their opinions and apologising when we get it wrong.  
Abby learnt how to apologise by watching her parents do so. She recalled, Being willing to apologise is a big deal. One of my memories is when my dad got upset and I think he raised his voice and maybe I looked scared so he came to my room, apologised and explained why he got upset and how he felt. That set an example for me to own my mistakes.” 
Learning to listen well also helps avoid incidents like this. As Abby shared,[My parents’ willingness to listen] lets us have a space to share our own lives and it encourages us to share the things we are processing, our hopes and fears so that creates emotional intimacy. So even when it gets hard, theres emotional reserves, and when conflict occurs or when push comes to shove, you still know your parents love you.” 

Keep up the ‘communication habit’

According to Jenni, developing the “communication habit” to stay in connection with one another is critical. 

“When the kids were small, there may be times when we have to intrude into their space and they may get irritated but you have to trust that your love is getting to them somehow. You have to make sure you get into the fray or you go back to the room to say I am sorry,” said Jenni.  
She explained that it has to be a connection of the heart so that even as a child, they know we have their backs and are more open to communicate.   
Jenni likens every year of parenting to be like reaching another “clearing in a forest” where you never been before, and it brings new things to talk about. So the intentional reaching out to connect has to be done constantly. 
The mother of three, who’s also the author of a kids book named “Simple Tips for Happy Kids,” also consciously works on growing her own self-awareness and gaining clarity on what’s important.   
“I have to be clear on what is important to me as a parent, what are my non-negotiables, realising my non-negotiables has to take into consideration that I am raising a child in a different generation, different context,” she explained.  

Being aware of the different world our kids are growing up in will help us grow as parents while also communicating to our kids that we understand their world. 

Develop situational awareness

Being aware of the different world our kids are growing up in will help us grow as parents while also communicating to our kids that we understand their world.  
“These days, 10-year-old kids know about the war in Ukraine… last time, when we were 10, we were ‘blur blur’ but they have all these information to navigate and I think it can create this fog that makes it harder to connect. Sometimes it’s not that your child doesn’t trust you, but their world is a different world.” 
Jenni advises that we continue pursuing their hearts even if they don’t seem receptive at first. We also have to be aware of our own fears and motivation.  

We are capable of repairing our narratives so we can offer something more stable and hopeful for our family.

“All parents have irrational fears… we can imagine that one bad habit they are doing now is going to mark their lives.” 
Jenni shared that these fears can propel us to be anxious, something she experienced herself with her son who did not thrive in the mainstream school system. 
“The turning point for me was when I realised I was trying to over-plan his life too much. But my role is not to ensure his journey has no road bumps.” 
So part of the journey of building trust with our kids is not letting our emotions push us to control their behaviour or the outcomes of their decision. As we grow as parents and put in the hard yards to communicate and connect in season and out of season, we can one day see the fruit of that bond of trust.  
And even if you didn’t grow up with that yourself, be encouraged that you can still break the cycle to start a new story for your family.  
As Jenni so wisely said, “We are capable of repairing our narratives so we can offer something more stable and hopeful for our family.” 

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

Commentary: SexEd That Develops Sexual Intelligence in Youth

There has been much discussion about what kind of sexuality education youth should receive. More specifically, the question of whether they should be taught premarital abstinence or the use of contraception constantly comes under the spotlight, and these days, the debate has also turned towards the issue of consent and gender identity.

Some believe that youth should only be educated to reserve sexual activity for marriage, and worry that teaching young people about contraception would make them more likely to have sex prematurely (i.e. Abstinence-Only Sexuality Education). Others are of the opinion that youth are going to be sexually active anyway and must be guided on how to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy and protect themselves from sexually-transmitted diseases; thereby viewing abstinence-only education as unrealistic and out of step with the times (i.e. Safe Sex or Comprehensive Sexuality Education).

A thoughtful approach to this issue should take into foremost consideration the target audience of sexuality education: the youth themselves.

The developmental needs of youth

1. The youth brain needs time to be fully developed

Studies have shown that the human brain will only complete its development between the ages of 25 and 30. Our children thus do not yet have the neurobiological capacity to make fully mature or wise decisions until their mid-twenties, simply because their limbic system (the emotional brain) is much more developed than their pre-frontal cortex (the rational brain)1.

In the face of emotions and desires that they experience powerfully during adolescence, teenagers are likely to not be able to accurately assess risks and anticipate the consequences of their actions2. When they find themselves in emotionally charged situations, their more mature limbic system tends to win over their (presently) less developed pre-frontal control system, and this increases the likelihood of them engaging in risky behaviour3.

2. Youth need input from parents and trusted mentors

Due to their neurobiological development, young people need the help of parents and teachers or trusted adults to learn how to make rational decisions through repeated, clear and consistent guidance4. Parents, in particular, should be the primary people to teach their children sexuality education, according to their own family values (which includes faith traditions, if any). This is in line with one of the Ministry of Education’s 6 Guiding Principles of Sexuality Education5.

Parents have the best interests of their children at heart, understand what their kids are ready to learn about, and are best placed to initiate and sustain ongoing conversations with them on sexuality in the context of a safe parent-child relationship. Contrary to popular belief, in a local survey of 5,122 young people, around 80% of them cited that parents should be the primary source of sexuality education, above school (7%), the Internet (1%) and friends (1%), even though only 15% reported personally experiencing it6.

3. Youth need the good of peer influence

Peers can also have a significant impact on youth sexual behaviour—for good or ill. Studies have found that students with friends who use substances or alcohol tend to increase their use, but those who participated in peer-led programmes to reduce substance or alcohol use are more likely to decrease their use7 8. The same applies to sexual behaviour. In fact, youth who perceive that their peers are engaging in sexual activity are more likely to do so themselves9, with their first sexual encounter happening at a younger age10. This link between youth’s perception of their peers’ sexual behaviour and their own sexual behaviour holds true, especially for boys, across different cultures11.

Understanding brain development, it is not surprising that teenagers experience more social anxiety about feeling left out (in teen speak: “FOMO” or Fear Of Missing Out”) or not belonging, and they may behave in certain ways in order to avoid that feeling. As they become more self-aware at this stage, they also worry more about what others think about them, which can lead them to be more vulnerable to certain type of negative influences2.

The need for youth-centric sexuality education

Since adolescents tend to find it more difficult than adults to make logical decisions in the midst of strong emotions and desires, how can sexuality education help young people avoid having their powerful sexual feelings lead them to make choices they later regret?

In view of youth’s developmental needs, the type of sexuality education that best serves them is one that can equip them — together with their community of peers — with age-appropriate information and handles. Youth-centric sexuality education should be geared toward developing sexual intelligence in young people, so that they are empowered to make smart sexual decisions that benefit them and others, both in the short-term and the long run. In fact, sexuality education that enables them to postpone their first sexual encounter to a later age, when they can fully understand the consequences of their decisions, would produce better outcomes for young people.

Teaching contraception and consent in sexuality education

Teach the realistic and holistic truth about condoms

Those who advocate teaching youth to use contraception are concerned about protecting them from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unintended pregnancies. Taking the most common contraception – condoms, how effective is this approach?

How effective are condoms?

  • There are, at best, conflicting findings on the effectiveness of condoms in preventing STIs and unintended pregnancies12 13.
  • While correct and consistent use of condoms provides a high level of protection against most STIs, this is not typical of real-life situations. Condom usage errors, breakages and slippages are common worldwide, occurring in as many as 40% of sexual encounters14.
  • When it comes to HIV transmission, consistent condom usage with the same partner provides only around 71-77% protection15.
  • Because condoms cannot cover all infected areas of the body, they do not protect against STIs that spread through skin-to-skin contact, such as syphilis, herpes, human papillomavirus (to which the World Health Organization attributes nearly all cases of cervical cancer 16), genital warts, molluscum contagiosum virus, chancroid, etc.
  • While correct and consistent use of condoms are 98% effective in preventing unintended pregnancies, imperfect real-life condom usage yields only about 82–85% effectiveness. That means that there is around 15–18% pregnancy rate even with the use of condoms14 17.

So will intentionally teaching youth how to use condoms ensure their consistent and correct usage, or does it have the unintended effect of encouraging them to engage in risky sexual behaviour due to their underdeveloped pre-frontal lobes? There is a phenomena called risk compensation: people tend to lower their guard and are more willing to engage in risky behaviour when they believe that their risk has been reduced by technology18. For example, people who use sunscreen tend to stay longer in the sun19 and traffic-related deaths increased after compulsory seatbelt laws were introduced20. A feeling of one’s vulnerability being lowered leads to a rise in careless behaviour.

Similarly, sexuality education that has an emphasis in promoting condom usage can inadvertently increase—instead of decrease— sexual activity (including multiple sexual partners) and unprotected sexual exposure (due to inconsistent and incorrect, or “careless”, usage) among youth21 22. It has been found that up to 1 in 3 young men in Singapore chose not to use condoms mainly due to the reduced pleasure they experienced23.

In other words, sexuality education that focuses on contraception use, coupled with youth’s lower ability to assess risk accurately, can lead to youths:

  • having sex earlier
  • having more sexual partners
  • engaging in more risky sexual behaviour
  • experiencing an increased risk of contracting STIs
  • facing a higher likelihood of sex resulting in unintended pregnancies

On the other hand, there are those who advocate for sexuality education that excludes any mention of condoms, out of concern that teaching youths about condoms encourages them to have sex. We need to acknowledge that in this digital age when most youth can access all kinds of information from social media and online platforms that are hard to regulate or censor, it is highly likely that they would already receive some kind of information about condoms – whether or not it is accurate or holistic.

Thus, it is only responsible to fully inform youth of these facts about contraception:

  1. Even correct and consistent usage do not guarantee 100% protection against STI transmissions or unintended pregnancies.

  2. Imperfect condom usage is not uncommon, even among adults, so what more among inexperienced youth users who are already neurobiologically not as able to make fully rational choices, especially when they are caught up in the heat of sexually-charged moments.

This should cause us to rethink sexuality education that focuses on contraception use.

It is noteworthy that, instead of condom promotion, 150 global AIDS experts came together to advocate for an evidence-based approach to prevent HIV/AIDS transmission by adopting the A-B-C method: Abstain, Be faithful/reduce partners, use Condoms22, in that order.

Teach proper consent informed by values

Proponents of teaching youth how to use contraception in sexuality education often also advocate for consent education, especially given the recent rise of sexual assault cases in the news. Consent education assumes that when more young people understand what informed consent means and how to respect their partner’s verbalised boundaries, this will mitigate instances in which the sexual boundaries are coercively transgressed.

While teaching youth about informed consent is important, it is insufficient in itself.

A behaviour does not become beneficial to youth simply because all the parties involved consent to it. In the complex dynamics of relationships and real-life situations, it is not unthinkable to agree to something even against one’s better judgement. Considering adolescents’ (lack of) neurobiological capacity for making rational decisions, assessing risks and predicting the consequences of their actions as well as their anxiety-driven desire for acceptance and belonging, teenagers may all the more find themselves consenting to participate in something that is not objectively good for them nor for their partner.

Effective consent education thus needs to factor in an objective benchmark by which to assess whether a behaviour is positive or harmful—and that makes teaching of values an indispensable part of any sexuality education that considers youth’s holistic well-being. Sexual decision-making should include factual information about healthy emotional, physical and psychological boundaries, based on universal virtues of integrity, love and respect (for self and others) as well as character traits of self-regulation, responsibility and resilience. Furthermore, it ought to include parental rights to educate their children about sexual decisions and boundaries according to their family and faith values.

Teaching abstinence in sexuality education

1. Sexual abstinence is research-informed
What, then, is the more responsible approach: teaching youth risk reduction (until they have the ability to fully understand their actions) or risk elimination (given their current developmental stage)? An evidence-based youth-centric approach to sexuality education entails informing youth that abstaining from all sexual activity (until marriage) is the 100% safest and most effective way to protect themselves from the negative physical, emotional, and psychological consequences of adolescent sexual activity.

2. Sexual abstinence is responsible
At a time of their lives when young people are not yet fully capable of accurately assessing risk and anticipating consequences, they should be taught to avoid risk rather than to reduce risk.Intoxicated people are not completely able to make rational decisions because their executive functions have been impaired by the effects of alcohol. Is it safer for them—and others—to teach them how to wear seatbelts properly while driving (risk reduction) or to instruct them to not drive at all (risk elimination)? To be sure, they should be made aware of seatbelts, but the more responsible thing to do is to educate them to not get behind the steering wheel if they wish to drink. As adults—parents and/or educators—it is our responsibility to ensure our children/youth avoid sexual risk altogether. They are too precious for us to allow them to take a gamble with their lives and sexual well-being.

3. Sexual abstinence is relevant
As mental health challenges faced by youth in Singapore today are on the rise24, abstinence has never been a more important and sexually intelligent choice for youth. It is not only a foolproof way to prevent STIs and pregnancies, it also safeguards young people’s emotional and mental well-being.

Sexual activity and mental wellness

  • Teenage sexual activity has been found to be an independent risk factor for developing poor self-esteem, major depression, and attempting suicide25.
  • Compared to sexually abstinent girls, sexually active girls were three times as likely to suffer from depression and to have attempted suicide26.
  • Compared to sexually abstinent boys, sexually active boys were more than twice as likely to suffer from depression and seven times more likely to have attempted suicideibid..
  • 67% of girls and 53% of boys regretted becoming sexually active too early27. Sexual regret has been associated with negative psychological outcomes, like loss of life satisfaction, loss of self-worth and depression28.

The chemicals released in the brain during sexual activity create emotional bonds between sexual partners, and breaking these bonds can lead to depression and make it more difficult for them to bond with someone else, like their spouse, in future26.

Despite divorce being on the rise, young people in Singapore still have high aspirations towards marriage and family formation with 83% indicating that they intend to marry29 and around 35% citing getting married and having children as important life goals30. Youth should therefore be informed that sexual abstinence until marriage can increase their chances of experiencing a better quality of life and stronger quality of marriage.

Sexual abstinence and future marriage

  • Compared to those who had sex with other people before marriage, men and women who only had sex with the person they married reported higher quality of marriage31.
  • For women, in particular, the more sexual partners they had before marriage, the less happy they reported their marriage to beibid.
  • Compared to couples who had sex early on in their relationship, couples who waited until marriage to have sex reported higher relationship quality and satisfaction, better sexual quality and better communication.32

4. Sexual abstinence is realistic

There are some who find sexual abstinence an archaic concept and purport that teaching youth to abstain until marriage is unrealistic, whether because of hormones, family background, situational circumstances or previous experience. However, the facts suggest otherwise.

  • Well-designed and well-implemented abstinence education programmes have been found to result in delayed sexual initiation, reduced early sexual activity33, and significant long-term decrease in teenage sexual activity34
  • Sexually experienced young men in Singapore who went through an abstinence and safer sex intervention programme were twice as likely than those who did not attend the programme to report being able to exercise better self-control and abstain from sexual activity by practising the strategies they learnt23.

Consistent with studies in America, a local study found that students in Singapore tend to overestimate their peers’ sexual permissiveness, with the sexually active students using this misperception of the prevalence of sexual activity among their peers to justify their own sexual permissiveness; actually, most respondents held sexually conservative attitudes35. In other words, sexual abstinence may be more of a norm than we think and a more realistic expectation of youth sexual attitudes and behaviours.

Focus on the Family worldwide has in the past 2 decades reached millions with the A-B-C approach to sexuality education that emphasises and prioritises abstinence, and continues to be welcomed in communities by both youth and parents/educators. For youth who have been previously sexually active, helping them to live out a (re)commitment to sexual abstinence can be very empowering and provide a newfound sexual freedom.


In determining the best approach to sexuality education today, we need to evaluate what best develops sexual intelligence in our young. Sexuality education that is research-informed, responsible, relevant and realistic for youth is one that takes into account their developmental stage and needs, so that they can be given the best age-appropriate handles to make sexually intelligent decisions. It entails giving them the full information on abstinence, consent, and contraception, while teaching them to take the approach of risk avoidance or elimination. Such an approach ultimately conduces to the best outcomes for the short- and longer-term health and well-being of our children.


  1. The Primal Teen: What the New Discoveries about the Teenage Brain Tell Us about Our Kids (2004)
  2. That teenage feeling (2007)
  3. The adolescent brain (2008)
  4. Abstinence education (2014)
  5. Sexuality education: Overview
  6. Whole Life Inventory (2016–2018)
  7. Peer Participation in Project Northland: A Community‐Wide Alcohol Use Prevention Project (1994)
  8. Peer acceleration: effects of a social network tailored substance abuse prevention program among high‐risk adolescents (2007)
  9. Adolescent Susceptibility to Peer Influence in Sexual Situations (2016)
  10. Perceived Peer Behavior and the Timing of Sexual Debut in Rwanda: A Survival Analysis of Youth Data (2004)
  11. Meta-analysis of the relations between three types of peer norms and adolescent sexual behaviour (2014)
  12. Abstinence education (2014)
  13. Effectiveness of condoms in preventing sexually transmitted infections (2004)
  14. Condom use errors and problems: a global view (2012)
  15. Condom effectiveness in reducing heterosexual HIV transmission: a systematic review and meta-analysis of studies on HIV serodiscordant couples (2015)
  16. Human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer (2019)
  17. Condom Use by Adolescents (2013)
  18. Rethinking AIDS Prevention: Learning from Successes in Developing Countries (2003)
  19. Risk compensation: the Achilles’ heel of innovations in HIV prevention? (2006)
  20. (2000)
  21. Increasing condom use without reducing HIV risk: results of a controlled community trial in Uganda (2005)
  22. The time has come for common ground on preventing sexual transmission of HIV (2004)
  23. Randomized controlled trial of abstinence and safer sex intervention for adolescents in Singapore: 6-month follow-up (2017)
  24. National Youth Council’s Y+ e-newsletter – Youths & Mental Health (2019)
  25. Adolescent depression and suicide risk: association with sex and drug behavior (2004)
  26. Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting Our Children (2008)
  27. With One Voice 2012: America’s Adults and Teens Sound Off About Teen Pregnancy (2012)
  28. Risky business: Is there an association between casual sex and mental health among emerging adults? (2014)
  29. Marriage and Parenthood Survey (2016)
  30. The State of Youth in Singapore (2017)
  31. Before “I Do”: What Do Premarital Experiences Have to Do with Marital Quality Among Today’s Young Adults? (2014)
  32. Couples who delay having sex get benefits later, study suggests (2010)
  33. Abstinence Education: Assessing the Evidence (2008)
  34. “Abstinence” or “Comprehensive” Sex Education?— The Mathematica Study in Context (2007)
  35. Pluralistic Ignorance About Sex: The Direct and the Indirect Effects of Media Consumption on College Students’ Misperception of Sex-Related Peer Norms (2007)

© 2020 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.

Teenage transition is one of the most exciting yet challenging periods of life, with many physical, mental and emotional changes. In particular, teens start to mature sexually. As parents, how do we help them through this major life transition? Join our interest list for the Relational Health & Sexual Intelligence webinar—and get equipped to converse with your child about sexuality for their long-term relational health.

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 Pornography So Addictive?

As is usually the case with all addictions, no one really starts with a plan to get addicted. It could be a case of curiosity, peer pressure, or stumbling upon something by accident.

We tend to associate addictions with the consumption of chemical substances, such as alcohol and narcotics, perhaps because the law draws clear and strict boundaries on their abuse. But studies are showing a new type of narcotics that is equally, if not more, potent: Pornography. According to a neuroscience study published by Dr Valerie Voon from the University of Cambridge, a brain imaging scan of a porn addict is strikingly similar to that of a drug addict’s. This should raise alarm bells for us parents.

There is no denying the powerful lure of and appetite for pornography, across all demographics. The explosive growth in revenue of the porn industry in the last decade testifies to this. So it begets the question, why is pornography so addictive? To understand this for the sake of our children, we need to get to the bottom of push and pull factors.

For Tween (10-12 years), Teen (13-15 years) and Emerging Years (16-19 years)

1. The pervasiveness of porn (pull)

To understand how pervasive porn is, we need to first know what it looks and sounds like. The common definition of porn, according to Merriam Webster dictionary, is: A depiction that is intended to cause sexual arousal or excitement. While it is subjective what exactly causes sexual arousal or excitement, we don’t have to look very hard to see that we are, in fact, surrounded by images, sounds, and messages that are consistent with the aims of porn:

  • An advertisement for Calvin Klein underwear at the mall.
  • A twerking performance on a display TV set in a common electrical appliance store.

If your child is plugged into the Internet, this prevalence becomes more pronounced. There are countless websites streaming pornographic content that are free for any user to access anonymously, without age restrictions.

Even if you have set up powerful filters on your child’s device, your child may know someone whose parents have not done the same and may be looking to share their unfiltered access with others. Regardless of one’s circumstances, the sheer prevalence of porn makes it challenging for anyone, not just our children, to resist the urge to indulge in it.

2. Our brain’s reward circuit (pull)

Do you know why it’s so hard to resist porn once you begin consuming it? This is due to dopamine, a neurochemical released in the brain that feeds our brain’s reward circuit and forms an addiction pathway that reinforces the behaviour over time.

“Think of the brain as a forest where trails are worn down by hikers who walk along the same path over and over again, day after day. The exposure to pornographic images creates similar neural pathways that, over time, become more and more “well-paved” as they are repeatedly traveled with each exposure to pornography.”
– Morgan Bennett, author of The New Narcotic.

An experiment carried out on a rat shows that when the brain’s reward circuit is hijacked by unusually elevated levels of dopamine, it will keep seeking the desired behavior (in this case, pressing the lever) at the expense of other needs such as food and mating.

Granted, humans are not entirely like rats. However, in both scenarios, the brain is wired to reinforce rewarding behaviors (such as eating and drinking) so that there is a higher chance of survival. This very same system unfortunately also works against us (in the form of addiction) if we subject it to an overstimulation of dopamine, which porn is very capable of doing.

3. Underlying issues (push)

Addiction usually masks underlying issues that are unresolved, such as childhood trauma, low self-esteem, loneliness, rejection and so on. We know that our children face multiple stresses in life, such as: difficulty making friends at school, being bullied, and struggling with learning.

These stressors can cause them to crave an escape, or a quick-fix to the negative emotions they are feeling, especially if they have not yet learnt healthy coping mechanisms.

Teenagers may experience this even more because of the life stage they are in – still figuring out their identity, dealing with hormonal changes in their body causing mood swings, and so on.

As dysfunctional as porn is as a coping mechanism, the instant rush of dopamine that comes with the activity is so rewarding that it keeps them coming back for more.

4. Tendency to keep it in the dark (pull)

The sense of shame that comes with porn use often keeps our children from talking to us about it. Yet, the more they choose to navigate this alone, the more likely they are to sink deeper into porn addiction.

On their own, they are simply no match for the brain’s hardwiring for dopamine. Without accountability and our loving support, they are more likely to relapse at some point, even if they were trying to put a stop to their porn use.

Add to this the permanence of pornographic images in our brain’s memory – unlike chemical substances, they cannot be metabolized out of the body’s system. These lingering images can continue to fuel the addictive cycle.

Let’s remind our children that we have their best interests at heart, and that they can come to us for help regardless of how big or complex their problems are.

Now that we have a better understanding of why pornography is so addictive, we can better position ourselves to defend their minds against it – by being a powerfully loving and supportive presence in their 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!