Category Archives: Viewpoints

The Power of Dads

The government’s move to double paternity leave to two weeks is “a gentle nudge for fathers to rethink their role, and see it in a different light” says Dr Kang Soon-Hock, Head of Social Science Core at SIM University (Enhancements a welcome move, could urge change in attitudes, say observers, TODAY, Aug 24). We agree with Dr Kang’s observation that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s announcement brings to the fore the crucial role fathers play.

According to Erik Erikson, a pioneer in the world of child psychology, a father’s role in parenting a child cannot be replicated by anyone else. Dads have a huge influence on the emotional and intellectual growth of their children. Numerous studies have shown that fathers play, communicate and discipline differently. Fathering experts assert that in so doing, they build confidence in the child, prepare them for the real world and provide healthy male role models for them to look up to.

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A or F, Grades Shouldn’t Matter in a Family

It is both sad and heartening to read Jenny Yeo’s account (“Teach, don’t demand, success”; ST, Aug 24). Our children do face a lot of pressure to perform but their sense of self-worth should not suffer because of it.

Parents need to ask, just how important are grades that make us willing to sacrifice our relationship with our child, and in extreme cases, the lives of our children?

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Telling Our Teens They are Worth the Wait

The rise in underage sex is not an issue of sexual liberalization or promiscuity (“Underage sex on the rise in Singapore, say social workers”, Feb 9). The fall in teen births is not an issue of contraception or health education (“Teen births drop to 20-year low”, Feb 9). The underpinning common issue here is how our teens see and value themselves.

Over the weekend, 171 fathers spent a few hours valuing their daughters at Focus on the Family’s annual Date with Dad event. Why? Because research shows unwaveringly that Dad is the first guy a girl gives her heart to.

The reality though is this:

  • With many dual-income households today, children return home after school to an empty house or to non-parental caregivers. They are imbued with messages that they need to excel academically, that their worth is based on their performance. Often, less attention is given towards filling their love tanks with the knowledge that they are accepted, affirmed and approved by their parents for who they are and not what they have accomplished.
  • Movies and television programs have become more sexually graphic and explicit, with characters in the media losing their virginity and engaging in sex with “benefits” without the reality of consequences like pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and being emotionally hurt. Pornography teaches young men that women are mere sexual objects to be used for physical pleasure, while young women receive the message that to get “love” they have to give sex.
  • Explicitly or implicitly telling our youth that “they are going to have sex anyway, so we might as well teach them how to do it safely” can send them a disempowering message that they have neither the ability for self-control nor delayed gratification.

Research shows that teens are less likely to engage in premarital sex if they have a close, warm relationship with their parents, and whose parents clearly communicate their expectations regarding sexual behaviour and the reasons for sexual boundaries. When teens feel the unconditioned love from the parents, it will prevent them from looking for love in the wrong places.

People are built for intimacy. As parents and society, let’s give the message to our young people that intimate sexual activity is an expression of love reserved for marriage. Why? Because they are worth the wait!

References:

  1. Cheryl B. Aspy et al., Journal of Adolescence 30 (2007): 449–466.
  2. Bruce J. Ellis et al., “Does Father Absence Place Daughters at Special Risk for Early Sexual Activity and Teenage Pregnancy?” Child Development 74, No. 3 (2003): 801–821.
  3. Resnick MD et al. Protecting adolescents from harm: findings from the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health. JAMA 1997;278:823-32.
  4. Karofsky PS et al. Relationship between adolescent parental communication and initiation of first intercourse by adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health 2000: 28; 41-45.

Editor’s note: This letter was sent to The Straits Times Forum on February 10 in response to the issue of rising numbers of teens engaging in sex before marriage.

Sexual Realities Behind the Shades

The movie Fifty Shades of Grey, based on an erotica novel by the same title, will be released here tomorrow, just 2 days before Valentine’s Day. In the story, Anastasia Steele, a university graduate, and Christian Grey, a very wealthy businessman, enter into contractual sex that has bondage, dominance, and sadism/masochism (BDSM) elements. The movie has been rated [R] in the U.S. and banned in Malaysia.

A study published in Journal of Women’s Health last year concluded that there are strong correlations between health risks in women’s lives (including violence victimisation) and the consumption of Fifty Shades. Female readers were more likely than non-readers to have had a partner who verbally abused them, and to report fasting, binge-drinking, using diet aids, and five or more intercourse partners.

In spite of this, the novel and the film’s trailer have been highly popular since their release.

This is understandable in view of the fact that humans have a deep longing for intimacy. However, sexual intimacy is not the same as relational intimacy. A person’s felt need for sexual gratification may not meet his/her real need for authentic connection and lasting love. Relational intimacy transcends sexual experiences and is best sought out in wholesome ways for it to be truly fulfilling.

Ironically, focusing on the person’s body rather than the person leads to both a lessened emotional connection and decreased sexual appetite. Authors Juli Slattery and Dannah Gresh in their new book, Pulling Back the Shades: Erotica, Intimacy, and the Longings of a Woman’s Heart, explain that “erotica and porn teach you to be sexually aroused by looking away from your partner, not toward him. You may be engaging your body with him, but your imagination is with some fictional character. That’s not intimacy.” In addition, “erotica and porn impact your brain in a manner that breeds tolerance. What was sexually arousing a few months ago will no longer be enough to produce the same sexual high. This is how men and women get drawn into increasingly hardcore porn and/or sexually acting out what they have seen or read.”

The untold story behind the “Shades” is that engaging in erotica and pornography serves to drive a deep wedge in marital relationships and often impedes the building of true intimacy that many couples long for. This has been recounted in many of the marital counselling cases we’ve seen.

Instead of focusing on sexual techniques, we would do better to build on the fundamentals of a loving relationship with our spouse. This includes communicating our sexual and emotional needs with each other instead of unwittingly seeking fulfilment and attempting to fill emotional voids through erotica and pornography.

References:

  • Bonomi Amy E., Nemeth Julianna M., Altenburger Lauren E., Anderson Melissa L., Snyder Anastasia, and Dotto Irma. Journal of Women’s Health. September 2014, 23(9): 720-728. doi:10.1089/jwh.2014.4782. <http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/full/10.1089/jwh.2014.4782>
  • Gresh, D., & Slattery, J. (n.d.). Pulling Back the Shades: Erotica, Intimacy, and the Longings of a Woman’s Heart

Editor’s note: This letter was sent to Voices Today on February 11 (pending to be published).

Support and Comfort Needed for All Expectant Mothers Contemplating Abortion

Having an abortion is a life-changing decision:  First and foremost for the unborn child; and it has been proven to have significant, lasting emotional and physical consequences for the would-be mother. As such, we welcome the move made by the Ministry of Health (MOH) to consider extending pre-abortion counselling to all women, and even members of her immediate family.

The psychological effects on a woman include depression, anxiety disorders, suicidal behaviours and substance abuse. A pattern of psychological problems has been identified as Post-Abortion Syndrome, which has been found to be a subset of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Pre-Abortion Counselling prepares the woman mentally and emotionally to help circumvent such effects.

Some unforeseen effects may include strained relations with the woman’s partner, both sexual and emotional, and physical impact on the woman herself. The consequences of an abortion on a woman’s health and body should be clearly communicated to her, so that she is well-informed that the abortion could potentially affect her ability to conceive in the future or lead to other complications.

It should also be made known that abortion has contributed to population decline and demographic changes, resulting in an ‘ageing population’ that Singapore is no stranger to. It would be in our society’s interest that the cumulative criteria for mandatory pre-abortion counselling be altogether removed so that all women get equal opportunity to make an informed decision.

More importantly is the need for comprehensive Pre-Abortion counselling. We believe that the current framework fails to address the reasons why women seek an abortion in the first place and it should certainly not be overlooked. Including the woman’s partner or any involved immediate family can also provide the woman with a much stronger support system than if she were to make the decision alone.

In addition to ensuring that the psychological, relational, physical and societal impact of abortion is emphasised during pre-abortion counselling, we propose to factor in multiple channels of support for the woman and to clearly present alternatives to abortion. Post-Abortion Counselling is also highly recommended as a preventive measure against Post-Abortion Syndrome.

Editor’s note: This letter was sent to the Straits Times Forum on Dec 4 in response to the changes Ministry of Health is proposing on the criteria for pre-abortion counselling. And an adapted version was sent to TODAY Voices.

Provide Support and Comfort for all Contemplating Abortion

We welcome the move made by the Ministry of Health (MOH) to consider extending pre-abortion counseling to all women.

Pre-abortion counselling is presently mandatory for women, regardless of marital status. We support the opinion that pre-abortion counselling should be mandatory for all, regardless of citizenship, level of education or number of children born to the woman. The consequences of abortion are not limited to only certain groups of women, but affect all women, and they can even extend to other members of the immediate family.

Abortion is a life-altering experience that can have significant ongoing emotional and physical consequences for a woman, so those considering ending their pregnancy deserve to receive solid information – not only about the process by which their baby’s life will be ended, but also regarding the potential impact it will have on them – before making their decision.

Abortion can cause both short-term and long-term physical complications, including significantly affecting a woman’s ability to have healthy pregnancies in the future.

Substantial research has found that going through an abortion has long-term psychological effects on a woman. A comprehensive, long-term study by a research team in New Zealand in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry found that abortion in young women is associated with increased risks of major depression, anxiety disorder, suicidal behaviours and substance dependence. Post-Abortion Syndrome has been identified in research as a subset of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Pre-abortion counselling needs to address relational issues to prevent emotional traumatisation, especially if the woman’s abortion decision seems circumstantially inevitable. Abortion can pose challenges to the significant relationships in the woman’s life, not just with her partner, but also her future children, possibly due to post-abortion depression and guilt. Abortion is not only a medical issue. Thus, pre-abortion counselling must encompass more than an explanation of medical procedures, potential risks and after-effects of an abortion. Every woman contemplating abortion needs to be fully provided with all the necessary information and clear explanations of the risks and consequences involved, channels of support including social services, as well as other options she has. This will empower her to make truly informed decisions regarding her unplanned and/or unwanted pregnancy that will affect her own life as well as that of her current and future family.

Preventing the Cycle of Divorce

If the Family is the building block of society, then marriage is the foundation of the family. However, as seen from the latest figures released on divorces and marriages in Singapore, this foundation appears to be weakening, with fewer adults entering into marriage and more adults leaving it in divorce (“Marriages down, divorces up”; Jul 30, 2014).

While the article points out that the overall figure is still considered low compared with other developed countries, that should not be any consolation since divorce inevitably affects our children. Each year, 54% of our divorce cases involve approximately 8,000 children, with over 5,400 children under the age of 21. Studies show divorce causes immediate extreme anxiety in a child that can lead to behavioral issues, intensifying a young child’s dependence while accelerating an adolescent’s independence. This can elicit a regressive response in children and greater aggression in adolescents.

In addition, divorce has inter-generational implications that cannot be overlooked. As shared at the 11th Family Research Network (FRN) Forum, in adulthood, children from divorced families have a higher propensity to experience less satisfaction with life, higher rates of depression and lower psychological well-being. Their own relationships and marriage are affected too: they tend to experience lower marital satisfaction, more marital discord and higher divorce rates; and in turn their own children face similar challenges when they grow up. Research reveals that children of divorce risk a 50% higher likelihood of divorce themselves; this risk increases to 200% when both spouses come from a divorced home.

How then, can we help prevent this cycle of broken marriages?

Couples can help their marriages begin on a firm footing by attending marriage preparation lessons. Subsequently, participating in marriage enrichment classes or marriage retreats every 2-3 years during the marital journey will further build a protective hedge around their marriage to withstand the challenges that arise in daily life. Studies show couples who participate in premarital programs experience a 30% increase in marital success over those who do not participate. They report improved communication, better conflict management skills, higher dedication to one’s mate, greater emphasis on the positive aspects of a relationship, and improved overall relationship quality.

Rather than tackling marital challenges only when the threat of divorce looms, keeping a marriage going – and thriving – requires continuous effort and commitment of both husband and wife. It is said that one of the best gifts we can give our children is to love our spouse. 

Editor’s note: This letter was published in the Straits Times on Aug 7 in response to the marriage and divorce statistics in SIngapore.

Fathers Deserve More Recognition

It’s commonly observed that Father’s Day celebrations tend to be quieter and simpler than for Mother’s Day. At times, fathers are even thought of as being helpful, but not critically necessary.

On the contrary, fathers should be given more recognition, at least for the following reasons:

  • The cost of father absence to the community is estimated to be over AUD$12 billion per year in Australia, while the U.S. government spent at least US$99.8 billion providing assistance to father-absent families in 2006.
  • Close to 90 studies published in the last decade highlight the importance of father involvement, based on the 2013 review by The Fathering Project at the University of Western Australia.
  • In a review of 36 studies from around the world (beyond the Western context), it has been concluded that a father’s love is at least as important, if not more, to youngsters as their mother’s.

Taken together, recent research about fatherhood has provided new insights about the critical and distinctive roles played by fathers, and the significant long-term impact they have on the social, cognitive, emotional and physical well-being of children.

Research suggests that fathers’ impact on kids’ behaviour begins as early as infancy. Mothers tend to keep their babies calm, gazing at them, babbling together and affectionately touching them. Fathers tend to get the babies more excited and laughing, often playing physical games that arouse or startle them. Fathers contribute most to providing play exploration which helps to develop emotional and behavioural self-regulation, while mothers tend to be the providers of comfort in times of distress.

Father involvement has been linked to fewer behavioural problems among school-age children, less delinquency among teenage boys and fewer psychological problems in young women.

Fathers play an integral role in children’s socialization. The time that teenagers spent with fathers in the presence of others was linked to increased social competence; the same effect was not observed with mothers. Paternal support tends to be associated with social competence in the school setting while maternal support is associated with academic competence.

Fathers also make unique contributions to teen development. From measures of 60 potential links between parental factors and teen outcomes in a longitudinal study, 20% were unique to fathers. Fathers’ influence on alcohol and illicit drug use in youths may be stronger than that of mothers. Father absence is a critical contributor to adolescent sexual risk behaviour in both sons and daughters. A study of Thai youth found that youth who have a close relationship with their father are less likely to initiate premarital sex during adolescence.

In summary, there is compelling evidence that fathers are irreplaceable and their distinctive parenting style complements mothers in significant ways for the healthy development of children.

What fathers do with their children on a day-to-day basis makes a great difference not only to their children, but also to society and for the generations to follow. This Father’s Day, let’s make special effort to affirm and honour fathers among our midst!

References:

Dads for Life. (n.d.) Where Do Fathers Stand in Shaping Healthy Teen Sexuality. Retrieved from http://pruitttad461.typepad.com/blog/2012/02/where-do-fathers-stand-in-shaping-healthy-teen-sexuality.html

Macrae, F. (2012, 13 June). How Absence of a Loving Father Can Wreck a Child’s Life: New Study Shows Relationship with Both Parents Is Crucial. Daily Mail. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2158671/Love-father-contributes-childs-development-mother-study-claims.html

Mitchell, P.J., (2013, August 21). The Unique Benefits of Fatherhood. [A review of Gender and Parenthood: Biological and Social Perspectives] eReview Vol. 13, No. 16.  Institute of Marriage and Family Canada. Retrieved from http://www.imfcanada.org/issues/unique-benefits-fatherhood

Nock, S.L. & Einolf, C.J. (2008). The One Hundred Billion Dollar Man: The Annual Public Costs of Father Absence. National Fatherhood Initiative. Retrieved from http://www.ct.gov/dcf/lib/dcf/fatherhood/pdf/fatherabsencecost.pdf

Shellenbarger, S.(2011, June 14). The Secret of Dads’ Success: How Fathers’ Teasing, Tickling, Wrestling Teach Kids to Whine Less and Be More Independent. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved fromhttp://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304665904576383464255980534?mg=reno64-wsj&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle%2FSB10001424052702304665904576383464255980534.html

The Fathering Project (n.d.). About the Fathering Project. Retrieved from http://thefatheringproject.org/about-the-fathering-project

Wood, L. & Lambin, E. (2013). How Fathers and Father Figures Can Shape Child Health and Wellbeing. The University of Western Australia. Retrieved fromhttp://thefatheringproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/How-fathers-and-father-figures-can-shape-child-health-and-wellbeing-Wood-Lambin-UWA-2013.pdf