Monday, October 18, 2004

*Letter to the press*

A response to a letter titled Why the decline in Teen Morality. It's a little insipid due to time constrains and a conscious effort to be less debaterish....

Dear Sir,

I refer to Madam Kay Ben Tse’s letter “Why the decline in teen morality” (181004) and must admit to some sympathy to the position she faces herself. And I must applaud her for a much nuance stance, which does not automatically call for an immediate return to the Nanny State of yore.

But I do wonder, however, whether she has correctly identified the root problem of the so-called ‘decline’ in teen morality (whose morality one might ask?). Assuming first that the upsurge in a sub-segment is not the reason of demographics, that such an increase is not simply due to more effective policing and further assuming that somehow a minority sub segment represents all teens, then we have to decide what the real root cause of the problem is. Helpfully, Madam Kay has identified three. One, dual income families and general societal pressures preventing the necessary time and effort in properly bringing up the ‘next generation of Singaporeans’. Secondly, the portrayal of sex and violence in the media. Thirdly, general societal progress which has become more tolerant, and not just of the human body.

On the first issue, what she seems to imply and to advocate is to acknowledge the problem but to do nothing about it. In essence, she seems to propose abdicating parental responsibility and let the media baby-sit the children of such parents. This is an entirely practical approach, but one wonders if it is too practical.

On the issue of the media, it is already an accepted fact that its portrayal of violence or permissive sexual behavior has a tenuous and still disputed link to its actual effects on wider society. This is not least due to the cathartic effects on the part of the viewers but also to the extent to which the media is nothing more than a reflection of society. As such, it’s too flippant to suggest as she does that when teens ‘see extreme violence on early evening TV, it is not surprising that more teens are caught fighting’. With regards to the blurring of lines between soft porn and mainstream magazines, one finds it very hard to believe that such a situation only occurs in Singapore. To take the examples in France and the United States, there was, after all, a reason why Cosmopolitan did not reach our shores for quite a number of years now. More controversially, one needs to question whether a less puritanical and prudish approach to one’s body is necessary bad. In fact, it would be more logically to argue that shrouding the human body and sexual conduct in mystery and shame has the converse effect of the ‘forbidden fruit’ that the desire for the object or action is precisely because it is barred. Here, we need to take a more pragmatic and responsible approach to issues like sexual education and prevent organisations from hijacking it to use as part of their agenda.

So my humble suggestion is that parents and teenagers take responsibilities for their lives and those around them. We cannot keep blaming extrinsic and exogenous reasons for our own failures. Similarly, education is as always the key. Thinking and knowing how to think rationally is a bulwark against many a personal or societal ill. It is time to take responsibility into our own hands.


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