I DON’T particularly love children. I was an awkward child, a gawky teenager, and really quite happy to cross the threshold into adulthood when the time came.
I never thought I would have to deal with teen issues, or come across them again, until a lunchtime discussion with a colleague earlier this year turned up a rather intriguing question: What do teenagers think about sexuality education?
You see, up until then, the whole debate on the topic was centred around adults.
Last year (2009), a group of women from the same church tried to take over feminist group Association of Women for Action and Research, saying that the sexuality education it was providing in schools was objectionable.
Some parents argued otherwise; many others disagreed; academics weighed in; and the Ministry of Education reiterated that sexuality education in schools must be aligned with the values of Singapore’s “mainstream society”.
Few, if any, bothered to ask for the opinion of the central characters of this whole matter: The very teenagers whom sexuality education was supposed to benefit.
If sexuality education were a product, it would seem that society had forgotten to ask its clients what they really wanted or needed.
So this was what I set out to do. Together with my colleague Eisen Teo and the team at The Straits Times’ student publication IN, we polled 300 students aged 13 to 18 and also conducted in-depth interviews with selected teenagers.
We were not sure what we were going to get: Awkward silences? Incongruous babble? Or detailed theses?
In the end, those who agreed to talk gave thoughtful albeit halting responses.
But one sunny afternoon outside a McDonald’s restaurant, a 14-year-old girl changed the game completely by uttering one of the most profound statements I had ever heard about sexuality education.
Rebekah Tay, a secondary two student from a northern Singapore school, was analysing the sexuality education video she watched both in primary school and secondary school. (Yes, she watched the same video twice.)
She said: “The video just says, oh the boy has affection for the girl, the girl has affection for the boy, and then they have a boy-girl relationship (BGR).”
It didn’t, she added, address the complicated problems that teenagers face.
“Usually teenagers enter into a BGR because they face stress in studies, stress at home and they want to unwind.”
In her own words, Rebekah had unleashed an insight of great sociological and psychological value: Sex and romantic relationships, in her world, were not so much the product of mutual attraction but more of a salve in the pressure cooker environment of the Singapore school system.
Yet, many parents continue to vex over the possibility of their children falling into the wrong company and having a child out of wedlock without looking at the larger environment their charges are struggling in.
Is the problem the Singapore school system, rather than the sexuality education regime itself? Or is parental pressure the real issue?
I don’t have the answers. But I know we could listen more closely to young people like Rebekah.