Invisible forces chipping away family’s ability to be safe harbour: Eric Chua

strong focus on families in Budget 2023 is apparent to us all. 

Senior Parliamentary Secretary (SPS) for Social and Family Development, Mr Eric Chua gave an impassioned speech during the Budget debate on February 23 to highlight why strengthening families is especially important now. 

Below are five abridged excerpts from SPS Chua’s speech that should give us food for thought over the weekend.

1. How strong are our families?

Beyond dollars and cents, we need to address the many other invisible forces chipping away at our family’s ability to function as an individual’s emotional and social safe harbour.

Some of these invisible forces are unique to Singapore, many others mirror broad global trends.

How are our family units faring in terms of being the nurturing fortress and safe space where love is unconditional, and where no topics are too taboo or too awkward to be talked about?

If we could give a score to how Singapore families are doing in this respect, what might our score be?

2. Have we disregarded ethics in the pursuit of success?

As a worried and overwhelmed parent, I cannot help but feel at times that the feel-good vibes of Keeping Up with the Joneses that I experienced as a child growing up in the 80s and 90s have today taken on a somewhat fiercely competitive tone.

In my interactions with young people today, some anecdotes ring alarm bells.

Some students, as I was told, deliberately share wrong answers with other students just so they get to pull ahead of the pack.

Now a fine line divides a relentless pursuit of excellence from an unscrupulous climb to the top.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with striving to be the best versions of ourselves, but at what cost? What values do we really treasure in society today?

3. Questioning society’s perception of success

I am a big fan of ITE students. Many of them are talented, creative, and lovely to hang out with.

These students may not be as academically inclined as their peers and oftentimes their strengths are glossed over simply because they carry the ITE label.

Judging by how society perceives and defines success, when can we start seeing ITE students for who they really are? 

Now if my son turns out to be not quite the academic type, will this society still embrace him for his non-academic strengths and talents?

Beyond school, will he still be able to realise his full potential in life even if he’s not equipped with a university degree?

Would he be respected and appropriately remunerated if he so chooses to pursue a trade or profession and become a carpenter, mason, or artisan?

4. Unfair to label youths as strawberries

We often hear complaints that our youths belong to a generation of lab-bred strawberries — pretty on the outside, soft on the inside, very easily bruised.

To this view, I respectfully beg to differ.

Youths today are dealt an entirely different deck of cards and challenges. The recent retreat from globalisation aside, Singapore today is more connected to the world than ever before.

Our youths must deal with a barrage of adulting challenges: truncating attention span, information overload, the constant thirst for social validation, the fear of missing out (FOMO), inevitable exposure to negative influences online like pornography, cyberbullying, online predators.

How well do we really know our young ones and the challenges they face?

The Internet along with its many boons and banes is here to stay. Incessantly scrolling their way to poorer well being, our youth are fighting an invisible but ongoing guerrilla war.

The enemies? Addictions to online social networking sites, pornography, cyberbullying, fraud, radicalization, hate speech, to name a few.

Fellow parents, whether we know it, whether we like it or not, we need help.

5. Policies alone cannot solve all challenges

As we shape a more family-friendly Singapore through legislation and policymaking, let us all remember to make time for our loved ones in our lives.

Pause, breathe, watch the world go by together, have heart-to-heart talks with those that matter, on things that matter.

Dump needless labels, connect to one another, starting with each family, person to person, soul to soul — the choice is ours to make.

These are things that legislation and policy can do so little to fix. These are choices that we must make, one family at a time.

It is both my lofty dream as well as sincere hope that some of what I highlighted could make its way into our collective conversations, and over time, nudge some much-needed change in the tone and complexion of societal norms and mental models, so that Singapore one day can truly be made for families.


Images via Guille Álvarez on Unsplash, Families For Life, ITE, Adelphi Psych Medicine Clinic, MSF