When it comes to tackling issues that impact specific groups, it is often instructive to hear from these groups themselves – however young they might be. The 2021/2022 edition of the Singapore Children’s Forum (SCF) illustrates how this can be done.
Throughout the six-month journey leading to a project showcase that took place on 15 January 2022, our participants’ voices took centre stage across topics that included mental health and parental relationships. Preparations began in June when ten SCF youth participants, aged 13 to 17, were first equipped with the relevant knowledge and skills to design their projects, and then decided on the topics most relevant to them.
In his opening address, Professor Ho Lai Yun, Deputy Chairman of the Singapore Children’s Society, reminded the audience that the SCF is anchored in Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) – that children and young persons have a right to participate in matters that affect them, and for their opinions to be taken seriously. Through the years, the Society has explored various formats in which this could be done.
“In the earlier years, we held camps with a central theme, which culminated in a forum event where the ideas of the participants were presented to the public. This SCF, we tried a different model. It is more of an ongoing journey where youth plug into issues of relevance and concern to them, and feel empowered to share their thoughts and be heard in a safe environment,” he says.
Two of the three groups focussed on mental health, highlighting it as a rising concern among the young, while the third explored their challenges navigating the digital world. They made their presentations to an audience of almost 60, which included their family members and friends, as well as staff members of Children’s Society.
Someone to lean on: Zerlina (right) and her group shared ideas on how the community could lend more support to those strugging with mental health issues
The first group advocated for the need to destigmatise mental health issues through greater awareness. To that end, they will run a social media campaign on SCF’s Instagram page, including posts providing accurate information on the common tell-tale signs of mental health issues, and educating people on how to approach someone who may be struggling.
Addressing self-perception: Sharman’s group tackled Body Dysmorphic Disorder, a condition where a person is preoccupied with perceived flaws in their physical appearance
The second group chose to zoom in on Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), given its prevalence and a general lack of awareness around the disorder. Its members will launch a podcast series aimed at correcting misinformation about BDD. This is a step towards normalising conversations around mental health, and equipping people to be more sensitive to, and supportive of, those facing mental health issues, thereby making help more accessible for everyone.
“By kickstarting these discussions about mental health, I believe our participants are on their way to creating an open environment for their fellow youth to share experiences and receive support when needed,” says Ms Julia Kwek, SCF youth mentor and Psychologist (Family Functional Therapy) under the Safe and Strong Families-Reunification programme.
The third group sought to rebalance parental and youth perceptions about the digital world. Pointing to how disagreements on the potential dangers and benefits of the digital space can widen the gulf between parents and their children, the group saw the need to clarify the youth view. Its members created a podcast and infographic capturing youth perspectives, and published them as part of the Singapore Children’s Society ParenTIPS podcast series on 8 February to coincide with Safer Internet Day. The podcast can be accessed here.
All three presentations were well-received and met with much support. But the real success in this edition was the way in which young people owned the issues they cared about and made the case for how they could be better addressed, says Ms Lin Xiaoling, Deputy Director of the Research and Advocacy Group which oversees the SCF. “This reaffirms the spirit of Article 12 of the UNCRC – that children and young persons have insightful opinions to share, and that adults should be listening,” she adds.
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