The lesson in gender controversy

The flap over a teen's response to a workshop on managing relationships aimed at junior college students offers a teachable moment for youngsters and adults alike. The Hwa Chong Institution student had criticised the workshop for being sexist and reinforcing gender stereotypes - a view she was perfectly entitled to voice, in the spirit of discussion. What followed were a welter of comments from various quarters, including the Education Ministry and the Social and Family Development Ministry, as well as not a few writers to this newspaper.

The learning point is the need to demonstrate perspective and grace when discussing useful programmes on relationships and sexuality that schools ought to run, bearing in mind concerns like secularity, culture and religious sensitivities. Parents should not let this incident deter them from allowing their children to participate in such school programmes.

The school principal held the view that "things can go wrong" when the course provider is ineffective. Rather than upbraid facilitators, it might have been more edifying to look at how to engage millennials and deepen their understanding of potentially contentious subjects.

Influencing teens is no easy task when they themselves can hold sway in different areas, as Time magazine reaffirms with its annual list of the most influential teens. They can win fame and get derailed like Justin Bieber, as well as justifiably claim the Nobel Peace Prize like Malala Yousafzai. There's no question they have a mind of their own and have a mind to speak up when something is not quite right. In an unrelated incident here, the daughter of a TV actor got an apology from a fashion store over its choice of background music carrying what she called "woman-shaming, woman-blaming lyrics".

Against these developments, adults can provide invaluable guidance not just in the formation of values but also how to dissect arguments and how to maintain civility and temperance even in the most provocative situations. For example, if there is a suspicion that certain values are being propagated by groups in public schools, this ought to be based on well-grounded information. Or if certain gender stereotypes are deemed to be plainly misguided, there should still be room left for facilitators to harness these examples with a touch of irony or humour in order to enliven workshops for teens.

Adhering to completely politically correct readings of issues would certainly create no sparks, but this might also mean shedding less light on interpersonal dynamics. After all, today's teens are unlikely to pay much heed to pious words when they seek a better understanding of how people really tick.