'Don't let diversity in values and culture pull S'pore apart'

As families become more complex and diverse, Singapore needs to figure out how to use these differences to strengthen society, said Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin.

Mr Tan was making the observation amid the backdrop of changing family structures in Singapore, with more being cross-cultural or transnational. Last year, two out of 10 marriages were inter-ethnic, and more than a third were of Singaporeans marrying foreigners.

"This contributes to our ever-growing cosmopolitan society," said Mr Tan.

Through travel and technology, Singaporeans are also increasingly exposed to different cultures and world views, he added. Children, too, are more exposed to such differences with their use of technology, something he said parents "ironically... see as very useful childminders".

"There will be an impact on the family, in terms of how our children are growing up and our relationship with them," he said. "We gain from being open and exposed to different cultures and values. But the challenge also lies in maintaining our social fabric amid this diversity."

Mr Tan was speaking at a family therapy conference yesterday attended by social workers, counsellors and therapists.

He said family friction comes from changing values, communication issues and poor acceptance of diversity. Such friction, if not handled well, "would degenerate to break down the family".

Since social workers "are at the forefront, attending to some of the most complex issues facing our families", Singapore needs to help these professionals enhance their skills and knowledge.

"However, family therapy services cannot be an end to itself to resolve family issues. It is crucial that different community agencies work together to provide the support for families in need," he said.

He added that there have been many efforts by the Government and citizens to help Singaporeans understand one another's "practices, ways of thinking and values", including a programme to help foreign spouses get used to life here.

"We should not let diversity in views, values and culture pull us apart. Rather, they should enrich and strengthen us as a society."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 20, 2016, with the headline ''Don't let diversity in values and culture pull S'pore apart''. Print Edition | Subscribe