Experts warn against using stereotypes

Experts warn against using stereotypes
School-sanctioned programmes have to be wary of playing up stereotypes, said Dr Brian Yeo.

Men and women behave differently but strictly categorising them into fixed stereotypes could have negative consequences, especially if this is taught in school to impressionable teenagers, said experts.

That is why good facilitation is extremely important when talking about these differences in a classroom setting.

Earlier this week, Hwa Chong Institution student Agatha Tan criticised a workshop run by the Focus on the Family group. In a note posted online, she said alternative views were silenced as they "were not what the audience wanted to listen to".

While cookie-cutter portrayals can help craft a teenager's understanding of the world, they must be handled with caution, experts said. Students may end up "discrediting all other materials in the course" if they find its contents "offensive" or do not identify with these stereotypes, said Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist at Gleneagles Hospital. "You lose the chance to teach the youth something useful," he said.

Stereotypes should be used only when it is "backed by scientific research", if at all, said Dr Carol Balhetchet, senior director of youth services at Singapore Children's Society. "Otherwise, the perspective is very biased, one-sided and it is simply not fair," she added.

Dr Alvin Liew, who runs a clinic in Scotts Road, said: "It is more important for the adolescent to appreciate that each individual, regardless of gender, may have unique styles of communication."

This is because teenagers are finding and developing their own identities.

But teenagers are unlikely to be affected by the workshop as they are "exposed to a cultural milieu these days", including family members, friends and the media, unless there is a sustained effort to perpetuate these stereotypes, said Dr Brian Yeo, a consultant at Mt Elizabeth Medical Centre.

He added that school-sanctioned programmes have to be wary of playing up stereotypes because "students will think that these portrayals carry the weight of societal approval".

The dangers of being limited to act according to stereotypes can result in "undesirable social consequences", said Dr Lim. For example, boys may feel pressured to "act masculine all the time and stop themselves from crying", which is a healthy emotional outlet, he added.

This article was first published on Oct 11, 2014.
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