The Implications and Impact of Play

Veronica Denise Goh

The need for play is so compelling that humans find a myriad of ways to do this. This is especially so for children who are learning about themselves and the world around them.

Factor (1993, p.22) asserts “So powerful is the urge to play…that children even in the most terrible circumstances insist on playing” (cited in Glover, p.13)

However, the value of play has a history of being a point of contention among theorists and those in the early childhood field. From the 1870’s, research on the value of play began on three separate areas, cognitive, social and emotional (Fleer, 1996, p.13). In the 1970’s, studies on children’s play were more focused on either a social or cognitive context. Researchers now have shown that play is a concurrent development along social and cognitive avenues. In addition, the value of play today is now recognized as beneficial to the development of the whole child (Johnson, Christie, Yawkey, 1987, p.149).

Bredekamp and Copple (1997, p.14) have communicated their belief on children’s play and how play promotes their social, emotional and cognitive development.   They also suggest that the ways children play reflect their levels of development.   I will discuss the statements made by them and show evidence as to the extent of their accuracy. I will also show evidence that play promotes beyond the development of just social, emotional and cognitive as suggested by these authors and that while play can promote positive concepts and skills, it can also be detrimental to children’s development.

Definition of Play

The definition of ‘play’ has also been the subject of many debates. One of the reasons is the difficulty in distinguishing play and exploration. It is hard to know when one stops and the other begins.   However, there is a general consensus among researchers and theorists today that play includes characteristics like intrinsic motivation, freely chosen, pleasurable, enjoyable, engaging, process-oriented, active, self rather than object-oriented, and non literal (Feeny, Christensen, Moravcik, 1996, p.116,117).   Monighan-Nourot, Scales and Van Hoorn (1987, p.20) state that play occurs when children use the knowledge gained from exploration in their play.

The Value of Play

Play has been widely accepted by early childhood educators as crucial in children’s development (Glover, 1999, p.5) and the ‘cornerstone of early childhood education’ (MacNaughton, 1999, p.37). Continuous research on play and its impact on children’s development have further fuelled this belief (Kagan, 1990, cited in Glover, p.5).   In fact, children’s play has been acknowledged to be so valuable that it was included in the Convention on the rights of the child under Article 31 (1989, p.256) that all children have the right ‘to engage in play’ (Feeny, et al. 1996, p.125).

Boyer (1998, p.90) asserts that a person with a ‘playful attitude’ in learning is not interested in extrinsic rewards and this enables that person to respond to new knowledge or reconstruct knowledge already acquired. Ellis (1973, p.21, cited in Boyer, 1998, p. 90) believes that when a person encounters things around his/her environment in a novel fashion, it reinforces his/her desire to acquire new knowledge. For children, this playful attitude allows them to explore, discover and learn about their world and life (Fineman, 1962; Freyberg, 1973; Glickman, 1984; Singer, 1973; Singer, Singer, 1977, cited in Boyer, 1998, p.90).

Hence, play, does contribute to children’s development and as Bredekamp and Copple (1997, p.14) have suggested, in the areas of social, emotional and cognitive.


Research has shown that from birth, babies engage in ‘playful social interchange’ and as they mature, social development becomes more evident as children begin to engage in more imaginative pretend play (Hendrick, 1996, p.408).

Glover (1999, p.9) states that play allows young children to interact with people outside their family members. She also believes that building relationships with their peers is crucial to children’s development of social skills. Children who have inadequate peer relationships may experience academic and social problems and may feel negatively about school (Sodorow, 1995, p.135; Buhrmester, 1990 cited in Sodorow, 1995, p.135).

According to the theory of Bandura and Walter’s theory of social learning, peers act as models especially for young children. Through observation and play experiences, children imitate and learn about sharing, turn-taking, self-regulation, teamwork, cooperation and negotiation, effective communication, relating to others, altruistic acts, and feel a sense of belonging (Glover, 1999, p.9; Dodge, Colker, 1996, p. 25; Elliot, Vasta, 1970; Hartup, Coates, 1967, cited in Bukatko, Daehler, 1995, p.574; Lefrancois, 1994, p.107,108).

Playing with peers provides children with opportunities to learn about social awareness, for example, ‘the do’s and don’ts of the social world’ (Glover, 1999, p.9; Bukatko, Daehler, 1995, p. 574). Through playing with others, children develop social competence, extend their knowledge of social understanding and skills as they discover more about successful social approaches, initiating and maintaining friendships, and social problem-solving through positive means (Glover, 1999, p.9; Dodge and Colker, 1996, p.25).


Glover (1999, p.11) states that symbolic competence such as, ‘symbolic thought, formation and understanding complex relationships’ is pivotal in cognitive development. Nourot and Van Hoorn (1991, p.41) also believe that symbolic behaviour provides the foundation for the cognitive skills needed in pretend and constructive play.

When children play, they assimilate and accommodate new information into their exiting cognitive schemes (Nourot, Van Hoorn, 1991, p.43) as identified by Piaget as one of the learning processes (Krantz, 1994, p.31). Play offers children opportunities to develop spatial perspective skills (Rubin, Rein, Vandenberg, 1983, cited in Gowan, 1995, p.76), promote the ability to decontextualize, and foster object substitution skills. It also helps children to plan, think logically, rationalize, categorize, and ‘to construct, consolidate and communicate their growing understanding of reality (Gowan, 1995, p.76-82).   Through play, children learn to resolve conflicts among themselves and Piaget ‘s theory of ‘social cognitive conflict’ suggests that this helps them to reflect on their own viewpoints and reasoning which supports their cognitive development (Arthur, Beecher, Dockett, Farmer, Death, 1997, p.104).

Play also promotes children’s learning of academic subjects. Math, reading, and writing consist of symbols and require the ability to function symbolically to interpret these symbols (Nourot, Van Hoorn, 1991, p.42). Through play and playing with objects, children also learn and extend their existing knowledge about size, shape, numbers, counting, space, and measurement (Glover, 1999, p.11). Levin (1996, cited in Glover, 1999, p.11) maintains that the skills children develop through play are essential for their future academic performance.


Play can be therapeutic and a form of catharsis for children. It can help children deal with their feelings in a world that they have yet to fully comprehend. In fact, therapists have for a long time been using play as a means of helping children express or release their feelings. (Hendrick, 1996, p.410,411). Freud (1856-1939) in his psychoanalytic perspective theory (Berk, 1994, p.14) believed that play is a principal means through which children can work out their ‘fears, anxieties and desires’ (Feeny et al. 1996, p.126).

Through play, children are also provided with ‘opportunities to see themselves as ‘competent, powerful and useful’ (Glover, 1999, p.10), such as, when children cooperatively plan and create something together (Feeny et al. 1996, p.128). Children feel good about themselves as they gain a sense of power and pride in their abilities when they practise at doing something during play until they achieve success. This enhances their self-esteem when children know that there are some things that they can do on their own (Glover, 1999, p.10). In addition, play allows children to feel a sense of control and help them master their environment because when they play, they can use their imagination to design their own play experience. When children are given the opportunity to decide what they want to play and how they want to play, they learn to exercise their own power. Play promotes the development of and strengthens children’s ego (Hendrick, 1996, p.411,412).

Other Developments

Through the above discussion, I have provided evidence and supported Bredekamp and Copple’s statements. However, other readings have shown that the role of play goes beyond just these three areas.


Play promotes the physical motor development, such as, gross and fine motor skills, bodily control and strength, body awareness, hand-eye coordination (Glover, 1999, p.12; Feeny et al.,1996, p.127; Hendrick, 1996, p.406; Dodge, Colker, 1996, p.9). These skills are important for children to develop in order that they can manage ‘future learning tasks’ and master new and more difficult physical skills (Dodge, Colker, 1996, p.9; Glover, 1999, p.12). Physical skills are also fundament for cognitive skills in learning the three R’s (Dodge, Colker, 1996, p.9).

Active play helps children to develop fine and gross motor skills gradually as they develop more control over their bodies. When children run, skip, jump on a pogo stick, manipulate play objects like fixing puzzles, build things, they are utilising their existing physical skills to develop new and more complex ones such as, ‘building their speed, endurance, balance and strength. In addition, Glover asserts that fine motor skills cannot maturate without ‘exploration, experimentation and practice (Glover, 1999, p.12).


Children also develop language as they engage in play with others through interactions, communicating with others or expressing their ideas. Children also acquire language when they label objects that they play with (Van Hoorn, Monighan-Nourot, Scales, Alward, p.20; Morrison, 1998, p.226). Balaban (1990, p.l36) states that make-believe play and language ‘complement and encourage’ both developments.


Play also fosters creativity and flexibility as children think of different ways of building something, explore novel experiences, combine activities and actions, or resolve a problem during play from new angles. Symbolic play also encourages creativity such as when a child uses a block as a bottle of sauce to pour into a pan (Nourot, Van Hoorn, 1991, p.43; Lay-Dopyera, Dopyeara, 1993, p.50).

Play helps children to develop character, personality, and attitudes, which can impact on their lives in the present and in the future.

 The Risk of Play

As mentioned-above, play is valuable to children’s development. However, recent research suggest that play can also be ‘dangerous’ to their developments (MacNaughton, 1998, p.82).

MacNaughton, (1998, p.84) illustrates that “play is dangerous because there is so much at stake”.   While children learn about their social world, about fairness, sharing of power, their value and the value of others, and enjoy social diversity through play, these same concepts can also be instilled in children in a negative way. Children can also learn about unfairness, battle with each other for power and be bias towards diversity, such as, ‘racism, sexism, homophobia and classism’ (Fleer, 1996; Derman-Sparks, 1993-4; Neugebaurer, 1992; Kyoung & Lewis, 1995; Creaser & Dau, 1995, cited in MacNaughton, 1998, p.84).

Through peer and adult influence, children learn about ‘gender, sexuality, love, hate, power, violence, friendship, inclusion and exclusion’ and they practise what they learn through play. Children can feel hurt, be isolated, made to feel rejected, and humiliated, harassed because of who and what they are, such as cultural and economic backgrounds, disabilities, and gender, and what they do, like when they cross gender boundaries or when boys play with traditionally girl toys and vice-versa (MacNaughton, 1998, p.84, 85; Brown, 1995, p.13; Derman-Sparks, 1993-4; Creaser & Dau, 1995; Siraj-Blatchford, 1994, cited in MacNaughton, 1998, p.84,85; MacNaughton, G. 1997, p. 58-65).

Play as a Reflection of Children’s Development

People like Piaget, Parten, Freud, Erikson, and many others have designed milestones or stages of development. Nicolson and Shipstead suggested that the various views of these theorists should be seen as allowing us a fuller understanding of children’s development, rather than ‘competitors’ (Nicolson, Shipstead, 1994, p.26,41; Berk, 1994, p.14,17).

Children generally develop skills at around the same time. Knowledge of the milestones of children of different ages aids the adult in being aware if a child is behind or advanced in his/her development. For example, if a 5-year-old child is observed to be frequently engaging in solitary or parallel play, the adult can deduce that he/she may be lacking in social skills. Again, if a four-year-old is able to engage in play with rules, it may be assumed that he/she is advanced in his/her development of cognitive skills. However, one must be mindful that milestones are intended to be ‘guidelines and not commandments’ (Nicolson, Shipstead, 1994, p.19).

McCune (1986, p.55,56) asserts that children indulge in symbolic play more frequently as their cognitive development matures and symbolic play accompanies the mental age rather than the chronological age of children. This appears to suggest that the level of children’s symbolic play can establish children’s level of mental capacity.

Dramatic play for two to three year olds is simple and often parallel. The doll is the focus of the play and the roles that children play are limited to mother, father and baby.   In contrast, dramatic play for the four, five and six year olds becomes more elaborate and the personalities of the children are evident in the play. More roles are involved and the plot can continue and progress over a much longer period of time (Paley, 1989, p.88). Through this illustration, it is reasonable to say that the developmental levels of children result in the composites of their play.

My stand is that children’s play can be indicators of their developmental levels. However, teachers should be cautious about their evaluations based on just a few observations. Through sharing notes with other teachers, talking to significant people in their lives, and through systematic observations, only then can teachers make informed evaluations about the children’s developmental levels (Nicolson, Shipstead, 1994, pg.313-314, 316).


Play as evidences have shown can promote children’s growth in many developmental areas. Yet, play can also be detrimental to children’s development and as such, educators must be wary of what children are learning. Children’s play can also be a ‘looking glass’ into their levels of development. Our role as early childhood educators is complex, to say the least. However, as educators of young children whose developments are at a sensitive period and are also rapidly progressing, we must give them the best education and for children, one of the best ways of learning is through play.


Arthur, L., Beecher, B., Dockett, S., Farmer, S. & Death, E. (1997). Programming and planning in early childhood settings. Sydney: Harcourt Brace.

Balaban, N. (1990). Toddlers: 24 to 36 months. In E. Surbeck & M. Kelly (eds.) Personalising care with infants, toddlers and families: MD: Assn. for Childhood Education International.

Berk, L. E. (1994) Child Development. Boston: Allyn and Bacon

Boyer, W. (1997/1998). Playfulness enhancement through classroom intervention for the 21st century, Childhood Education, 74, 2, pp. 90-96.

Bredekamp, S. & Copple, C. (eds.) (1997). Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Bukatko, D. & Daehler, M. W. (1995). Child Development: A thematic approach.   USA: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Feeny, S., Christensen, D. & Moravcik, E. (1990). Who am I in the lives of children? New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

Fleer, M. (ed). (1996). Play through the profiles: Profiles through play, Australian Early Childhood Association, Watson, ACT.

Glover, A. (1999). The role of play in development and learning. Sydney: MacLennan & Petty Ltd.

Gowan, J. (1995). The early development of symbolic play. Young children, March, 75 – 83.

Hendrick, J. (1996). The whole child: Developmental Education for the early years.   USA: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

Johnson, J. E., Christie, J. F., Yawkey, T. D. (1987). Play and early childhood development.   USA: Scott, Foresmand and Company.

Krantz, M. (1994). Child development: Risk and opportunity. Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing Company.

Lay-Dopyera, M. & Dopyera, J. (1993). Becoming a teacher of young children. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc.

Lefrancois, G. R. (1994). Psychology for teaching. USA: Wadsworth, Inc.

MacNaughton, G. (1999). CTP 31S: Curriculum 3-5. p. 37.

MacNaughton, G. (1997). “Who’s got the power? Rethinking gender equity strategies in early childhood”, International Journal of Early Years Education.

MacNaughton, G. (1998). “Even pink tents have glass ceiling: Crossing the gender boundaries in pretend play” in Child’s Play, MacLennan & Petty.

McCune, L. (1986). Symbolic development in normal and atypical infants. In G. Fein & M. Rivkin (eds.) The young child at play, Reviews of research, Vol. 4. Washington: NAEYC.

Monighan-Nourot, P, Scales. B., & Van Hoorn, J. (1987). Looking at children’s play: A bridge between theory and practice. New York: Teachers College Press.

Morrison, G, S. (1998) Early Childhood Education Today. USA: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

Nicolson, S. & Shipstead, S. G. (1994). Through the looking glass: Observations in the early childhood classroom. USA: Macmillan Publishing Company.

Nourot, P, & Van Hoorn, J. (1991). Symbolic play in preschool and primary settings. Young Children   September pp. 40 – 50.

Paley, V. G. (1989). White Teacher, Harvard University Press.

Sdorow, L. M. (1995). Psychology. USA: WCB Brown & Benchmark Publications.

United Nations Convention on the rights of the child. (1989).

Van Hoorn, J., Monighan-Nourot, P., Scales, B., & Alward, K (1993). Play at the centre of the curriculum. NY: Merril. Chap. 2 Using theory and research to support play in the curriculum.


How Children Naturally Learn

Source: How Children Naturally Learn

“Schools don’t need to be punitive places, and there is no need for curriculums to be developed that focus primarily on textual information, to expect young people to sit alone at computers for hours, or to silently remain seated at desks in rows while an adult stands in the front and talks to them. That is just NOT how human beings learn!

It’s industrial era madness to constantly test and measure children, to collect data from them, compare them to one another, to expect them all to learn the same things, at the same time, same speed or in the same way.

This mechanistic paradigm of learning was introduced at the beginning of the last century, a factory model of schooling designed to train future workers, to foster dependence, conformity and obedience, not creativity, self-direction, collaborative problem-solving, critical thinking or a love of learning.

This is not how children’s bodies, hearts and brains are designed to learn, which is why so many children (and adults) in modern societies have disliked school. That is not how the most creative human beings in history developed their talents, and its not how most of us developed the skills and abilities that are most meaningful to us.”

Bullies and the Bullied

FIVE months. That’s how long the Shuqun Secondary School student endured the bullying from his classmate. It got so bad that he started going to school later than he would usually. He said he didn’t feel safe at school. His own mother became suspicious: “Last time when I woke up at 6.50am or 7am, I would have thought ‘Oh, my son went to school already’. Now when I wake up, I still see him at home.” However, the teenager didn’t tell his mother about the bullying; he didn’t think it would make a difference. After all, he had told his teacher about it, once – a few months ago, when the bully attacked him with a pen by jabbing it into his skin. Did that stop the bullying? No.

The teacher talked to him (the bully). Then after that the teacher said she will keep a look out for him. But in the end, he still jabbed me with the pen… like four to five times… He still continued jabbing me with the pen… He threatened me after I complained.

He told his teachers and they did nothing concrete about the bullying. After awhile, a bullied child will internalise that he is alone in his problems and that the school will do nothing other than send the bully to sit out a couple of hours in detention.

He may have internalised that complaining would simply get him into further trouble with the bully. And he was right. He did.

He may have internalised that he was not worthy enough in the eyes of his school teachers, to be warranted more concern, more care, more protection.

Ultimately, this case, as with most cases of bullying, abuse, and such, where they involve children, the ball falls on the adult stakeholders, that being the principal of Shuqun Secondary School, the teachers whom the boy sought help from, and the teachers who were aware of the bullying situation. And now, MOE  (The Ministry of Education).

The boy did everything right. He did not take matter into his own hands by fighting back, even though he could have. He did what should have been the proper procedure, he informed his teachers and they failed to protect him.

Being bullied, has traumatising effects on bullied children, long after the bullying ceases and often, the effects follow them into adulthood.

This is the time that our children are developing and learning to understand concepts of right and wrong, of trusting or mistrusting, of learning morals and values, etc. And these concepts and behaviours acquired will play pivotal roles in how the brain continues to develop.  Children’s experiences are major determinant in their brain development, for example, which part of the brain grows bigger, which part of the brain will not develop as well, what neurones become connected, what pathways will be strengthened and established, and what are pruned away.

In fact, much research has also shown that apart from the optimal periods of development where learning and experiences vastly affect how the brain develops during the early years, the teenage years are the second period of optimal brain development.

The school not only failed the bullied boy. It also failed the boy who was doing the bullying. The bully was given the message that he could bully, get detention class, and continue to bully again, with either little to no consequences. And he continued to not be able to change his behaviours or see any advantage or reason to changing his behaviours

I am not advocating the canning of the bully. Canning the bully will only perpetuate the idea in our children that while they cannot bully, the teachers/principal can, and therefore, might (as in authority) is right.

The boys who were bullied and the boy who was doing the bullying should have been given counselling from the get go. And we are not talking about detention class and one time-off counselling.

Schools, I am afraid, have become obsessed with compliance, as is our society. So, we dispense punishments, like detentions, and if they do not work, the punishments progress to canning our children, to later, maybe even leading to juvenile courts, where children are sentenced to a  juvenile detention facility, which is an euphemism for jail . However, do these measures really help our children change or do they simply make them more resentful, more angry, complying only because they are being forced to.

If we truly want to help both the bully and the bullied, get down to really fixing the school systems. Provide a series of counselling sessions that will help both adults and the children involved realise and understand the underlying reasons to the manifestation of these behaviours.  Involve families, do not keep them in the dark. Then provide avenues of support to both children.

Our schools have become a place where we expect children to acquire information (not even education) and to be able to regurgitate the information, during specific times. We are not building robots, we are shaping the generations to come.  How their brains when reaching full maturity eventually develop, will be one of the determining factors of how our society will become.

Amos Yee and the intolerance of the hysterical minority

Instead, my concern is a wider one of how the government decide what is allowable and what is not, in the area of things which are deemed to be sensitive for some religions and their adherents.

This relates, of course, to the first charge levelled at Amos Yee, as mentioned above.

Amos Yee’s allegedly offensive video, in which he ranted and criticised the late Lee Kuan Yew, and compared him to Jesus Christ unfavourably, was an 8-minute film uploaded onto Youtube.

Here are some facts about it:

Total number of words spoken: 1,202

Number of times “Jesus” was mentioned: 1

Number of times “Christian(s)” was mentioned: 2

Length of video: 519 seconds (8:39 minutes)

Length of time Amos used to compare Lee Kuan Yew to Jesus Christ: 64 seconds

The comparison of Lee Kuan Yew to Jesus Christ was, admittedly, not very flattering, for either gentlemen.

But is it so serious that such extreme measures is necessary to be taken against a 16-year old?

To arrest him at his home (I am told there were 8 police officers there to execute that order), handcuff him in front of his parents and grandparents, and then to set bail for him, and later to handcuff him again in court and keep him in remand.

And on the day when Mr Law bailed him out, the news reported:

“At about 6.10pm, Yee was brought to the bail centre, still handcuffed and with ankle restraints, accompanied by more than five officers.”

One of the conditions of his bail, which also included Amos Yee reporting to the Bedok police station everyday at 9am, was that the video in question be set to private as well.

All this make it clear that Amos Yee’s supposed “offence” is rather serious – “attacking Christianity”, and “offending Christians”, according to a Straits Times’ report on Wednesday (22 April).

However, are Christians really offended by the rants of a teenager whom few had heard of before this incident?

“I’m a Christian and I’m stepping up to say that I’m not offended,” Mr Law told the media outside the courthouse.

Mr Law is a Christian.

Indeed, another Christian started an online petition to urge fellow Singaporeans to “release Amos Yee from your anger”, referring to the vitriolic attacks levelled at the teenager from some quarters, which include threats and intimidation of a sexual and physical nature directed at the boy.

“We are not offended by Amos Yee’s statements,” Wally Tham, the petition creator, said.

“His opinions about our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ neither threaten our faith nor diminish our love for Him.”

The petition has garnered close to 4,000 supportive signatures since it was started a few days ago.

What Mr Law and Mr Tham say reflect what the Government itself had said in the past – that Christians here are not intolerant.


Christians are offended? Really?

Vincent Law, a family and youth counsellor, has stepped forward and bailed out 16-year old Amos Yee on Tuesday.

Yee was being held by the authorities because no one had posted the S$20,000 bail for him over the weekend.

He had been in remand for 4 days, and is being charged for three alleged offences which are (quoting local news reports):

  • Allegedly causing matter to be seen and heard by five victims by creating a video clip containing remarks against Christianity with the deliberate intention of wounding the feelings of Christians.
  • Allegedly transmitting electronically an image showing obscene figures, believed to be a cartoon or caricature of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Mr Lee in an unflattering sexual depiction.
  • Allegedly making an insulting video clip online containing remarks about Mr Lee which was intended to be heard and seen by persons likely to be…

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What Amos Yee is going through is far bigger than just one boy

By Kirsten Han | SingaporeScene

Kirsten Han is a Singaporean blogger, journalist and filmmaker. She is also involved in the We Believe in Second Chances campaign for the abolishment of the death penalty. A social media junkie, she tweets at @kixes. The views expressed are her own.

I arrived at the State Courts on Friday just in time to see journalists pouring out of the courtroom, following a Deputy Public Prosecutor into a media huddle. He was going through the conditions of Amos Yee’s bail, now transferred from police to court bail. His parents had not yet decided whether they were going to post bail this time.

Friends who had been in the courtroom told me that Amos had been whisked out of his closed pre-trial conference in handcuffs. The whole thing had been so quick that he hadn’t even had a chance to look up and see that people he knew were there for moral support.
The major events have since been reported in the media. Amos is spending the weekend in remand. No one has yet come forward to bail him out. The bail conditions are difficult for a 16-year-old: reporting to a police station every morning, undertaking not to post or distribute any content online for as long as his case is ongoing (which could be some time). It’s a challenge not just for the child, but also for the bailor.
Everyone has an opinion on this case – everyone has something to say about Amos, his parents, his video and blog posts. There are rumours and speculation everywhere, and the case has become, pretty much inevitably, politicised.

Yet there are many separate issues at play here, and in the drama and emotive reactions to a potty-mouthed 16-year-old’s video, many of these issues have not received the examination they deserve. The implications go way beyond Amos Yee – there are aspects of this case that concern all Singaporeans.

One might find Amos offensive. One might find him annoying, rude, arrogant, vulgar and disrespectful. One might thoroughly dislike him. One might actively choose to avoid him if caught in a social situation together. And that’s perfectly fine. No one is required to like Amos.

But all of that is completely separate from the fact that in Singapore, you can be reported and arrested for being offensive and annoying and rude and vulgar and disrespectful. That you can be charged for harassment despite the fact that no one was forced to watch your YouTube video (everyone who was distressed by the video could have, at any point, closed the browser and gone on with his or her life). That it can be a criminal offence, in Singapore, to say things that people don’t like to hear.

There are implications for freedom of speech here that we as a society have yet to really question and explore.

On top of that, this case has thrown up points of concern related to the way we treat youths. Although the United Nations considers those below 18 to be children, and therefore in need of protection even when they have fallen foul of the law, Singapore sees children as those below 14, and those above 14 and below 16 as young persons. As a 16-year-old, Amos is therefore old enough to be tried as an adult, slapped in handcuffs and hustled away. He is now in remand – probably not in a juvenile section – and might have to sit in there for some time.

Apart from the problems of using handcuffs on minors, is this really a proportional response to a YouTube video? Can we really, hand on heart, look at this treatment of a teenager and say that this is a rational, mature reaction?

And that brings me to yet another issue: how do we, as Singaporeans, react to things that we don’t like? Do we walk away? Do we engage each other to debate our perspectives? Are we willing to admit the existence of views we don’t like – even views we find abhorrent – because we believe in bigger principles of freedom and expression?

Or do we just stamp our feet and appeal to authorities to remove what we don’t like? Do we prioritise our desire to never be challenged or offended above someone else’s right to speak his or her mind?

From Amos’ case – judging by the vindictiveness of some adults in wanting to see a kid go down – it appears that despite 50 years of education, progress and development, we’re still in the latter category. Decades of nation-building have not taught us to engage and to talk, only to appeal to authority to fix things that are hard for us to take. Years of education and exposure to the wider world have not taught us to respond with grace to things that we strongly disagree with; we still insist that everyone conform to a narrow band of opinion and feeling, that there are “right” ways to think, “right” ways to speak, “right” ways to act.
If this is true, then we have far bigger problems than Amos Yee


Appeal to International Children Agencies to Denounce Political Persecution of Amos Yee

Appeal to International Children Agencies to Denounce Political Persecution of Amos Yee.

“On 29 March 2015, a 16-year-old boy Amos Yee was arrested and charged on 31 March 2015, just two days later, after he made a video which criticised the late first prime minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew. Amos also spoke about the high income inequality in Singapore and attributed it to the first prime minister as well.

Amos was charged with three charges. For one of them, the first prime minister’s supporters said that the video “contained remarks about Mr Lee Kuan Yew which was intended to be heard and seen by persons likely to be distressed”.

More importantly, Amos was also charged as an adult in the State Court. He was not charged in the Juvenile Court for children.

After Amos was charged, he was put on bail for $20,000. The terms of his bail are excessive. He is not allowed to post, upload, distribute or by an other means cause to be made visible or available any comment or content, whether directly or indirectly, to any social media or online service or website.

In addition, he is now being held in remand, and has been in prison for four days now.

I would like to highlight that Singapore is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

Under the convention, Singapore is required to look for other measures “without resorting to judicial proceedings,… such as care, guidance and supervision orders; counselling; probation; foster care; education and vocational training programmes and other alternatives to institutional care shall be available to ensure that children are dealt with in a manner appropriate to their well-being and proportionate both to their circumstances and the offence.”

However, after Amos was arrested, he was immediately charged. He was not given any other recourse.

On top of that, under the convention, Amos should have been “treated in a manner consistent with the promotion of the child’s sense of dignity and worth, which reinforces the child’s respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of others and which takes into account the child’s age and the desirability of promoting the child’s reintegration and the child’s assuming a constructive role in society.”

However, a blanket restriction was imposed on Amos’s freedom of speech and expression and he has been imprisoned for four days in jail now.”

Do children Really Learn About Right and Wrong Through Fear, Humiliation, and Punitive Punishments?

“The subjects were handcuffed for the safety of them and others as they had attempted to escape before police’s arrival.” Singapore Police Force – Dangerous Criminals In Singapore

These are children, the youngest being 9 years-old, according to the article,

What kind of danger could they possibly have posed to others and themselves, that warranted the children being restrained with handcuffs?

Were these officers so frightened that these young children were going to outrun them and hence, “Evade the law” and whatever punitive punishment that was in store for them?

I agree with the author that the experience of being put in cuffs is going to traumatise these children for the rest of their lives. It does not take a child development specialist to make that observation.

That is the problem with people in the civil service and in the government. They no longer have the capacity to combine emotional skills like, empathy and higher cognitive skills like, logical, analytical, and plain common sense to perform their duties.

And children at that age are just beginning to develop a sense of morality but the pre-frontal cortex that regulates behaviours and impulse, is far from being fully developed.

Those who believe that, “Tough love” will help children to fully understand the concept of right from wrong, without suffering from any detrimental effects to the continuing holistic development, are far removed from the truth and reality.

Those who say that we should just allow our police officers to “Do their jobs” without any forms of criticism or critical observations, are they implying that we should let people of authority do whatever they deem fit, even if their actions may be questionable?

Demanding that our children conform to rules under any circumstances, without application of critical analysis to the information or instruction, can be a major barrier to the development of self-regulation, and hence, our society today. We have to realise that conformity, without any analysis or scrutiny to what we are conforming to, has led us to where we are now, policies that are not in our best interests are being implemented, without any regard to what and how we feel about the policies.

“If a practice can’t be justified on its own terms, then the task for children and adults alike, isn’t to get used to it, but to question, to challenge, and if necessary, to resist.”

Alfie Kohn,(Feel Bad Education), a provocative author and a leading speaker on human behaviour, education, and parenting.

This could have been used as a positive, enriching, life-long and deep-reaching learning experience for these children. The experience could have:

  • Provided the children with a deeper understanding about why the “act” of taking something that does not belong to them, is not just, in any context.
  • Help them internalised that they are good people and the “act” was separate from who they are.
  • Taught them that police are people they do not have to run away from because they are there to protect them, in their best interests, and under any circumstances, even when a mistake has been made,
  • Helped them developed an even stronger, inner sense of empathy and kindness and hence, more inclined to display these traits to the people around them.
  • Greatly and positively contributed to their on-going development of the structures and neurological pathways in their brain, their self-concept, emotional and psychological well-being.

Instead, these children:

  • Were traumatised by being publicly humiliated and restrained by hand-cuffs. They would have watch enough television by then, I am sure, to have made the connections between handcuffs, jail, and all the other terrifying things that come with police and handcuffs. However, they would not have realised the difference in the application of the law for an adult and a child because at that point, they were being treated the same way adult criminals are treated on television shows.
  • Harshly reminded that they are not to remove items from stores without paying but would they have acquired the deeper understanding of why and that removing items that do not belong to them applies to all contexts, from friends, family members, strangers, and in future, girlfriends, life partners, colleagues, companies that they work in, and so forth?
    Internalised that they are bad people and the “act” made them bad people, negating all the other good behaviours that they have displayed all their lives prior to this act.
  • May have learned that the mistake that they made was not the act of stealing but being caught .
  • Learned that adults and especially police-officers are people to be feared and who would dispense terrifying and punitive punishments when a mistake is made (being caught and restrained with handcuffs was surely only the first stage of all that was to come).
  • Internalised that the bigger a person is and the more authority a person has over them, he or she has the power to incapacitate, demean, and humiliate and that they too could do the same to those who are smaller than them – these are some of the major contributing influences to the making of bullies. Children always learn best by how they are treated.
  • Greatly and negatively contributed to their on-going development of the structures and neurological pathways in their brain, their self-concept, emotional and psychological well-being.