Man at His Best

Theo Chen: What I've Learned

The 15-year-old student talks anti-bullying, censorship, gender stereotypes and STOMP.

BY Wayne Cheong | May 9, 2016 | Culture

Ronald Leong

People are surprised that I’m interested in topics like anti-bullying, mostly because those who are speaking out against bullying are older. But I’ve been bullied before, and I’ve never really felt awkward talking about it.

A friend told me about a bullying that happened to his friend, which led to a horrible ending. I thought about that and, when I posted the video, I just wanted to share my opinion. Honestly, I’d never voiced my opinion before. I didn’t see anything negative could come from that. 

I had about a hundred subscribers and, with each upload, I’d get 200 views and a couple of comments from my friends. It didn’t really register until the next day, when my mum said I was in the news. I found about 500 notifications from YouTube. I thought, Oh no, that’s a lot of attention. The comments were positive initially. Later, they were mixed, but they’re still skewed towards the positive.

I guess I was pretty hurt by the negativity. In a way, I was bullied, but I was much luckier than some other kids who’ve had it a lot worse. Mine was temporary; it got dealt with swiftly, because I talked to my parents about it.

Am I the atypical teenager? I guess I am, but only to a certain extent. Obviously, I’ve certain privileges that my peers do not possess, so in that respect, I’m not your atypical teen. It’s not an easy question to answer, because there are so many facets to take into account.

My parents don’t censor what I read. I don’t think they’ve ever had to.

I understand the need to protect young people, but I don’t think censorship is ever really the right way to go.

I don’t agree with outright bans, because I think it is important to have a whole spectrum of views and opinions whatever form they may take. I believe really strongly in one’s right to see and learn as long as it’s not for terrorism or something.

A lot of the adults that I’ve talked to are very respectful and aren’t necessarily rude to me.

I want to do journalism and theatre. I still have a long time to think about it, but yeah, that’s what I’m leaning towards right now.

My parents always say that I need to pick up something that I like doing, otherwise there’s not much point in doing it. I’m very lucky to be in the position to choose what I want to do based on how much I like it.

I’ve known about AWARE since I was 10, because my mum and her mother were big supporters.

AWARE had an International Women’s Day at Hong Lim Park and they wanted me to speak about gender stereotypes. So I wrote about my experience and, on the day itself, when I saw the number of people present, I got kinda nervous, but I used that nervous energy to fuel my speech.

I don’t understand people who say things without doing much research. I’m all for anyone having an opinion, but if you are going to state something outright, I think you need to do some fact-checking. I’m guilty of that sometimes, and it’s just embarrassing for me.

Stomp is terrible. It’s the worse. It’s embarrassing for The Straits Times to put their name behind Stomp; why would you put your name behind a gossip site?

My parents are fair people. Seven months ago, I was annoyed with one of my friends or teachers. I explained the whole thing to them, and I wanted them to be on my side, but they weren’t. Instead, they tried to show me the other side of things. That’s something I definitely respect.

Some days, I am excited to be an adult, but as I see it, I don’t want to be one of those people who can’t wait to be 18, be mature, move out. Once adulthood arrives, that’s what you are going to be stuck with for the rest of your life.

The Amos Yee fiasco was sad and embarrassing for the Singaporean government and Singaporeans. Send a 16-year-old to jail, and then to a mental institute just because of some things he said online?

I don’t think I’d ever have the courage to say that kind of stuff and put it online. I suppose, in our society, if that could happen to Amos Yee, then it would be really scary if it happened to someone else or me.

That said, I don’t agree with everything [Yee] said, but underneath his shock value, there were interesting points. It wasn’t necessarily his opinions that landed him in trouble; I think it was how he expressed them. If you have an opinion about something, you have to say it in a way that won’t make people mad.

Theatre is the only art form where every single performance is a different, unique interaction between performers and audience.

Saying, “I don’t believe in humanity” is just an incredibly pessimistic outlook. That’s not going to help anything. I’m optimistic, and I think that, yes, humans definitely have faults and can be ingenuous, but [we can] do good things.

From: Esquire Singapore's May 2016 issue.

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