App-ily Ever After

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Malaysia was in uproar recently due to the ‘sugar’ industry. Not to be confused with the sweet tasting ingredient for food, it refers to an online dating platform called Sugarbook. The dating site matches ‘sugar daddies’ (older and generally more well-off males) to ‘sugar babies’ (young females) for companionship in exchange for allowances. This is not limited to wealthy males as wealthy women called ‘sugar mummies’ can also search for younger males to be their ‘sugar babies’. 

The whole debacle started because Sugarbaby revealed some shocking statistics. A record of over 400,000 active members reported were from Malaysia, consisting of 220,000 sugar babies, 180,000 sugar daddies and 6,000 sugar mummies. Of the 220,000 sugar babies active, over 12,705 university students were from from 10 institutions of higher learning. According to Seeking Arrangement, another sugar dating platform, Malaysia has the 3rd highest number of sugar daddies in Asia, following India and Indonesia. For a predominantly conservative country, that is a rather high figure. 

Now, the issue here was not because individuals were looking for love online. There is nothing illegal in online dating. In fact, Nikkei Asian Review has revealed that Malaysians in 2019 have spent approximately US$5.8mil (RM25mil) on dating apps. However, what ruffled feathers was the services that came with the sugar dating scene that involved more than just companionship in exchange for money.  In other words, the potential of commercialized prostitution.   

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Both Sugarbook and Seeking Arragement stated that student loan debts, high cost of living, rising university tuition fees and networking opportunities are some of the reasons why university students eagerly seek for sugar daddies. It was also reported that there was an overwhelming increase in signups for these websites during the pandemic. 

While defenders of the sugar industry would argue that there’s no harm in providing companionship for a fee between two consenting adults; what we are seeing is a generation who’s willing to sacrifice values to get fast money, and this is something that raises concerns for parents & guardians. 

However the worry doesn’t end there. 

Statista reports that even younger children like those aged 16-24 years old have been frequenting dating apps as well, whether to simply connect with new people or because of boredom. This means that the lure of dating apps and sugar platforms could very well reach those in the even younger age group where they are vulnerable and can be easily groomed or manipulated regardless of monetary rewards. 

Credit: Unsplash

So how do we step in and ensure that our children do not venture into these areas unguided? For one, we do not encourage prohibition of technology because technology is an integral part of their social & daily lives. Instead, we have to acknowledge that empowering them with the right values to make good decisions is the only way they can make good choices even in our absence. Situations will evolve, but principles and values that guide decision making will always remain.  

Here are some ways you can do this with your child: 


1. Spend time with them  

Yes! Spend time with your children. Connection happens when you invest your time, effort and love into your children. Set aside time every day to just be with them, doing something they love or something together as a family. Even simple gestures like asking how their day was without giving unsolicited advice or judgement, opens up a safe space for them to share. Asking questions and processing what they are going through with them is also a healthy way to develop your relationship.  

Most importantly, you are showing them what love is through your actions--in spending time, in providing security, in your presence, and being unconditional with your love. This can greatly shape their idea of love, helping them understand they do not have to find it elsewhere with strangers.  

All these little efforts can go a long way, especially in times when they are faced with challenges online and don’t know what to do. 

2. Educate them  

Parents are the primary source of conscience for their children. Being the adults of the family, so much value can be imparted in terms of development and knowledge. Talk through with your child on the importance of going online, like protecting your personal and private information or even blocking strangers. Share with them the rationale behind the actions and process with them step by step.  

For example, instead of condemning why it is wrong to post revealing photos or videos online, share with them what the consequences can be. Besides that, instead of a lecture of how youths are being foolish online in searching for love or money, explain to them properly why certain online activities are dangerous. When you lash out negatively at someone or their actions, it creates at atmosphere of fear. Practice empathy and educate them on the importance of protecting themselves online. 

In addition, educate them the value of money. The lavish lifestyle of influencers or celebrities does not equate to happiness and money is not the end goal of their lives. Teach them how to learn from challenges in life & how to overcome it through hard work and being wise, rather than taking quick easy short cuts. Little impartations like this can make a whole world of difference to a child. 

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3. Guide them 

To drive a car, one has to undergo several hours of training and practice before they are road ready. Likewise, a child needs to be taught the proper way of using social media and online platforms. These platforms will be a vehicle that either builds and develop their lives, or crush them mentally and emotionally. As parents, guiding your kids to use technology properly is a vital task. They learn best from their loved ones and one of the best thing you can do is teach by example. 

For example, introduce limits on their online usage. Share with them the good things they can use technology for, like going online to learn, or even enjoy themselves with positive shows or cartoons. Use monitoring apps such as Google Digital Wellbeing or Net Nanny to adjust their screen time and manage their habits. It will help to identify where are their short comings. When you teach them on the go (or through experiential learning) they will know what the boundaries are for online activities. 

In the end, it is inevitable to shield children from the various issues that arise from the growing and changing landscape of the online world. Rather than trying to control our children’s decisions, start imparting good values with love so that they can make better life decisions. 

Raise your children to survive and thrive, otherwise many might end up struggling and fall into traps that might hurt them for life.  


Dennis Tan
Youth Services