Over the past two decades, technology has advanced by leaps and bounds, the world has become a global village, and Singapore has enjoyed greater wealth and success.
Despite the great advancements on many fronts, our children seem to be lacking in the arena of character and values.
In fact, mention “family values” to your kids and you might get blank looks from them. What many of us identify as core values — such as kindness, mutual respect, filial piety, and caring for the weak — have unfortunately not caught on with our young ones.
In a selfie-driven generation, children and youth may not think much about the values mentioned above, much less see the importance of upholding them and living them out in daily life.
What is now elevated is how popular they are on social media, the grades that they achieved, and other status symbols like the latest fashion, shoes, and gadgets.
How can we ensure that the good ol’ values we hold dear still remain relevant for youth and young adults for generations to come?
In a selfie-driven generation, children and youth may not think much about values such as kindness and respect, much less see the importance of living them out in daily life.
Walking the talk
I have a 10-year-old tween in my home and already it scares me to find out what her peers are into.
Instagram, Tik Tok, and Snapchat are but a few social media apps that some of her friends frequently use.
She also recently started using the word “damn” to express how extremely good or bad a particular situation or thing is.
While I know the word isn’t used in the context of swearing, it still shocks me to hear it roll off from her tongue. We’ve requested that she stick to more appropriate words. While open to our feedback, she did push back, “But…didn’t you use such cool words when you were younger?”
I was quite unprepared for her question, as I do remember using such words (and other even less palatable ones) in my teenage years. Stuck between answering her honestly and lying, I did what many in my shoes would do: Keep quiet.
That incident taught me that I had to have a clear explanation as to why we should keep certain values close to our hearts.
It also reminded me of the need to model strong values in daily life.
If we ourselves are not living our values such as dressing modestly, being respectful, or treating others kindly, then we really can’t expect our children to follow what we say.
As the adage goes, “Children will do as we do, quicker than do as we say.”
Individual success versus helping others
I recently attended a prize-giving ceremony at my daughter’s school. I was pleasantly surprised that the guest of honour — an old girl who attended the school in the 60s — focused her speech not on the importance of achievement, but on the value of kindness that she had learnt throughout her primary school years.
She also expressed how meaningful she finds life when she can give of herself, and contribute to the well-being of others.
In a society where grades and achievement can often drive our motivation as parents and children, it is humbling to hear a speaker share about such timeless values and accord them the status they deserve.
At the same time, it made me ponder: How can my children – in the midst of coping with academic pressure and striving to be the best they can be – also learn the importance of helping others and contributing to other people’s lives?
Will individual achievement and the collective good always be at odds? At what point can they converge?
If my child does well and ends up in the best class or course, it is cause for celebration.
But if she stops to help a fellow student who is hurting or failing at a subject, the act of kindness may go unnoticed, but the impact is still felt by the one being helped. And my child will hone an identity and attitude that will remain with her for life.
The effects of the latter are likely to be more lasting than the former.
How can my children – in the midst of coping with academic pressure – also learn the importance of helping others and contributing to other people’s lives?
What about relationships and sexuality?
What if in the sensitive area of sexuality and premarital sex, our children’s views differ from ours?
When we want them to hold firm to so-called traditional values, even when popular media portrays sex before marriage as the norm, would role modelling or logic help?
I suspect that such tactics wouldn’t work at this juncture.
Where boy-girl relationships are concerned, perhaps the best strategy is to start young. By that I mean talking about and setting boundaries when our kids are still young and teachable, when teenage hormones have yet to kick in.
For example, what’s an acceptable age to start dating? How do we think about sex – what’s safe and what’s healthy? And how to set appropriate boundaries with the opposite gender?
Friends with teens say that the best time to tell a child that you can’t be in a bedroom with your partner with the door closed is when they are 11 or 12 years old; in other words, way before they’re contemplating entering into a serious relationship.
Such house rules, when established early, make the expectations clear to everyone, and any debate or questions can be raised with less emotion.
And it’s not just about rules. Chairman of Focus on the Family Singapore Jason Wong once said, “Rules without relationship leads to rebellion.”
As this article puts it, “By [us] being present, trust is built up between parent and child, and the teen can see that we are not trying to control their lives, but are genuinely concerned for them.”
Youth need to understand that their identity and value lies not in whether they have a boy/girlfriend, and by waiting for marriage before engaging in sexual activity, they are in essence protecting themselves and their future spouse, and against difficult situations such as abortion or sexually transmitted diseases.
Perhaps one of the best ways for them to realise this is in the home – a place where they get their first taste of love and relationship.
If they know they’re deeply valued for who they are, not what they can achieve or what they look like, it establishes a healthy sense of self-worth and prevents them from seeking validation in the wrong places.
June Yong is a café-hopping mother of three who writes about her parenting hits and misses on her blog, mamawearpapashirt. She dreams about inspiring more love and hope in the world, one article at a time.
• How will you model and talk about one value with your kids this week?
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