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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Youths Need Purpose? No, They NeedED Love

In their book Freakonomics, Harvard researcher Steven D. Levitt and his journalist friend, Stephen J. Dubner argued that the massive drop in crime rates of the 1990s in USA can be attributed to a ruling passed in January 22 1972, allowing legalized abortion in the USA.

The authors write that "as far as crime is concerned, it turns out that not all children are born equal... Decades of studies have shown that a child born into an adverse family environment is far more likely than other children to become a criminal. And the millions of women most likely to have an abortion [are the] poor, unmarried, and teenage mothers for whom illegal abortions [were difficult to get]. They were the very women whose children, if born, would have been much more likely than average to become criminals. But because of [the ruling supporting legalized abortion] these children weren't being born. This powerful cause would have a drastic, distant effect: years later, just as these unborn children would have entered their criminal primes, the rate of crime began to plummet".

Commenting on the recent gang fights, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan noted that if youths had a sense of purpose, they wouldn't get violent. The question is... "How does one inculcate a sense of purpose in youths?"

Lost youths without purpose in life are a product of a society where parents work all day and are never around. As the income gap grows, lower and middle income parents will need to work so much harder just to keep up. They have little capacity to save. Without adequate savings there is nothing to invest. Neither do they have time to invest in their children. Unless there are grandparents or uncles and aunties to fill the gap as mentors to the family's children, these children grow up untethered to any anchor... unloved... unsupported and afraid.

These children grow up in adverse circumstances. There is no one at home to comfort them when they are scared. There is no one to turn to when the world has been unkind. Indeed, their own parents, stressed out by their low-paying jobs, may often be the most unkind to their own children. To really get at the root cause of the gang fights, it isn't police effectiveness that should be questioned.

To understand why youths set upon youths with parangs in Singapore, one needs to turn the clock back 20 years and examine the gradual development (or lack thereof) of the children's relationships with their parents. We should be questioning an economy which devours work lives voraciously such that parents are never there when the little ones need them. And in this day, where ties to the extended family are so much weakened, children grow up without adequate parenting. Recent data shows that juvenile delinquents often come from relatively well off homes where BOTH parents work long hours. In the local context, adverse circumstances may not be a dearth of money resources, but a dearth of time resources.

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan's analysis lacks depth. He should push his analysis beyond "lack of purpose". Why do these youths lack purpose in their lives?In essence, when you find your purpose in life, you find something you deeply care about. If no one cared about you when you were small, it's hard not to be afraid... and lost. How to have a purpose in life when deep inside, you're still that frightened little boy? Frightened animals are violent animals. Fearful people are also quick to anger and violence.

It doesn't help that the educational syllabus in Singapore is so challenging that reasonably intelligent children minus parental kindness and emotional support, have little hope of succeeding. They don't do well in school because they lack access to family support that helps them cope with stress.

We waste talent that way. These kids grow up thinking they're dumb when they're not. And before life has started for them, they have scripted for themselves the role of failures in life. And when you think you're a failure, it's hard not to fullfill the prophecy... and to be tempted to take the lawless route in order to make a living.

Make it easier for parents to spend time with their children. Fix the work-life balance problem in Singapore. Fix the legislation so that men and women are truly equal (i.e., it's alright for men to pull childcare duty... and men can claim maintenance). Help Singaporeans be better parents.


Open Kitchen Concept said...

I so agree with you.. that youths need love, not "purpose". Some parents have to work long hours.. but working long hours doesn't mean you can't love your children. I grew up with my parents at work most of the time, but my mum set a great example to us in her relationships with her parents and others.. in being hardworking.. and creative.. etc etc. Pity that many young parents nowadays have kids without thinking much about being that right role model for them in their lives

petunialee said...

OKC - But your parents ran their own business. They may work long hours but they could bring you to work... and go home at odd hours to spend time with you... a little like Blurting.

Work-life balance can be about flexibility and not reduction of working hours per se.

Thanks for your comment because it allowed me to specify this point on flexibility.

Open Kitchen Concept said...

Hm.. you are right.. flexibility is important. Actually my parents only brought us to work when we were very young. When we grew a bit older, we stayed home. But my mum would call home often and talk to us. Maybe that helped too.

Blur Ting said...

Another point to add is even if the parents are hard at work, they have to constantly let their kids know how much they cherish them. Even with the large amount of time I spend with my kids, they used to complain it wasn't enough. However, lately as they mature and chat with their friends, they begin to realise how lucky they are to have me around them, cooking for them etc all the time.

petunialee said...

Ting - Yes... I agree with you. Teens don't realize how much they are loved without being told. They're not good at reading between the lines.