TEENAGERS AND YOUTH IN SINGAPORE

YOUTH IN SINGAPORE

In January 2007, Channel News Asia reported: “Despite having gone through national education at school, 37 percent of Singaporean youth say they are not patriotic. In fact, more than half want to migrate overseas if given a chance. Indian youth are the most ready to migrate, at 67 percent, compared to 60 percent of Malays and 49 percent of Chinese. "After coming back from travelling, they find that other countries have much more to offer than Singapore, which is very boring," says one youth. 60 percent of youth are also not interested in local politics, but half of them want to see more opposition members in parliament. These are just some of the findings from a Singapore Polytechnic survey of 800 youth, aged between 15 and 29 years old. [Source: Channel News Asia, January 18, 2007 \**/]

"There is gap between me, the way I think and the way youth in Singapore think. But I'm not surprised because they are under so much more different influences than what I went through. They've got 100 movie channels and they've got the Internet," says V Maheantharan, director of School of Business at Singapore Polytechnic. \**/

“Forty-six percent of youths are on the Internet for five hours or more a day, and 56 percent say they are not bothered by copyright issues related to downloading movies off the Internet. Forty percent of respondents also blog and 48 percent share original content, for example, artwork, stories and videos. Twelve percent say they don't go to the cinema as often because they are downloading movies off the internet. When it comes to money and career, half of the respondents say that remuneration is the most important factor when choosing a job, and 47 percent aspire to be an entrepreneur. Youth also say that the three things most important to them are family, freedom and health. \**/

Pampered Teenagers and Youth in Singapore

Some have referred to Singapore’s youth as the coddled generation. Associated Press described one 15-year-old girl who never made her bed, cleaned up her room, ironed her school uniform or straightened her 50 pairs of shoes because her family had three Philippine maids to do those things for her. “Whatever I need,” she said I ask for. It’s true, I can’t do anything.”

The Irish News reported: “That attitude among Singapore's first generation born into widespread wealth is causing public hand wringing. Singapore's young people are probably no more coddled that their counterparts in other wealthy countries. The difference is that in Singapore - a nation going from Third World to First World in a single generation - spoilt youths have popped up on the radar screen of the country's control-obsessed leaders, who demand a say in everything from dating to the courteous use of mobile phones. [Source: Irish News, April 9, 2002 \+\]

“Nowadays, one in every seven families has a foreign maid, according to Singapore's ministry of manpower. Some have several maids to watch the kids and fend off the rot and mold endemic in this tropical climate. The government-linked Straits Times newspaper printed an article entitled "The Instant-Noodle Generation", featuring a survey of 104 Singaporean teens. When asked how dependent they were on maids, most rated themselves about seven out of 10 - with 10 being completely dependent. \+\

“Now, a new government task force called Remaking Singapore has begun studying how to spur Singaporeans beyond the "five Cs" of Singapore life: cars, clubs, careers, condos and credit cards. This consumerism is on display along Singapore's famed Orchard Road, which rivals Paris's Place Vendome, Tokyo's Ginza or New York's Madison Avenue for luxe products. Also lining Orchard Road are plazas devoted entirely to teenagers, crammed with food courts, video arcades and even spas. \+\

“But many say these youngsters are a by-product of Singapore's driven society. While they may lead easy lifestyles, that doesn't mean they're not also industrious, particularly in their studies, says 25- year old Chong Tze Chien, creator of Spoilt, a play about a Prada-shod Singaporean woman tormented by an existential void. "Sure kids are spoiled. But the word has a double meaning. Kids work very hard in school - but then they're rewarded. And they end up pampered," he says. Some say spoiled children are partially a product of Singapore's paternalistic state apparatus. But that's not the whole story, Chong says. "We're taught to have more, that more is good," he says. "We know it's wrong, but we can't pull ourselves away from it. It's like a drug." \+\

Youth Turning Their Backs on "Singapore Dream"

Eveline Danubrata of Reuters wrote: “Ong Hui Juan spent nearly four years working in a British bank in Singapore, but decided to leave last year to pursue her passion of working with youth - an unusual and surprising decision in the achievement-oriented city state. But Ong, 25, is just one of a growing number of young Singaporeans who are turning their backs on the material joys of the long-cherished "Singapore Dream," summed up as the "Five C's" - cash, car, credit card, condominium and country club membership - to do what they enjoy, even at much lower pay. "I wanted to get out of a nine-to-five job. It was waiting for bonus after bonus, promotion after promotion. That didn't really appeal to me," said Ong, who studied banking and finance at university, but had worked with young people on the side. "I don't need to be very rich as long as I have enough to get by for myself and my family, and I continue to have the flexible time I have now." [Source: Eveline Danubrata, Reuters, February 17, 2013 |::|]

“Young people may want to slow down, but the government does not.Singapore has long counted on its people as its biggest resource, the one that helped drive its transformation from a sea port with few natural resources into a key financial center after independence in 1965. Not one to rest on its laurels, though, the Singapore government recently released a nearly 80-page "white paper" calling for higher productivity in its workforce and projecting population growth by as much as 30 percent by 2030. |::|

“But far from going along, some young Singaporeans feel a sense of disconnect from the traditional paths that are laid out ahead of them as part of this striving - get into a top school, land a high-paying job and hope that their children can build on their achievements. "The institutional set up of Singapore makes it remain a more materialistic society, when the government always puts economic growth, and therefore materialistic achievement, as a first priority," said Chung Wai Keung, assistant professor of sociology at Singapore Management University. "When the foundation of Singapore society is getting more secure, the younger generation can afford to make decisions different from the mainstream." |::|

“There are signs that more are already doing so, in part because financial firms have been shedding jobs the past few years, said Andrea Ross, Managing Director - Singapore, Vietnam and Malaysia, at recruiting consultancy Robert Walters. "Redundancies across the board are still continuing within financial services globally, and Singapore youngsters are becoming more confident to take up jobs in industries they have a strong personal desire to be part of," she added. The School of the Arts in Singapore, opened in 2008, has had around 1,000 applicants for only 200 spaces each of the last three years. |::|

“MaryAnn Loo, an artist in her late 20s, said younger people may have greater freedom to pursue their interests as they have been raised in relatively more comfortable conditions than their parents or grandparents. Loo herself became a full-time artist at the end of last year and is staging her first solo exhibition. She previously studied psychology in university and had worked as a retail assistant and a freelancer on film and TV sets. "Our parents grew up in a difficult time, and their primary purpose was survival. But I think a lot of people have already gone past the survival stage in Singapore, and therefore they can explore more things," Loo said. |::|

“This kind of maverick may still remain in the minority for a while at least, said Tan Ern Ser, an associate professor of sociology at the National University of Singapore. "Some may well be able to afford 'dropping out' if they have the means, through inheritance, past savings, or having a rich spouse. But for most people, dropping out is not an option, at least not a long-term one," Tan said. Yet Chung said these young people may ultimately prove to be pioneers. "When there are more and more young adults making alternative decisions, and when more and more of them feel satisfaction because of their choice, it could reach a tipping point where the next generation will see those alternative options as legitimate," he added. |::|

Teen Violence in Singapore

Reporting on teen violence in 2010, Seah Chiang Nee wrote in The Star, “Gang activity erupted into open violence and death, raising suspicions that behind the rising affluence, not everything is going well for a segment of Singapore's young generation. These are bored, disconnected teenagers, some as young as 13, who failed to make good in school, family life or work. "And they seemed to have declared open war on the police and on society" is a general public reaction to recent violent rampages by groups of parang-carrying teenagers bent on hurting bystanders or suspected rivals. [Source: Seah Chiang Nee, The Star, November 13, 2010 /*\]

“As people celebrated Halloween in Downtown East—a sprawling entertainment zone situated on the eastern seafront not far from Changi Airport— polytechnic student Darren Ng, 19, and three friends were chased by chopper-wielding men at Downtown East and he was hacked to death. Five men have been charged with his murder, including one who suffered head injuries while trying to jump from a three-storey building. /*\

A week later: “Two separate attacks were reported in another part of Singapore. Some 20 youths (aged 14-20) were surrounded by a parang-carrying group shouting Hokkien expletives. A 20-year-old assistant technician, an Indian, was slashed in the back and legs, along with six other victims. A few days after that: Outside the court in which 16-year-old Louis Tong Qing Yao was being charged with Ng's murder, 19 suspected gang members turned out to support him and ended up being arrested. "Fifty years ago people joined gangs to earn a living. Today these kids do it for pride and thrill, not because of poverty," said an old hawker. /*\

“Recently, teenage gangs seemed to have started to flex their muscles in various neighbourhoods; that could be blamed partly on the widening gap between rich and poor. Their numbers are anybody's guess, ranging from several hundred to one or two thousand. "In much of Asia, teenage gangs are mainly a result of poverty. Here the chief factors are poor family environment and resentment against society," said a student councillor. (In 2009, 468 youths were arrested for rioting and 278 were arrested for the same crime in the first six months of 2010). /*\

“After decades of controlled, peaceful living, many of us have grown unfamiliar with severe violence, teen or otherwise, and are ill-prepared for what has just happened. Most parents, cocooned in stability for a whole generation, still think their children are incapable of creating mayhem. They grew up in a strict law-and-order setting, having to go to school wearing their hair short and their skirts long, and with jukeboxes banned. With teenagers' values constantly shaped and reshaped by films, violent video games and the Internet, many modern parents are finding it hard to communicate with - let alone influence - their children.” /*\

Singapore Parents Asking Courts to Rein in Errant Kids

Children declared Beyond Parental Control are those below 16 who misbehave to such an extent that their parents feel they can no longer control them and need the court's assistance to manage them. In 2003, AFP reported: “Parents in Singapore are turning in increasing numbers to the courts to discipline their errant kids, but social workers warned this may not be the best approach, the Straits Times reported. The number of parents who sought disciplinary help from the judiciary rose 44 percent to 167 in 2002, and the surge coincided with a sharp increase in juvenile crime, the report said. Children 16 years old and below who are declared beyond parental control after running away or playing truant can be sent to an institution or put under the supervision of the Children's Society, a voluntary social association. [Source: Agence France Presse, February 24, 2003 \+/]

“Social workers said a better option was for parents to learn the proper skills to handle their kids. "The child feels he can't trust his parents, or that he's been tricked," warned Carol Balhetchet, director of youth development at the Singapore Children's Society. "We should help them even before the problems start. Many parents focus only on academic excellence," said social worker Yee-Chow Choy Yin. "They don't instill enough values, except materialistic ones. So children don't know how to choose right from wrong and fall prey to undesirable forces," she said. \+/

“In one case, a 14-year-old girl befriended a male who made her work for him as a prostitute. "And she enjoyed being a prostitute," said Yee-Chow. A police report issued last week said the number of juveniles arrested soared 55.8 percent from 2001 levels. Critics complain that the cut-throat competition puts excessive stress on children and their parents alike. Singapore's school system is regarded as one of the most competitive in the world, with top students being put on a separate stream as early as primary school. \+/

In 2008, The Strait Times reported: “But more parents are giving up on delinquent daughters than sons, and seeking help at the Juvenile Court. In the last two years, more Beyond Parental Control complaints were filed against girls than boys. In 2006, 86 girls were hauled to court by their parents and declared out of control, compared to 61 boys. The figure for girls was 70 the year before. [Source: Joan Chew, Chia Mei Liang, He Xingying and Ong Dai, The Straits Times, March 22, 2008]

Bad Girls in Singapore

In 2008, The Strait Times reported: “Jane joined a gang at 13 after getting to know its members through her friends. She skipped school to smoke, drink, play cards and steal bicycles at void decks. At first, she was just looking for a bit of fun. But soon, she was sniffing glue at HDB staircases, selling illegal cigarettes at the housing estate opposite her school and picking fights with other gangs. During one of these fights, the police showed up. By 14, she was placed in a girls' shelter after her father declared her Beyond Parental Control. [Source: Joan Chew, Chia Mei Liang, He Xingying and Ong Dai, The Straits Times, March 22, 2008 |~|]

“Other girls like Jane are getting into all kinds of trouble with the law. Last year, 46 girls - aged seven to 19 - were arrested for causing serious hurt and rioting. Another 766 were picked up for theft. Overall, the number of girls arrested over the past three years for causing serious hurt and rioting has come down, according to police. “More girls are also experimenting with sex, some as young as 10. In 2006, teenagers accounted for 12 percent of about 12,000 abortions performed in Singapore. Self-mutilation is another emerging spectre. Although there are no statistics available, counsellors and social workers say girls are more likely to cut or bruise themselves than boys. The danger is that when they are not taught other coping methods, the cuts get progressively deeper, till they land in hospital. |~|

“Sandy, 15, says she took to peddling illegal cigarettes at the void deck to supplement her $5 daily allowance. She made about $150 a day. 'I used to steal money from my father but my friend told me not to do it. She introduced me to selling cigarettes instead,' says the Secondary 3 dropout. But the money ran out soon after she ran away from home. |~|

“It used to be that bad girls who stole, fought and joined gangs mostly came from broken families. Not any more, say counsellors. In recent years, many who face court orders or get caught by the police come from intact homes, says Dr Carol Balhetchet, director of youth services at the Singapore Children's Society. In 2006, 69 percent of new probation cases involved delinquent youth who come from two-parent nuclear families, according to the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS). |~|

“Indeed, Mr Mohamed Juffri openly admits he has lost control of his eldest daughter, who just turned 14. She tells lies and stays away from home for days at a stretch. 'I'm worried that she may be hanging out with gangs. I don't know who her friends are,' he says. Last month, the 40-year-old security officer and his sales promoter wife hardened their hearts and filed a Beyond Parental Control court order against her. 'This is our last resort. We do not want her to waste her life away,' he says sadly. In between all the 12-hour shifts he worked, she became a stranger. |~|

Reasons for Singaporean Bad Girls

In 2008, The Strait Times reported: “Why are girls behaving so badly? Counsellors say dysfunctional media influences like pop star Britney Spears, rising materialism and weakening family bonds are possible factors. Many girls feel pressured to look good and dress well. When they do not have the money to buy what they want, they resort to begging, borrowing, stealing or selling sex. Most start out by shoplifting items like accessories, clothes, bags and cosmetics, notes Ms Eileen Chua, assistant director of Lakeside Family Centre, which has seen more delinquent girls over the years. [Source: Joan Chew, Chia Mei Liang, He Xingying and Ong Dai, The Straits Times, March 22, 2008 |~|]

'Teenagers today have the attitude that no one can discipline them or make them do what they don't want to do,' says social worker Ms Chua. Sister Maria Sylvia Ng, formerly in charge of Poverello Teen Centre, a drop-in centre for delinquent youth, warns: 'If parents do not inculcate values in their children when they are young, there is no holding them back when they reach adolescence.' |~|

“Farhana, 14, knows her mother loses sleep whenever she hangs out with friends at West Coast Park past 11 pm. But she shrugs it off. She used to see very little of her mother, who worked long hours as a restaurant helper. The Secondary 2 student rationalises: 'When I wanted to talk to her, she was always not there.' Her mother has quit her job to spend more time with her, but it is too little, too late for Farhana. She rants: 'I don't understand my mother. I tell her who I'm with but she's still worried. When I come home late, she calls the police. We often quarrel about this.' |~|

“Dr Balhetchet says teens like Farhana often make it difficult for parents to talk to them. In their desire to grow up fast and be independent, they send out messages to their parents to 'leave them alone'. But what they really hanker after - at any age - is time and attention. So most neglected youth misbehave to get their parents to notice them, notes counsellor Stella Tan from Yong-En Care Centre. 'They know that their parents will have to spend more time with them in order to scold them,' she says. She stresses the importance of parents being there for their children. 'When they are young, they may bore you with minor details about school. But if you shut them off, they grow up thinking that you do not have time for them. 'Eventually when you start to get interested in what they do, they will say they have no time to talk to you.' |~|

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Singapore Tourism Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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