11 February 2006

Here is a Comment ...

.... from one of Mr Wang's anonymous readers:

" ...... the Chinese New Year used to be more looked upon by me and my brothers with more anticipation than my children and my siblings' offsprings. Why? Well, as children we were less well-off and Chinese New Year meant getting some money to buy the things we want to buy. Our children are more fortunate and they can buy more things they want. Because of the different experience, we develop differently, and I think something good about the earlier generation fades away. The question is how do we try to retain these values which we think are worth keeping.

Therefore, Mr Wang, what are the things/values you think are worth keeping? And how do you keep them. You have children, you think about that...or you give everything to your children."

Interesting, yes? I spent some time today musing on this question. Frankly, in raising my children, I have never stopped to consciously think about which particular traditional values or habits I want to inculcate in them. I suspect that most parents haven't either. I think most parents just do whatever they naturally do, and the children absorb values unconsciously, by osmosis, by observing their roles models, by sheer immersion in their particular home environment.

I do realise that I am raising my kids in quite a different way from the way my father raised me. At the same time, my father's attitude to my kids today is a lot more similar to my own attitude to my kids today than his own attitude to me long ago when I was a kid. So the times are ever-changing, and not just for the little kids. The grandparents evolve too. Today they no longer treat small children the way that they used to treat their small children.

For example, my father is very affectionate towards my kids. He hugs and kisses them, and I hug and kiss them too. He habitually says things like "I love you" to my kids, and I say things like that all the time to them too. However, I don't ever recall my father hugging and kissing me or my brothers or saying things like "I love you" when we were little. Certainly my dad and I are not in the habit of saying such things to each other today.

I think that in the old days, Asian families tended to place a lot more emphasis on respect (or its external expressions) and a lot less emphasis on love (or its external expressions). For example, when I was a kid and my father returned home after work, it was expected that I would immediately have to go respectfully greet him "Pa". If I didn't do it, then this was rude behaviour on my part and I deserved to be scolded or smacked.

Now, when I return home after work, it is expected that my kids will run to me shouting "Daddy's home!" and then they jump into my arms and hug me. If they don't do this, then there must be something quite wrong, deserving my investigation (they must be coming down with a flu bug or or something).

On material luxuries - to which my anonymous commentator also alluded - well, I am considerably wealthier than my father was, when he was at my age. This means that my kids enjoy more material comforts and luxuries than I myself did as a kid. At the same time, I don't think I ever felt particularly deprived of material luxuries as a young kid, just as my kids probably do not feel particularly lucky for the material luxuries that they have today.

The reason is quite simple. Material luxuries count very little towards a happy childhood. As Mr Wang has said before, money can't buy happiness. It follows that kids don't actually need material luxuries to be happy, and therefore may not appreciate material luxuries very much. The fact that a particular toy is expensive is no guarantee that the child will have any interest in it. A $3 plastic ball or a box of cheap crayons may well be much more beloved.

Kids can be very happy and absorbed just singing nursery rhymes with Mummy; climbing and running around at the playground; or looking out the window on a rainy day to watch the rain falling down. In other words, they can be very happy doing things that cost nothing at all.

The best things in life are free.

9 comments:

straydog said...

Some kids are even nonchalant when receiving ang pow. It does not stop at that. When all material concerns are taken care of, where is the drive?

Back when I was in my teens, I do not know what my future will be and what kind of work I would be doing, or how I would end up. But somehow, at the back of my mind, there is something.

Now I have seen some of the young ones so narcissistic that their only outlet are video games. No interest in anything at all. And the parents' obsessive drive to acquire more material wealth or even just maintaining this material comfort did not help provide guidance to their young either.

Values I think are almost impossible to innoculate in this environment. Love them and help them think for themselves. Maybe that'll work.

Anonymous said...

I think this is the best value to be past down to the younger generation for our society is caught up with material gains only.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang believes that : "Material luxuries count very little towards a happy childhood. As Mr Wang has said before, money can't buy happiness" and that "a $3 plastic ball or a box of cheap crayons may well be much more beloved."

Well, true and not true. True in the sense that there are obvious cases where poor people are happy, but they better have enough to put in three meals for the family. You cannot be too happy if you have no food. And trust me, we do have pupils who do not have enough money to have enough food. And schools do make the efforts in providing meals to these children.

Cheap crayons, I guess, could make a child happy, but the real world can be painful ... seeing your friends having Nike shoes, posh handphones etc etc and changing them at will, well ... trust me, it can be painful even if it does not bother Mr Wang as a child...

Just observe your children's behaviour (not sure how old they are but if they are Primary school age) with regards to their belonging...do you see them cherishing them as much as say another more deprived child.

Open your eyes and see ... espoused theories are fine, but open your eyes...

Mr Wang Says So said...

Sigh, Mr Wang always tries to write carefully. Alas, sometimes some of his readers don't read very carefully.

I said "material luxuries", not "basic necessities". No, I don't think starving children are happy children.

Also, I said "material luxuries count very little towards a happy childhood". This means that a child does not need material luxuries to be happy; however, it does not mean that a child without material luxuries will therefore be happy.

On the acquisition and possession of material luxuries and whether that really leads to happiness or not -

click on the hyperlink I provided and read Mr Wang's views on this. Yes, the child who yearns for the Nike shoes and the handphone may be unhappy, just as the adult (mentioned in my old post) who yearns for the Cooper and exec condo may be unhappy -

however the child who gets the Nike shoes and the handphone may enjoy only a very shortlived happiness (just as the adult who acquires the Cooper and the exec condo may enjoy only a very shortlived happiness).

Anonymous said...

"I am considerably wealthier than my father was, when he was at my age. This means that my kids enjoy more material comforts and luxuries than I myself did as a kid. At the same time, I don't think I ever felt particularly deprived of material luxuries as a young kid, just as my kids probably do not feel particularly lucky for the material luxuries that they have today."

I think the point is that although you don't feel deprived, many do, and I don't think it is their fault, especially in an era of 360 degree bombardment of commercialism...something you were more free of. It is a different time, friend. I think if I am not mistaken, shoplifting has gone up, and HP thefts well, according to our ST, 1 gets stolen every 2 hours. I think it is not wrong to assume that a sizable number comes from school-going people.

drunkenpanda said...

When I was younger, it was all about having fun with my cousins, then the money. Now that I'm older, my mother has to reprimand me that I don't greet Happy Chinese New Year immediately when I see my parents. And I take the hongbao without remembering respect.

Nowadays, it seems the trend for teens or those my age to be concerned about the money when it comes to CNY.

I do hope that future generations do remember and are taught the values of CNY, like respect, and that money is never the primary issue. My 'haul' this year was considerably little, but the point is to bond our family (inclusive of relatives) closer on this occasion. It's the thought that counts in the giving of a hongbao, not the contents.

Mr Wang Says So said...

Good points, Drunken Panda.

To Anonymous, you said:

"I think the point is that although you don't feel deprived, many do, and I don't think it is their fault, especially in an era of 360 degree bombardment of commercialism...something you were more free of."

I should qualify that my kids are still pretty young. The older one is going to turn 4 shortly.

In that kind of age-group, if kids are already hankering after material luxuries, then I think that it's likely that the parents have been overly-materialistic creatures themselves and the influence has rubbed off.

Sure, my kids want toys etc. But they don't really care whether it came from Robinsons or from the pasar malam.

As a matter of fact, lots of my children's clothes were purchased at pasar malams and they don't care either.

At older ages, yes I agree that the influence of commercialism kicks in, but whether children are really that materialistic or not still depends a lot, I think, on the parental role models AND very importantly (and a factor which is often overlooked), individual personality.

Mr Wang happens to be a true-blue Enneagram Type 5 and an INTJ, and if you know your personality systems, you can guess Mr Wang's lifestyle and his attitude towards money;

if you don't, well, never mind (maybe Singaporean or Huge Whaleshark would like to give this a try). But let's just say that different personality types crave & desire different sorts of things in life; and a few personality types, by the very nature of their personality, just tend to be relatively immune to the temptations of commercialism and the call of hedonism.

Anonymous said...

My point exactly...I believe you don't. Probably, you have already enough and maybe your personality is such that commercialism does not impact on you as much as others. My point is that "others" can mean the majority as opposed to the minority.

Like I said in the earlier post:

"I think the point is that although you don't feel deprived, many do, and I don't think it is their fault, especially in an era of 360 degree bombardment of commercialism...something you were more free of. It is a different time, friend."

Wait till your children are older... and see if they react to things like the way they do now. I am a former teacher by training but has stopped working to care for my 2 children. One is in St Michael's and the other in ACS (I)... and I have seen the change. Do open your eyes. I was teaching in a neighbourhood school, and I have also seen enough.

Yes, parental model obviously is a major influence. Parents are also product of the system. How do we get the system to cherish the values that we hold dear. I don't know how, but I will be doing my best. If a bit of "hardship" helps, then I feel that I have equipped them well to be good people.

Mr Wang Says So said...

Mr Wang will play pop psychologist.

The way I see it, materialistic behaviour is often caused by a lack of self-esteem. Due to a lack of self-esteem, people don't feel good about themselves unless they have external validation. The external validation comes from the fact that they have a handbag / car / diamond ring / apartment / school shoes / toys as expensive, luxurious or branded as their friends' or peers'. If they don't have such external validation, they start feeling inferior & unhappy.

Because I am an INTJ, I enjoy the blessing of being free from such problems. INTJs have unnatural amounts of self-confidence; they believe first & foremost in themselves; and they see very little need to do anything just because everyone else is doing it. Therefore INTJs are largely immune to peer pressure and would not, say, feel inclined to chase the 5Cs just because their peers are chasing the 5Cs.

Not everyone is an INTJ (in fact, statistically INTJs are the rarest personality type in the Myer Briggs system). But I imagine that if you try to raise your kids to be secure and confident about themselves (just as INTJs are blessed with a sense of self-confidence), then that is one possible way that they would turn out to be less materialistic. They will feel less urge to keep up with the Lims and the Tans, simply because they don't feel any need to prove or demonstrate anything to the Lims and Tans.

And how to raise secure, confident kids? I think you have to praise them for the things they do right; you encourage them to pursue their natural interests (because that's what they will be good at); and you give them the support they need to be good, no, not just good, but excellent, in those areas. And you always let them know that your love is unconditional; even if they fail at things, you will always love them anyway.

On the contrary, the "hardship" approach to raising kids, I think, is quite double-edged. I suspect that people with materially deprived childhoods do not necessarily grow up just to be adults who appreciate what they have. They may instead grow up with the "the world is a dangerous place and there will never be enough" mindset. When you see a rags-to-riches person who is completely penny-pinching and uncharitable and always wants more, more, more, then you're seeing a psychological victim of such a mindset. It is sad - these people will never really feel "rich" even if, objectively speaking, they are.