Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Spoiled Parents, Spoiled Kids

I got this quote from an article in the Taipei Times: People born in Taiwan in the 1970s and 1980s are commonly referred to as belonging to the "Strawberry Generation," meaning that they are less able to withstand pressure and that they aren't able to work very hard.

The way the Strawberry Generation was defined to me was that in the old days, the generation of today's grandparents, life was tough. Because of the military dictatorship, there wasn't much class distinction; everyone was pretty much evenly poor. People had to work hard for little benefit. When their children were born, however, things had improved somewhat do to industrialization. The older generation wanted their children to have everything that they hadn't had, and as a result ended up spoiling their kids. Like a strawberry, this younger generation was beautiful, but also easily bruised.

One of the things that led to the strawberry generation was the decrease in family size. Whereas in earlier generations families were quite large, only one or two children became the norm for most families. Because there were so few children, parents and grandparents tended (and still tend) to dote on them, giving them whatever they want, and refusing to ever say, "no!" to them. The result was a generation of people who understandably grew up as selfish brats.

Now the strawberry generation are the ones having children, and the pattern seems to be continuing, with perhaps even worse results. When some of the strawberry generation parents were school children themselves, the education system was fairly harsh as far as discipline goes. Students could be punished in a lot of ways, including psychologically and physically. I've been told that about ten years ago the system was reformed and corporal punishment in the elementary schools was abolished. Many of the parents who grew up in the old system apparently felt that they were physically and psychologically abused as students, so they have done their best to prevent this from happening to their own children.

I think anyone can agree that protecting children from abuse is a good thing. Unfortunately, it seems that the pendulum has swung too far to the other side. Now teachers can get in trouble for simply giving an honest evaluation of a student's poor performance. This is psychological abuse, you see. It makes the student feel bad.

The same is true if a teacher punishes a student for bad behavior. In that case, the teacher is often accused not liking the student, and plotting to get him or her into trouble.

I know this sounds crazy, but I've seen it happening. I've seen the rottenest little brat's mom come to school and complain that the teacher "always picks on my baby." Meanwhile, this child is using vulgar or sexually suggestive language (which, granted he doesn't really understand, but he does understand that it is wrong to use it), disrupting class, harassing other students, and carrying on miscellaneous other bad behavior.

I had a student once that always refused to take part in class, and instead sat there saying, "Shit, shit, shit," over and over. When I made him stand at the front of the class (he initially flatly refused, but I hauled his ass out of his chair and planted him in front of the blackboard), he taped a sign on my back that said, "fool." Well, he got me on that one, but I eventually refused to teach that class while he was in it unless his parent came to see me. When his mother did come, she apologized, but said that he would be good for now on. The brat just smirked at me from behind his mother, knowing that this was as far as things would go and that he would soon be free to return to his usual behavior.

It seems that many parents just can't accept the fact that their child behaves in an antisocial way. Part of this, in my humble opinion, is because they are so used to saving face by avoiding uncomfortable truths, that it has become psychologically impossible for them to believe anything bad about their children. Another part is that they just can't bear the thought of their children ever having to experience anything uncomfortable--such as accepting responsibility for their actions, or having to actually work hard in order to be successful.

For the most part this seems to change when kids move on to junior high. At least at that time they actually have to work hard to pass exams so that they can get into good high schools. They are also subject to corporal punishment in junior high. Still, the behavior patterns they developed in elementary school tend to carry through, and you still end up with a lot of ill-mannered youngsters.

I don't mean to sound too harsh, and I'll admit that most of the Taiwanese people I have close relationships with (other than students) are kind and generous, as well as polite. However, on a daily basis I see people carrying on in ways that show a complete disregard for the comfort and safety of those around them. It seems especially true among school kids, whether they be kindergarten, high school, or anywhere in between.

Sometimes I wonder what will happen when these kids are the ones making the decisions for their country, but then, old people like me have been despairing of the younger generations for as long as people have existed. With the state of the world being what it is today, however, one might be tempted to think that we were right all along.

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