When an international school in Singapore invited a counsellor to talk about the pros and cons of raising children with privilege, many mothers and a few fathers signed up. We were from diverse backgrounds but had one thing in common–we knew what hunger looked like. We know the value of peace, safety and health.
But cocooned in one of the most prosperous countries in Asia, our children are growing up in a seemingly utopian society where they witness no lawlessness or poverty. Cloaked in the smell of sweet popcorn, air-conditioned rooms and glitzy malls, they drift on (and so do we) in some never-ending stream of youthful joy. And yet, we realise something’s amiss — when the counsellor tells us she was overwhelmed by the number of suicidal teens she talked to last year, when parents turn to each other in exasperation, when children insist on buying gadgets they claim are good to “relieve stress”.
We realise that in our empathy for children with no options, we have overlooked those with plenty. Both privilege and lack of it could bring on consequences young children are unable to understand. Too many choices or lack of it make lives look hollow and meaningless. From distractions and rebelliousness to lack of discipline and depression, parents are struggling with children, unable to understand how anyone could go wrong in such a flawless nation.
As the talk progresses, we begin to see hidden reasons — competition, peer pressure, expectations and, to an extent, the Internet with mindlessly violent stories disguised as social awareness shows.
It is possible for parents to control many things but not all. We can help but not always. Who will guide them then? What will they turn to?
As long as we don’t see any big shift in the way they communicate or in their appearance or grades, there isn’t cause for worry, say counsellors. Most do come out of these teenage years stronger and happier, and closer to their families like before.
Talking, laughing, creating fun moments that slide into their minds easily yet firmly are all part of what makes them. At the end of the day, it isn’t the movie or the mall that matters. It’s how much they matter to you — how connected you are to them, to their desire to be free, to their fears and dreams.
For even lives that flourish in privilege are nurtured not by status, wealth or even success — they are held firmly in place by authentic relationships, a sense of purpose and usefulness, and loads of meaningful memories.