Concern over Singapore's 'instant-noodle generation'

  Irish News
April 9, 2002

Teenagers helpless at homes without maids: report

PARENT and government officials in Singapore are voicing concern over what they say is increasing indolence among the country's pampered teenagers.

Fifteen-year old Kalliste Oh doesn't make her bed, clean her room, iron her private-school uniforms or straighten her 50 pairs of shoes. That's what her family's three Filipino maids are for, she says.

"Whatever I need, I ask for," she said, whiling away a muggy afternoon inside one of Singapore's air conditioned havens for teenage consumers. "It's true, I can't do anything."

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.

Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong recently railed against children who "grew up with a silver spoon in their mouth, a maid at their beck and call, and a car to bring them around". Singaporean youth, he said, must "rediscover some of the self-reliant spirit of earlier generations".

Nowadays, one in every seven families has a foreign maid, according to Singapore's ministry of manpower. Some, like Oh's family of eight, 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."