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Saturday, October 1, 2011

Curing the Epidemic of Ungratefulness

I have been feeling rather disturbed by a recent trend I've noticed among the children I work with. It started with a few of my tuition students demanding food and drink from me during our lesson - "I want a glass of water!" and "I'm hungry. Do you have anything to eat?" with no "please" to preface their demands, or even a  "thank you" after I had to rummage through my kitchen to find something to fill their stomachs with. Never mind the fact that I am their tuition teacher, and not running a restaurant out of my home.

Then it carried on with one of my counselling clients in school telling me that his parents did not love him, though they had rewarded him for doing well by letting him choose two gifts of his choice - because they had not bought him a Sony PlayStation 2.  The final straw was at the students' graduation ceremony this week, when a boy who had won the best award tore open his gift envelope while still on stage, and then ran off proclaiming that the $10 Popular gift voucher was too small in amount. 

It seems that the next generation in Singapore is being brought up with everything they want - and more. What I have observed among the children I work with is no surprise, and yet I am deeply troubled by the fact that we are raising a generation who never seems to be thankful for what they do have, and spends all their time hankering for what they have not yet acquired. 

This trend is particularly troubling for my husband and I as we try to raise our son, who, like it or not, is part of this very crowd of opinionated young people who may well grow up to be just as ungrateful too. We are concerned because he is surrounded by so much plenty - the best and most nutritious organic food, a multitude of toys in both grandparents' homes and our own, and the list goes on. We are fearful that he will develop an attitude of not just ungratefulness, but also demandingness, and not be able to cherish the small blessings that come across his way. 

So how can we as parents actively and intentionally help him to counter this disturbing trend, and replace it instead with an attitude of gratefulness, that he may develop an attitude of gratitude and contentment as he grows older? There are a few things I have though of:

Firstly, it is important that we as a family celebrate and cherish the little joys in life. Z (our son) has recently developed a passion for leaf-collecting. It started when he turned one. Whenever we go for a walk, he carefully selects the best and nicest leaf possible, and then turns and looks up at me with a sweet smile, waiting for me to praise him for his excellent choice of leaf. I hope that he will always be content with the little delights that nature brings our way - how he stares intently at the leaves rustling in the wind, or puts out his hands to ask me to scoop him up so that he can reach for branches high in the sky.

Secondly, children should be rewarded with the intangible more than the material. Far too many children are persuaded to study hard for their exams in order to gain some form of monetary or tangible reward. While some of these are necessary for children especially at a young age (think theories of reinforcement and classical conditioning!), I have seen as a counsellor and teacher that words still remain the most powerful. The same boy who demanded a PS2 from his parents told me in a later session that all he actually wished for was for his parents to tell him that they love him. Physical and verbal affection have been found to be crucial for a child's development.

Thirdly, we should teach our children the value of work. They need to understand the value of hard work, and work to earn the things that they desire. This could mean contributing half the sum of money needed to buy a new toy, or earning allowance through helping babysit or wash their neighbour's car. I will always remember this single parent I knew, who worked as a cleaner till late in the night. He was not ashamed of his job, and even brought his son to work a few times just to show him how hard Daddy worked, so that his son would understand why he could not be at home. He was a man to be admired for his wisdom in parenting his son.

Lastly, and most importantly, we ourselves as parents need to learn how to count our blessings and not complain so much. I am so often guilty of ingratitude myself - after a long day of work, housework and caring for my son, I find myself complaining about my lot in life. At these times, I have forgotten that both the work assignments I have, as well as my husband and son, are both gifts from God, and that I have been indeed blessed with much more than I could ever ask for and need. As parents, my husband and I are always grateful for the energetic bundle of joy in our lives. As spouses, we are thankful for our marriage in a world where so many marriages are broken and torn asunder. As Singaporeans, we are thankful for the safety and protection and freedom we have, where people in so many other countries face fear and uncertainty on a daily basis. 

My prayer is that Z will grow up to be a boy who is content and rejoices in the little things in life, that he will understand the value of immaterial more than the tangible, that he will value the work that he puts his hands to, and most of all that he will be grateful everyday for the life he has been given. I pray that he will always find beauty in a fallen leaf on a sunny day. 

4 comments:

  1. Hi Sue! Phil here. I hope Mich & Grace were not like that during tuition :D

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    1. Hi Philomae, sorry this is such a late reply! Your girls were far from ungrateful ... always polite, thoughtful and a joy to teach!

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  2. Sue, Grace here. It's not an easy journey. Reading your blog encourages me in my walk. Thank you! And thank God for bringing you in my life.

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  3. Hi Grace, this is a strange question but would you mind if I knew which Grace you might be? I know at least 5 Graces, each of whom I thank God for :)

    But thank you so much for your encouragement! It really isn't an easy journey and how we need His grace each day. Your words have come as a reminder that God can use us no matter what state we are in (in my case, at the end of a most exhausting week! ) God bless you and I really do thank God for you! Have a blessed Sunday ahead :)

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