Student suicides, losing touch with the basics, and the Bee Gees in Hong Kong

Yonden Lhatoo laments the loss of family bonding in the pursuit of advancement that is taking such a toll on Hong Kong’s overstressed children

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 March, 2016, 6:31pm
UPDATED : Friday, 18 March, 2016, 8:53am

While Hong Kong does some soul-searching over a recent spate of student suicides, a couple of government moves over the past week barely made the news but raised my eyebrows all the way to the ceiling.

The first was advice from the Education Bureau for parents to spend at least a few minutes a day talking and listening to their children. The second was the news that the government was pushing ahead with a pilot project to train grandparents as child carers so that mothers could be freed up to join the workforce.

I wonder how many people batted an eyelid over this, but I am flabbergasted by the fact that for all the prosperity, sophistication and even superiority of Hong Kong, parents still need to be reminded to spare a couple of minutes a day for their children.

I mean, seriously, people need to be told these things? Because they’re too busy making money, advancing careers and chasing matters of far graver importance? That sort of thing comes back to bite you hard.

Of course, there are desperately poor parents out there who have to spend all their time earning a living so their children won’t starve. But there’s also no dearth of those who ply their children with gifts and pacifiers to compensate for their absence or unavailability.

It’s so common to see parents switch on the TV to get toddlers out of their hair, or shut kids up with smartphones to suck on. I’ve seen entire families having a big breakfast/lunch/dinner in a restaurant with each member glued to their respective gadget. Not much communication and bonding going on there.

We are all, at one time or another, the angst-ridden, supersensitive, extra-emotional creatures that teenagers can be, and that’s when we need attention.

Of course, it doesn’t help when parents are hapless prey caught up in the child-chomping, antediluvian jungle that is Hong Kong’s education system. You know, the one that drills it into our kids’ fragile young minds that only top grades squeezed from their souls will transform them into the humans that society deems successful.

I don’t know where to start with the initiative to train grandparents to look after children. Isn’t that what they automatically do? Better than anyone on the planet?

I’m sure the initiative, first floated by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying in last year’s policy address, is a well-meaning attempt to create employment opportunities for senior citizens, but I can already see it floundering in the water.

Like his rather bizarre brainwave that would see Hong Kong’s workers, who can barely spare a couple of minutes a day for their children, spend their 45-minute lunch break fishing or swimming by the harbour.

Is our fearless leader surrounded by advisers from outer space or bona fide terrestrials whom he never listens to? I’ve asked informed people this, and can never get a straight answer.

But this is not a Leung-bashing session. In fact, I want to give him credit for trying to reach out to people and present a friendlier face, even if some insist on throwing eggs at it.

In his latest effort, he gave an “interview” to primary school kids, revealing he was a fan of the Carpenters and Bee Gees. Now that won’t render him cool in the irate eyes of our music-and-democracy-loving youth, but at least he’s trying to be human.

One of my deepest, darkest secrets is that I was a big fan of the Bee Gees myself when I was a fragile-minded child, and I salute the chief executive for making it OK to say it.

Thank you, sir. You ... er ... rock?

Yonden Lhatoo is a senior editor at the Post