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Health and wellness

A doctor’s advice to Hong Kong families divided by politics in wake of Occupy protests and Mong Kok riots

Chinese families set great store by the emotional bonds between parents and children, but they have been strained by the city’s widening political divisions. Parents must keep an open mind and open doors, family doctor says

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 June, 2018, 1:03pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 June, 2018, 6:54pm

As the popular Chinese saying goes, “A family divided against itself cannot prosper.” And indeed, all traditional Chinese families value the emotional bonds between parents and children, and make every effort to maintain them. Their lives remain centred around each other.

Today, though, many Hong Kong families find themselves divided by politics – and this is straining relationships, says family doctor Lam Wing-wo.

The Occupy Central movement in 2014 was the trigger for this. During the 79-day occupation of key Hong Kong thoroughfares by pro-democracy protesters, most of them young, many people admitted that they viewed family members who were on the opposite side of the political divide as their adversaries. This antagonism made dinner times and family get-togethers awkward, as they often deteriorated into arguments, which ended in alienation and hurt feelings.

The repercussions for Hong Kong family life reverberated beyond the Occupy campaign. Even now, many families still find members on different sides of the political spectrum.

The recent sentencing of Lo Kin-man, 31, and the face of Hong Kong’s independence movement Edward Leung Tin-kei, 27, to seven and six years’ imprisonment respectively for their part in violent unrest in Mong Kok at Lunar New Year in 2016 widened the political divide in the city.

Parents, especially those with children attending universities in Hong Kong, are increasingly concerned about their well-being, says Lam.

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They worry their children may find themselves on the wrong side of the law when they learn they are involved in some form of activism, he says. The parents most worried are those whose children live away from home in university dormitories.

Lam says a family should feel comfortable enough to talk about anything, and be open enough to allow each member to express themselves. Open communication is key to avoiding conflict, he says.

“Parents see their children all grown up, and they are unable to have any more control over them because they are being influenced by many outside elements, be it information they can obtain online or ideas they get elsewhere,” he says.

“Parents often feel powerless; they can’t challenge their children and sometimes they can’t even communicate with them easily. It’s sad, but it’s a fact of life.”

That feeling of powerlessness could be a blessing in disguise, though. Lam says it could put parents in a position to open up a communication channel to put them and their children on a more even footing.

More listening and less talking will help raise broad-minded children

“Mum and dad don’t always have to act or sound like they know everything. It would be more welcoming for them to speak to their kids on the same level,” he says. “They can take a friendly approach and allow their kids to speak their minds without judgment.”

“It’s like you are developing a new trusting relationship with them. And when times are tough and they feel confused and need help, they will know home is their refuge,” he says.

“No matter how much you disagree with your kids, as parents you must keep the communication channel open to share ideas and problems with them. And when they feel comfortable enough to open up, you might be able to help them examine and analyse issues of interest.”

Schools have a role to play in developing and shaping youths’ lives, but parents are the ultimate gatekeepers. Lam says parents must encourage critical thinking in the home and help to balance the scales by providing impartial information so that their children will allow them a say in their education.

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Since this is a delicate matter, the family doctor stresses that parents must be well prepared beforehand. “Parents have to be open-minded, non-judgmental and courageous,” he says.

“Just imagine you are talking to one of your peers. If they are going to pour their heart out to you, you have to respond like a friend, not critically like a parent. That means being understanding, responsive and supportive.

“You have to be on their side and listen to their problems and answer their questions without prejudice or sounding condescending. This way, you can better understand their actions and motives.”