Monday, June 14, 2010

Learning to give thanks

In Singapore, it's not uncommon to see kids decked out in the latest fashions, carrying the newest tech gadgets, eating in five-star restaurants and going on holidays every year. I say this without any disdain. It's an inevitable outcome of having more financially secure and able parents. I know how irritating it is to be with people who can't spare 50 cents without giving a sanctimonious lecture about how in their time, they had to walk 2km to school and save their bus money for books. It's not the kids' fault that their parents are better off economically and want to shower them with the good life.

Having said that, one of the fall-outs of having a lot is that we tend to take things for granted or worse, think we're entitled to it all. I'm sure we've all heard of kids who say they'll die if they don't get the new computer game or all their friends have a certain toy. The implication is that they "need" the item because it's the norm or it's their right to have it.

Where do we parents draw the line? I think there's a need for balance. Most of the time, such dramatic declarations are gross exaggerations but a friend's daughter once told her mum that she was the only kid in class without a handphone and guess what, it turned out to be true. In such an incident, if I were the parent and feel that a handphone is not a necessity but I didn't want my child to feel like the odd one out, I'd give it to her on her birthday. Or maybe let her earn it, like do extra chores or practise the piano everyday for a month, etc. Nothing very difficult but enough to bring home the message that nice-to-have's should be earned. However, if it's something against my values, I won't compromise. Even if the day comes when every child in Singapore has a PSP or Xbox, my kids are not getting one. (Too bad, Andre!)

Not every nice-to-have has to be earned, though. Sometimes I see something nice and I’ll get it for my kids even though they don’t need it. But when that happens, my kids are surprised and grateful because they know it’s an extra.

Few things irk me more than seeing ungrateful children. I've seen kids toss aside a gift without so much as a second glance, maybe a half-hearted "thanks" if nudged by their parents. I'm not saying they have to be grovelly and over-profusely grateful when they're given anything. I'm talking about the basic understanding and awareness that somebody wanted to make them happy. There should at least be the grace to muster up a little appreciation.

This may seem old-fashioned but Kenneth and I always attribute gifts to others. Eg if a relative passes us a gift for our kids, if they weren't present at the time of the giving, we'll consciously tell them who it's from and they usually follow up with a thank-you call. It appears long-winded but we feel it drives home the message that the gift didn't just drop from the sky into their laps, it came from someone who thought of them specifically. You'll be surprised at how this little gesture works. Even years after, Lesley-Anne can tell me who gave her which toy or t-shirt. It just makes each item more meaningful.

We live in a culture of excess and this creates ingratitude or maybe more accurately, indifference. In a society where extras have become entitlement and moderation considered as deprivation, it's more important than ever to learn how to give thanks in everything.
"How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is
To have a thankless child!" - William Shakespeare (King Lear)


JJ said...

yes we live in a world of excess. almost every 'want' becomes a 'need'. i saw in the latest edition of Today's Parents (i got a copy cos Dr Soin of WINGS was featured in an interview there about the Bond project) and one contributor wrote about teaching his primary school son financial management (and we're not talking about just savings but also debt management and investments..!). i thot that was really interesting. if one can teach pre-schoolers about engineering*, well, one can certainly teach 10-year-olds about money.

*NYT story on kindergartners

rgds - kjj

monlim said...

JJ: Debt management and investments at primary school? Wow! Not sure Andre would grasp any of it LOL! But kids should at least be taught basic money management at an early age, never too young to learn that, I feel.

Yin said...

Ha! Now I can assure R & J that they are not and will not be the only children in Singapore without a PSP or XBox!! J has also been telling us he is the only one in his class without a handphone since last year.. Really like what you do asking the children to thank everyone for gifts, that's something I need to implement too.

monlim said...

Yin: Yes! You can safely ask R & J to compare with L-A & Andre, they can be the only FOUR children in Singapore without a PSP or XBox, hehe :P

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