Finding Out The Needs Of The Youth
[ Extracted and edited from D2Y2 Magazine – June 1997, Volume 1, Issue 1]
Waves of taxpayers’ dollars are being pumped to help change the tide of social ills found rampant among the young. Everyone knows that though these social ills are real and identifiable, they are but the outward result of a much more serious inward problem.
Millions have been spent, with millions more in reserve, on what we termed as solutions to overcome these problems. As any child can tell us, before one can effectively and reasonably apply one’s mind to finding the correct solution to a problem, one has to firstly find out what that problem is.
Finding out the problem, mind you, is quite different from assuming what the problem is; and this applies whether that assumption is derived by the common man on the street, or by an expert on youth issues. It is a process that could involve a lot of soul searching pain and once found, may demand immediate and drastic changes that could affect a whole nation.
Tens of interviews have been conducted with leaders, professors, social workers and parents to find out the ways to beat this growing problem. Everyone seems to have an opinion to what the problem is and most conclude that it is some kind of need or the other that has to be satisfied before the problem can be resolved.
Question now is, what are those needs? Again, most people have but only a hunch of what they are. Some say it is the need to be involved in more extra-curricular activities. The majority agrees and millions are pumped into sports. Others say the need is for more discipline, so they close all doors on “teenage disco-ing” and suggest National Service. Still, there are others who believe that our youth need a place to express themselves, a place to belong and call their own – a “teen world”.
New solutions become old solutions in a matter of months, that is to say that nothing really has worked so far, save that which has yet to be launched. But still we try. With every new solution, millions more are being spent and more hype is being garnered. While I commend every effort that has been made thus far, I need to boldly request for a moment of silence, a time to ponder and evaluate.
This article which I have set my mind to write would seem to offer no solution to the existing crisis nor can any conclusion be clearly seen unless it is read “in between the lines”. I ask my readers not to seek for answers among the following words, but to listen carefully to the soft beats of the heart found within these expressed thoughts.
This article was inspired not only by my hidden frustrations of our current affairs but by the response gathered from the live interviews my wife and I had recently conducted with students and parents of various backgrounds.
We took to the streets with this question: “What really are your needs?” The following are the top three responses along with some thoughts of my own.
1. “I have not given any thought to it” or “I do not have any needs”.
Five out of ten either said they had not given any thought to what their real needs are or that they did not have any needs whatsoever to shout about. If the latter is true, then surely all this hype has been for nothing. To say that there is a need to be met, when there is really none, is to kid ourselves and waste everybody’s time and money.
Chin Yee & Mei Mei (students)
Have not actually thought about what we want from life. Will cross that bridge when we come to it. So right now we are just following the crowd.
If such is true, then I am afraid to suggest the possibility that there may exist an even greater need among those from whom the finger is pointed. As the saying goes, “point one finger and have three more pointing back at you”. Hide your own mistakes by pointing out the mistakes of others. Make yourself look good by making someone else look bad.
Suddenly everyone’s attention is distracted and directed to focus on the youth. Suddenly, they are the only ones with all the problems. Suddenly, everybody jumps on the bandwagon and nobody really bothers to ask the youth what their problem really is. How easy it is to concentrate on the problem of others rather than our own. Have all these hypes blinded our eyes from the more important issues that need attention?
As one parent rightly put it, neither the problem nor the solution start with the youth. It begins with the leaders. We have to lead by example. If this response is true, then we have got to get our eyes back to the root of the problem, starting from the top. There needs to be a revival of positive role models in this nation.
Most of you out there may argue that this response can hardly be true. Everyone has some kind of need or the other. Well, maybe they do and maybe they do not. But what I am concerned is what goes on in the minds of our young people when they think of their real needs. It can possibly be true to say that they have no needs when all their material needs (and wants) have been satisfied and beyond, that nothing else is really important to them.
They have no concept of their need for love and respect, attention and acceptance. Why? Well, maybe it is because those needs have not been fulfilled for such a long time or have been pushed aside to make way for other modern developments.
Could it be that we are guilty of having raised a generation of “robots” who not only are unable to identify their true needs, but are also incapable of satisfying those needs in others? “Robots” who selfishly chase after every imaginable external desire and deny the internal ones, the very ones that distinguishes mankind from any other creation. What kind of values have we been teaching this young generation?
Reverend Tan Jin Huat (parent)
Society has changed and as such, life’s values are not what we say but what we do. Parents spoil their children as a way of compensating them for the lack of attention. Kids nowadays isolate themselves from their environment as a result of the “breakdown” of the family. Parents must realise that the family is the God given institution for relating and as such the microcosm, “what is in the home is what you will give outside” is true. Youth need encouragement and support until dead and gone and as such need good role models and father figures.
Then again, one or two could be telling the truth that they do not have any needs. I say this because of my personal knowledge of the interviewees’ background. Some of these responses were from those who come from very happy and supportive homes where relationships are tight between parent and child.
They may not have come from rich homes but they are very confident and contented. They have a good self image of themselves as well as others and are doing well in their studies. After a couple of minutes with these guys, all doubts about them being desperate and deprived quickly disappears. These youth have been well fed physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually and it shows for itself.
Beng Cheong (student)
Youth these days do not get enough money as the cost of living in college is high. Youth wants freedom and is willing to learn from mistakes if he fouls up.
Parents should spend more time with their children. Regarding social ills, the government is generalising too much. They should target the right group as not all youths are the problem.
The most popular response by far from the interview that we had conducted is none other than the need for more freedom. Question is: how much more? In many instances, the same people who were crying out for more freedom also drove to college with good looking cars, carried the latest hand phones, smoked expensive cigarettes and had their girlfriends or boyfriends in close embrace. So to most of us leaders and parents, this response may be difficult to understand, let alone accept.
If we would look back into history and be completely honest, we would find that the cry for freedom is nothing new. This need has existed throughout the generations and can be traced back to the days of Adam and Eve. It is the need to be independent, the freedom to do whatever we feel like doing.
Today we understand that Adam and Eve’s need to be independent was really the act of disobedience that robbed our fellowship with the Creator and tore our relationship apart. This was why Jesus had to come and rescue us by dying on the cross for our sins, bridging our broken relationship so that we may return to our Creator’s side.
But many of us still reject Him, choosing rather to do it our own way. There exist within every man, because of his fallen nature, the need to achieve levels of “godhood” which are the levels of independence when man becomes like God, able to be in control yet controlled by nothing. To achieve this, the fallen man needs freedom to experiment.
Wants freedom and space from parents but the question is the degree of control that is exerted.
“Give an inch and he wants a yard, an arm and he wants a leg”. Give the child a little more and he may climb all over you. Treat a servant like a friend and he will soon take advantage of you. Almost everyone will one time or the other test their limits. I call it the rubber band theory.
There was a time when some of the immorality and crime found among today’s society was unheard of. Then came some “daring” ones. Those who had the freedom to experiment. They pushed the boundary a little further. Sometimes, like a rubber band, the boundaries hit back and things are back to where they were but most of the time, the boundaries give way.
Television was no help as it picked up on some of these experiments and instead of warning people, it offered new ideas for experimentation. More began to test their boundaries. Some parents gave in but most were angry. Later as children became parents they gave in a little more and a little more and more. Then the day came when calling parents by name was generally acceptable.
Mrs Fung (parent)
Kids nowadays are too privileged and overspend which is mainly the parents fault.Then again some parents cannot help it. They want to provide a better life than what they had in their childhood.
The boundaries have changed but the experiments continue to go on. Just the other day, I heard that a 15 year old Asian had scolded her parents and used a string of profanity. Her parents kept quiet, unsure of how to respond but visibly disappointed and shaken. It would not have been allowed ten years ago but it is being tolerated today.
True freedom is limited freedom, both the minimum and the maximum. And true enjoyment of that freedom lies in a healthy balance between the two. Many would argue that freedom in China fell below the minimum, whereas bringing guns to high school in the States went way above the maximum. Imagine absolute freedom at traffic lights in Malaysian traffic.
The more our youth are given the liberty to experiment without any guidance and discipline, the more useless the rubber band is going to be. In fact, it is my opinion that our rubber band is almost obsolete today. Pick it up and you will find how loose it is and how close it is to snapping.
Children need to be taught that boundaries exist for their own good and for the good of others. Boundaries define us. What value has a person of no stands? We are only worth the stands we make and the principles we stand on, especially when they are in line with God’s.
Finally on this point, I must be fair to many genuine cases where freedom is a valid need. I have been around enough young people and visited enough homes to conclude that there is the need for many parents to let go.
Jesus had to let go and see what happened when He did. And if Jesus could trust 11 “failed” disciples, how much more we need to trust the children and youth that God has placed under our care.
As a youth worker, I have found my highest goal to be one common with that of every parent, that is to raise our children to be responsible individuals who know how to make responsible decisions and take responsible actions in accordance to the highest law. Then it is really time to let go for it is in the letting go that children really get to grow and be who they are purposed to be.
The real issue here is trust. Do we trust our children enough? Trust does wonders to a child’s life for he or she will cherish it. Of course if he or she does not, then it should be taken back, only to be returned when proven. Jesus had to let go and see what happened when He did. And if Jesus could trust 11 “failed” disciples, how much more we need to trust the children and youth that God has placed under our care.
Parents are overprotective. Discipline is good but the essential issue is the parental trust that is present.
The third highest answer on the list probably came from those who did a little more thinking about this issue.
3. Young people need an identity.
The more popular and exclusive the identity is, the better. This is the reason why many youth join gangs and get involved with secret societies. They want to be attached to an identity that is “happening” and not just any identity.
Are our youth clubs and societies “happening”? Then again, what is popular may not always be right. Sure, but who cares for what is right or wrong and who cares about tomorrow. Our young people want to feel good about themselves – today, now, this minute.
They have a need to be met and that need is to be a part of something that gives them meaning in life (even if it is only momentary) as well as self esteem. It is the need to belong. The need to be accepted. This is and has been the key to every successful “peer pressure” attempt – conform or stand alone, follow or be left behind, imitate or be labeled.
Who wants to stand alone, be left behind or be labeled? So, conform, follow and imitate. “Go with your feelings, not with your brains; do what feels good now, do not worry about tomorrow”, this dictates peer pressures of every negative kind.
The spirit of “fighting for what is right even if we have to fight alone” needs to be revived.
If you are feeling rather hopeless about the situation at this stage, let me introduce you to a term you may want to apply your mind to explore in meeting this need among your own young people – “positive peer pressure”.
Eusoffe Chua (student)
Find my place in life by doing my best whether in the secular world or in full time ministry. Develop the gifts that God has in store for me and to accomplish His will in my life.
Hock Seng (student)
Youth want a sense of belonging and attention. Personally, I want to maintain a close walk with Jesus.
Our young people must be taught to stand alone, be left behind or be labeled if that is what it takes to do what is right and they will, only when they have found a cause worth doing it for. The spirit of “fighting for what is right even if we have to fight alone” needs to be revived.
Young people need a cause to champion for and once they have found it, they will go as far as to give their lives for it. Just say jump and they will say how high. Every successful movement, both present and in the past will testify to this fact.
My question is, what cause, if any, is our youth being stirred and inspired to fight for? Where should the need for belonging, acceptance and security a.k.a the need for identity be satisfied? Where can it truly be met? Some say it starts from home.
Aaron & Daniel (students)
Christian youth groups were meant to help youth have a place of acceptance but due to “cliques”, many times newcomers do not feel apart of it. Youths who join gangs want to find security, power and contacts, they usually cannot stand alone by themselves.
Is anybody going to read this?
“Is anybody really going to read this?” was a response that caught my wife by surprise. On the face of it, this is hardly a proper answer to the question of, “What really are the needs of the youth today?”. That was probably why Sandra struggled to reply.
But a little more thought to this response helped me unearth yet another deeply embedded need. It is none other than the need for recognition and respect.
How sure are you that this article is going to be read by the leaders?
Fung Joon (student)
This is good effort that you are doing, but I do not know how far this article will get. Will they give heed to our comments?
Listening is more than hearing, for those who have tried, it is preparing for change where necessary.
“Children should be seen and not heard” is a phrase that does not augur well and could not possibly be expected from today’s teens if we were serious about meeting their needs. But still, consciously or unconsciously, that phrase is very much alive.
I say this because the above response was not inspired by the quest of knowledge but by the frustrations of words gone unheard and expressions unattended. The same youth who asked this question also offered their own reply, “We don’t think that they would pay any attention to our views, it is just a waste of time”. I assure you that those words were not the best of encouragement I have received so far as a publisher but I caught their real message.
I think it is time we started listening more than we talked. God gave us two ears and one mouth so that we may listen twice as much as we talk. Listening is more than hearing, for those who have tried, it is preparing for change where necessary.
I encourage youth organisations and ministries to either have young people sitting in their board meetings or to carry out thorough and in-your-face (honest and open) surveys before making another major decision or spending another cent. Better still, have both.
Let us give the youth a chance to speak and if we are really serious about solving issues then we better get ready to change. Many initially may not step out and we need to encourage them. Hey, that is what young people really need. Support and encouragement especially from those they look up to to give them the recognition and respect they need. And once this is met, great things begin to take place.
I know for a fact that I am where I am today because of all those who gave me the break I needed, even if it was only just a small one. Can you remember some of your own encouragement in life? Well, it is time to pass some on. Invest in the young. You cannot go wrong!
D2Y2, which stands for Don’t Despise Your Youth, was an official Asian Youth Ambassador (AYA) magazine birthed out in the late 90s. The printed materials communicated dynamic and effective encouragement to and from the Church, with special emphasis on the knowledge and experiences of our Christian youths, which we believe the content is still relevant and applicable in this current generation.