Wed, Nov 22, 2017 - Page 8 News List

‘Strawberries’ denied room to grow

By Ben Goren

Consider the following statements:

“The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they know everything.”

“They have grown slothful. Without strength, without energy, they add nothing during life to the gifts with which they were born — then they complain of their lot.”

“They have unexceptionally high hopes for jobs, while they are unwilling to commit themselves to the job. Most young people only want to live a stable life, with no ambition to be highly successful or to make a better living. They seem to be satisfied with a little happiness.”

“They are passive about social issues. They might know a bit about public issues and make simple comments, but are not capable of expressing detailed points of view.”

These criticisms of the younger generation might all sound like contemporary complaints against “millennials” and “strawberries,” but in fact the first two were opined by Peter the Hermit in 1274 and Seneca in the first century.

Although strikingly similar in content, the latter two are comments made by National University of Singapore professor Duan Jin-chuan (段錦泉) in 2014 and Child Welfare League Foundation executive secretary Huang Yun-hsuan (黃韻璇) last week (“Survey finds 42% of teens passive in social issues,” Nov. 13, page 3).

In her defense, Huang’s comments were not entirely shaped by the seemingly genetically encoded human predisposition for intragenerational scorn. Instead, she was urging parents, teachers, the government and society to provide teenagers with more information, supposedly to help them develop critical thinking and self-expression.

She did this in response to the foundation’s findings that 40.9 percent of parents were unsupportive — even censorious — of their child’s interest in social issues.

Unfortunately, the road to bad policy proposals is often paved with small-data-set polling and hasty conclusions of well-meaning non-governmental organizations.

In this case, the foundation did not compare its results with data on the same questions gathered from adult respondents, university students and the newly graduated.

If it had, it might have found that a poor grasp of — and low interest in — social, political and economic issues is not a problem that affects teenagers alone, and that quantity of information might be secondary in its effect on quality.

They might have also found, with a larger and longitudinal data set, that awareness and understanding of social and other issues might have actually grown in the years since Taiwan’s democratic transition began.

Whether intentionally or not, the foundation’s research and report ends up less about the welfare of children and more about trolling them, supposedly in the name of their rights. It forms part of an enduring and harmful narrative about “the youth today” as illustrated more literally by Duan’s lament.

In Taiwan, this narrative is symbolized by the word “strawberry” to describe a generation that is easily bruised. Defined more explicitly, it castigates those born in the 1980s and after as soft, work-shy, spoiled and demanding.

A good example is Pxmart president Hsu Chung-jen (徐重仁), who criticized young people for complaining about low wages while spending beyond their means.

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