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At the end of 2010, a snowstorm paralyzed London's Heathrow Airport. Many Hong Kong students eager to go home for Winter Solstice Festival and Christmas were stranded there. The issue generated a litany of complaints from both students and their parents. Some griped about poor arrangements made by airlines, some grumbled that the airport was like a refugee camp. Quite a few parents even called radio programs to urge Hong Kong government to charter a plane to bring back their kids from UK. All these superfluous and alarmist reactions ignited numerous criticisms and debates in Hong Kong, where an overwhelming majority of citizens were critical of the students and their parents.
The general consensus was that most Hong Kong students are overly pampered and spoilt, resulting in their lack of self-discipline and independence. These youngsters are thought to be afflicted with the "princess disease" and consequently a new term - "Kong kids" - was coined to describe them. They are deemed to be unable to look after themselves, have low emotional quotients and even lower adversity quotients.
The resultant collective soul-searching attributed this state of affairs to parents, who might have had a difficult upbringing themselves, and who were determined to protect their offspring from suffering the same hardships they had undergone. Many parents doted on their children so much, on top of the services rendered by their domestic helpers, that it practically incapacitated the children's self-sufficient skills.
The parents are not alone in bearing blame for the reality that our children are living in clover. All of us are basically the sum of our experiences and our socialization process with the world at large. We can identify the primary influences as those coming from the schools, family relations, peer-interaction and other external factors - especially the visual impacts of the media, movies, public personalities and the values espoused by well-known figures.
There is no disputing that impressions formed at earlier stage of life are more durable. If parents were to stress to their children the importance of material gain in lieu of spiritual well-being, we should not be surprised if our children turn out to be disturbingly materialistic. Neither should we be taken aback if they end up worshipping the "almighty dollar". In such an environment, many teachers and parents find it challenging to impart the so-called old-fashioned values such as character development and raise their children's moral standards.
Through peer pressure and the unrealistic portrayal of life on the screen to which they are constantly exposed, our children are bombarded with a distorted view of life outside the protective cocoon of their families and schools. Little wonder many of them found the real world so foreign and they were unable to cope! In other words, the "Kong kids" are not just the product of doting parents, but of the society as a whole. As a society, it is time we took stock of our perverse obsession with financial gain and the life of luxury.
It is also noteworthy that some commentators have voiced concern that many Hong Kong parents have become habitual whiners. Unfortunately, this is also representative of Hong Kong in some ways, a place aptly described as a "city of demonstrators". There is certainly more than a grain of truth in this nomenclature.
Looking to the future, I worry about the quality of our future leaders if they are to be selected from amongst our "Kong kids" - unless they are given a good dose of reality soon. Let's not forget that all societies get the leaders they deserve.
The author is former secretary for home affairs of Hong Kong government.