Development and the Youth Culture

Adapted by the PCDForum from Bishan Singh's Column in The Sun, Tuesday, August 17, 1993.

by Bishan Singh

In Malaysia we speak of budaya lepak,which refers to the phenomenon of teenagers hanging out at shopping complexes, malls, supermarkets and transportation terminals. The loitering culture has become a national concern, in particular of the Ministry of Youth and Sports which has said it wants to launch a campaign to arrest its growth.

I perceive the loitering culture as one of the symptoms of a changing and failing society. The main cause is our current dominant development practice. My inquiry has revealed five reasons for the problem:

  • Lack of parental supervision. Both parents are out making a living. Children, especially teenagers, are often left alone or expected to care for themselves.
  • The school system is not keeping the student involved. Teachers are often themselves engaged in earning additional income and lack the time and motivation to interact with and guide students after school hours.
  • Community life is breaking down along with family life. There are no more harvesting seasons with the traditional sharing of labor, no community projects to which people contribute their labor. Even neighbors have become strangers.
  •  The authorities are failing to provide adequate space for playground, parks, forest reserves, clean rivers and ponds for fishing and other forms of outdoor recreation.
  • The vacuum created by the above is exploited creatively by business as a profit opportunity. They have designed facilities such as video games, karaoke, slot machines, and pachinko in shopping malls and supermarkets to lure teenagers who have no where else to go. This promotes addiction to cigarettes, alcohol, sex, drugs, and a society lacking in morals and social responsibility.

I have further identified three underlying causes of the these conditions:

  • The cost of living is escalating, requiring that both parents work to maintain the family. Many have even taken up second jobs to meet car installments, housing mortgages, holiday loans, credit card debts and other costs of modern living.
  • The mark of success has been narrowed to one thing: money. Money is now the ultimate power over people and resources, the sole means of upward mobility.
  • A materialistic consumer culture of affluence and waste traps everyone in a system where the rich grow richer and strengthen their control.

These causes all follow from a growth-led development approach. We want more not because we need more. We simply have to have more. But as Mahatma Gandhi taught: "There is enough for every man's need; but not enough for every man's greed."

The growth-led economic model is the root cause not only of the problem of the loitering culture, but many other social problems like family breakdown, drug addiction, alcoholism, crimes, corruption, breach of trust, growing poverty, social violence, environmental degradation, and illegal immigration.

The loitering culture is simply one of the many symptoms of a growth-led economic model that has reached its outer limits in a finite world. The bubble has started to burst.

Quantitative growth is no longer possible in a finite world without adverse social and environmental consequences. We must aspire to qualitative growth.

Coming back to the specific problem of the loitering culture, we must develop strategies in five areas:

  • We must strengthen the institutions of family and community. Traditions of community self-help might be reactivated to provide opportunities for teenagers to get together in family and community settings.
  • The Ministry of Youth and Sports must extend its concern to include recreation. Teenagers must be involved in planning and developing programs and facilities for their own recreation and education.
  • Each local government must undertake community programs and programs that involve youth in making voluntary contributions to the community toward building a caring and sharing society. For such efforts they might be awarded points toward scholarships, entry into the university, or priority in job applications.
  • We must then work to transform the consumer culture to a conserver and a responsible consumer culture, in particular among teenagers. The consumer movement is doing some good work in this area. Its initiatives must be supported by the community and the government.
  • Redefine our national objectives to focus on qualitative growth. This means concentrating on sustainable livelihoods that promote job satisfaction and creativity. It means planning and developing a better living environment with adequate housing, efficient public transport, health care, and public amenities like parks and recreational facilities. People must be relieved of the pressure and greed to make money. Instead we must learn once again to appreciate the family and community life that are essential ingredients for a better quality of life.

_____________

Bishan Singh is Executive Director of MINSOC, 2441 Jalan Merpati, 1st Floor, 25300 Kuantan, Pahang Darul Makmur, Malaysia, Fax (60-9) 514-982, a columnist for The Sun in Malaysia, and a contributing editor of the People-Centered Development Forum. This column was prepared and distributed by the PCDForum.

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