>One-child policy gives birth to a selfish generation
Fiona Tam Oct 08, 2009
Thirty years after the mainland began forbidding some families from having more than one child, in order to solve a dizzying population crisis, the country’s psychiatrists say the result has been a self-centred generation that, having grown up without siblings has never learned to share.
Now, as the children from one-child families enter child-bearing age themselves, mainland authorities have decided to intervene to prevent similar problems occurring.
In Beijing and Guangzhou, health authorities are co-operating with counselling centres for adolescents and mental hospitals to launch special schemes to help thousands of “little emperors”.
Families living in most Chinese cities are now barred from having more than one child each unless neither parent has a sibling. With aunts, uncles and cousins pruned from family trees, the attention and expectations of two parents and four grandparents all bear down on a single child.
To psychiatrists, the policy has produced a generation of self- centred loners, prone to exaggerated feelings of superiority and also liable to have trouble building close relationships.
And without intervention, these character traits are likely to be passed on to the next generation.
Dr Cui Yonghua , a psychiatrist at Beijing Anding Hospital, said young patients’ records from the past 15 years suggested there were irremediable character defects among the new no-sibling generation.
He has joined a charitable family education programme, sponsored by Renmin University, which helps parents and children in one-child families.
“The situation is worrying,” Cui said. “A whole generation born after 1978 has developed a large number of mental and behavioural problems because they were spoiled by their parents and grandparents, and this has significantly affected population quality.
“Beijing health authorities have noticed this problem since 1993, and we did a large-scale survey across the country between 1993 and ’99. But intervention programmes for the generation of one-child families weren’t started until last year.”
Cui and his colleagues give free lectures at Beijing primary schools every week, teaching skills in communication and emotional control to parents and children.
In Guangzhou, a three-month programme at camps for adolescents to cure the little emperor syndrome, plus family education for parents, costs 27,000 yuan (HK$30,700) per child. Organisers said the number of applications was overwhelming.
Psychological counsellor Yang Yufeng , of the Baiyun Mental Research Institute, said more than 4,000 children had joined the camp, but he estimated that accounted for only 10 per cent of demand.
The camp is part of an adolescent mental health programme launched by Guangzhou’s Communist Youth League.
At the camp, adolescents with behavioural problems, almost all from one-child families, receive military training, psychological counselling, lessons in controlling emotions and legal classes, from 6am to 8pm.
Their parents are also required to take family education and communication programmes at the camp every Sunday.
Yang said the youngest child to join the camp was an eight-year-old boy reared by a young couple, both of whom were from one-child families.
“We have seen so many parents with character defects who were born after the one-child policy began, and many of these parents have a big influence on their children’s mental health,” he said.
“Parents’ mistakes account for more than 70 per cent of children’s mental and behavioural problems.”
A mother from Fujian province said she had ridden a bus for 11 hours to send her teenage son to the camp after he was expelled from secondary school because of behavioural problems.
“The money is worth it if the tutors can keep my only son from prison,” she said. “I don’t expect him to receive tertiary education. I’m satisfied as long as he can earn a livelihood with his hands.”
Hong Kong toy factory owner Chai Kwong-wah, who has operated production lines in Shenzhen for 17 years, said today’s young workers were much pickier.
“We have faced a chronic labour shortage because very few young people are willing to work in traditional manufacturing industries,” Chai said.
“Many have complained to me that the jobs are low-paying and hard work, and some have even asked for air conditioning in their dormitories, something which I had never heard before from previous workers.
“They spend most of their salaries buying clothes and new mobile phones rather than sending it back to help their struggling parents.”
But Yuan Zishan , a 21-year-old university graduate from Shenzhen and an only child, said: “To me, life isn’t about fulfilling your parents’ or society’s expectations. It’s your life, and you should pursue your own happiness.”