I REFER to the series of reports this week, titled 'Teen crime: A ticking time bomb'. We should be alarmed. The audacity of youth crimes is symptomatic of the moral milieu of our youth.
Contributing to the moral crisis is de-traditionalisation, which is the progressive decline in the influence of tradition and social institutions on the formation of values. This has grown in parallel with an increasingly tolerant and individualistic interpersonal morality.
Actions which were considered shameful in previous generations are now considered 'cool'. Skimpy shorts worn by girls, vulgar prints on T-shirts and inappropriate expressions of intimacy are a common sight. Youths no longer fear social stigma; some find their self-worth precisely in their fearlessness to break social conventions.
Institutional negligence is another contributing factor. Flagrant disregard for rules is rampant and left unchecked in educational institutions. I have seen students smoking, wearing flip-flops, playing poker and occupying seats reserved for staff in cafeterias, under signs that prohibit such behaviour. Warnings and campaigns have not worked.
Teachers are reluctant to discipline students for fear of parents' complaints and negative feedback from students. When students know the authorities are lax in enforcement, they lose respect for rules and push the envelope.
After getting away with small violations, they become emboldened to commit more serious offences. Unfortunately, when they cross the line, it is too late and they end up in jail.
As observed by Dr Carol Balhetchet, director of youth services at the Singapore Children's Society, parents have become more indulgent and less of a moral compass to their children.
Many parents fail to see that children who misbehave in public today will become the inconsiderate and selfish neighbours and colleagues of tomorrow.
Let's not fool ourselves with the statistic that fewer youths are arrested. Listen to their language and watch their behaviour and you know the situation is dire. With the push to make youth creative, globalised and entrepreneurial, let's help them to be moral too.
Seto Hann Hoi
This article was first published in The Straits Times.