Vietnamese youth cheer as they wait for the South Korean boy band Super Junior in Hanoi in March. Photo: Le Quan
In a 2007 poll by Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper, Vietnamese youth cited Microsoft founder Bill Gates most often as their positive role model. In conversations with several hundred Vietnamese students over several years, I am almost always told that the most important value in their life is money.
And this obsession with wealth has been duplicated by virtually all teachers I have contact with. Could this be the result of an absence of positive role models available in Vietnam? Let's look at the record.
The recent arrest of several female top models, entertainers and actors for prostitution must certainly have had a devastating and long-lasting negative effect on the lives of many young girls who looked up to these celebrities as role models. What message does this lack of values and morality send to young people?
Boys typically admire sports figures and athletes and often follow their lead in how they behave. When we learned that many members of the Vietnamese soccer team took bribes to alter the outcome of games, how would this have affected the impressionable young minds?
When business leaders and public officials are arrested for corruption, or flee the country with their riches with such regularity, where can young people find adults who are responsible and law abiding, and who have values that reach beyond the accumulation of wealth and the wielding of power over those less fortunate.
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Children learn not only through these stories, but also through the passive lessons they get from observing and listening to those around them, from the culture as a whole. What is this culture teaching them?
Certainly, parents play a significant role in shaping the lives of children. Fortunately, there are families with positive ethical and moral values. On a daily basis, however, I see many over-protective parents trying to shelter their children from the realities of life. Can we blame them? But this kind of sheltering renders these youngsters immature, naÃ¯ve, ineffectual and non-contributing young adults in the workplace. And what about those young people who lack positive role models within the family due to alcohol, drugs, abuse, and a list of other negatives? How can they be rescued and learn to be honest, contributing citizens who value and respect others?
Teachers can be an excellent motivating force for the good. But what do we see in the newspaper? Students and teachers collaborating to cheat.
"Youth is the future!" is always the clarion call. Yes, they are our only hope. But judging by the lessons being taught by today's adults, can we expect a brighter future?
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By Roy Little
The writer is an American expat who lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City