Review: Teenage Rebels by Kaiwen Leong with Elaine Leong

Reviewer: Yeo Han Hwee

When I first read Elaine Leong & Dr Leong Kaiwen’s  “Pleasure Factory”, I felt anger and a sense of outrage. After reading “Teenage Rebels”, I felt disgust (especially the chapter on “Husband Hunter”), but mostly, I felt sadness.

Many armchair critics dub today’s kids “the strawberry generation” – how they are too soft and they have a sense of entitlement. In this book, Dr Leong unveils a different facet of teenage subculture of Singapore. Besides the peer pressure that they face, there are other external influences. Popular culture tells teens – via TV, the Internet and other media – what their identity is, what they should wear and what they should aspire to (buy this brand of t-shirts and your friends will like you!; buy this brand of perfume and you’ll get the boyfriend/girlfriend of your dreams!) Thus, the teens of today still struggle greatly with identity, and peer pressure.  T

he book also touches upon mental illness. Asian societies still struggle with a sense of shame about this, rather than treat it as a medical/psychiatric condition. In the first chapter “The Art Of Pornography”, the authors tell of a teenage girl’s struggle with  love, lust and sexuality which leads to her psychological breakdown.

The family unit itself can be a source of pressure. The chapter “Misery Mama” tells of the breakdown of a relationship between a daughter and her mother. The mother is like the character of Livia Soprano, the matriarch of the HBO show “The Sopranos”. She is depressed, spiteful and bitter, and her only joy in life is to make the people around her miserable.

A new threat that teens face is something the authors dub “intelligent crime”. For example,  through the internet and social media, psychologically vulnerable teens are exposed to threats or get involved in cyber crime (hacking government websites etc). In “Cult For Kids”, a young teen that comes from a deeply religious family gets sucked into an online cult. Thus, intelligent crime (like anorexia or bulimia) exert subtle influences that can have drastic psychological ramifications but are hard to detect due to their secretive nature.

The problem deal with rebellious teens is not an easy one to solve. Most teens want to feel a sense of identity, they want to be accepted but they have not yet developed their social skills, and still lack the maturity to understand and control their emotions.  I believe they key lies in communication. Parents have to communicate and understand what their children are going through – at school, emotionally, among their peers etc. But in a world where parents have long working hours, and parenting duties get assigned to maids, this will be far easier said than done.

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