The lost art of parenting

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By Mary Lee

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A New York Times feature revealed that toddlers in America were being entertained with photo apps on parents’ iPhones. Pre-schoolers were using these smartphones to play games. The writer clearly hasn’t visited Singapore. These are ordinary daily sights on buses, trains, restaurants and coffee-shops. Primary school children get to play with iPads.

These devices are great behaviour modifiers – up to a point. While they help to keep a child quiet and engaged, studies have also shown that too much exposure can desensitise an eight-year-old to his environment, where he doesn’t get up to pick up pencils a teacher has knocked over right in front of where he is sitting.

Now, Singapore is to launch the first-ever study on parenting of young kids, dealing in four areas: parents’ knowledge of their child’s learning and development; parents’ attitudes and aspirations towards their children; strategies in caring for their child; and resources in those areas. (Here we go: giving parents more reason to be even more kiasu!)

On top of all this, there’s the news that Swedish children have taken over the families (when to go to bed, what to eat, where to go for vacations, what to watch on television) with the banning of smacking since 1979. Oh dear. Adults with no say in the running of the family? Are we that far away from this situation?

Singapore children can be fairly bratty as well. I blame it all on poor communication at home. When both parents go out to work they leave their children to be looked after by the maid or grandparents, all of whom have no real authority in disciplining bad behaviour, at home or in public. Teachers in school have no authority to curb rowdy, bad behaviour in the classroom or in school. Members of the public travelling on the bus or trains have to endure rowdy behaviour from students.

All is not lost: communication helps. On the bus or on the train, speak to the teenager who seems to be the group leader about keeping down the noise level. At home, parents should discuss with grandparents and the domestic helper what has gone wrong during the day. All parties should be heard and acceptable behaviour arrived at. Grandparents who don’t speak English should be able to use whatever language they are comfortable in. If they have no understanding of computers or smartphones, they can be taught: they mustn’t be made to feel useless and irrelevant in this technological age.

Then maybe the toddler who likes looking at pictures on the iPhone will find joy sharing it with his grandparents and chatting with them, and learning to speak their real mother tongue at home.