Saturday, 9 August 2014

Happy 49th. Part 1 - Children and Childhood

Things to be happy about growing up in Singapore.

1 Childhood.

Well, how was your childhood?

49 years is a long time in a person's life. Those born 49 years ago or so, faced a different situation, and a different experience growing up. Children born 10 years ago face a whole different situation.

How to compare?

In my childhood, the longkang was a playground, firecrackers were available, and the whole street/lorong/kampong was our turf. The road in front of my home had a near permanent "pond" of muddy water, drying up occasionally when there was a "drought" and eventually "fixed" when modernity reached our "kampong" and the road was paved/sealed.

We had a small garden of sorts, and at one point, we had ducks. And terrapins. And fighting fish. And cats. And our parents pretty much left these hobbies to us for us to manage. Fish died. Terrapins escaped. And a dog in the neighbourhood killed one of our cats (kitten, really).

My brother was the marble champion or a pretty strong contender for the title in the neighbourhood.

Today, kids think the glass marbles are solely for aquarium decorations. And NParks has done such a good job turfing all our neighbourhood spaces, there is no bare ground to play marbles.

And PLEASE do not create an official "marble pitch". That would be terrible.

Growing up in the environment of my childhood, we learned that what is not expressly forbidden can be tried.

Growing up today, children are overly protected. And pampered. (See this opinion piece.)

Are children today more likely to learn that only what is expressly allowed can be tried? I hope not. I hope they all read Sim Wong Hoo's "NUTS!" (No U-Turn Sign).

But our kids are more protected today, their days are more structured, their lives are more "directed" if not "dictated". They live in a "walled garden" of sorts.

They are less capable of independent thought.

Too judgmental on my part?

Children used to be raised by the village. Strangers would chide children for misbehaving in public. Today, if a stranger did that, the parents would probably call the police.

Singapore is a safe place to raise children... mostly. Then occasionally, you will read of a spate of vehicle accidents when our children are killed, and you wonder if it really is that safe.

Then just as I was writing this, a 4 yr old was injured when then door he was abusing at Westgate Mall fell on him.

Apparently, he was "playing" with the door, pushing at it, over-extending it, and it was push past its operational limits, and shattered (but the glass was safety glass so it stayed within the "plastic" sheath), and fell on the kid. 

And the internet community... blame the parents. Generally.

One or two suggested that the door must be faulty, but videos provided by the Mall management showed the child "abusing" the door, before it fell.

Yes. Maybe the door should have been built to withstand the abuses of a 4-year-old.

And maybe the kid shouldn't have been allowed to play with doors? Maybe the parents should have stopped the child from treating every public space as a playground? Maybe the parents should have made sure their child was not making a nuisance of himself, causing inconveniences to others, and treating public facilities as playground equipment Maybe the parents should have realised that there are "child-safe" and "child-proofed" facilities, but the rest of the world is not?

Or maybe we should stop "child-proofing" things for our children? There are real, natural, and man-made dangers out there. We should prepare our children for that. Raising them in a child-proofed environment is unnatural, and unrealistic, and ultimately prepares our children for NOTHING.

It takes a village to raise a child, and just one child to raze a village.

I remember when I travelled with my nephews and nieces (and their parents) - there were 6 kids from an infant to a 14 year old - and we stopped to have lunch at a restaurant in Seattle.

At the end of the meal, two persons from two different tables approach their parents and complimented them on their well-behaved children. I was not the parents (just the uncle), and I was very proud of my nephews and nieces. One of my nephews (one of the older ones) suggested that perhaps the two persons who gave their comments and compliments were used to lower standards of behaviour from children.


But it did not detract from their "achievement".

I told my nephews and nieces that they had done well, and they have made their parents proud. And that they should take credit for the compliment (regardless of other's standards).

Maybe I am old-fashioned, but I liked it better when children were raised by the village.

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