Sunday, 2 July 2017

Are we raising our kids right?

Are we raising our kids to be secure, independent and critical thinkers?
It's the eve of school's reopening tomorrow and a public holiday for all, and what greets us this morning in the Home section has to do with our younger generation. 
It reads: "Abusers getting more brazen." It's about drug abuse, and the abusers are getting younger, more daring, and incidentally, very bored. 
Jessica, only 15, and had tried marijuana, said, "We were scared (of getting caught) but we had nothing to do between classes. Boredom kind of overthrew the fear (of getting caught)."
Should parents worry?
It also reports that one of those (caught) was a primary school pupil who tested positive for Ice. 
His mother said he used to be a "joyful" boy, but he "fell into bad company, lost interest in school and started taking drugs."
A programme manager, Mr Robin Tay, from The New Charis Mission remarked, "It was very uncommon to hear of students doing drugs in school in the 1980s and 1990s, but I think there are more of such cases now. I think students have become more daring."
Should parents really worry?
Mind you, the undergrads, national servicemen and young working adults are riding "high" on this bandwagon too. But they are getting high abroad to avoid detection. 
One lawyer, Mr Amarick Gill, said, "They have the money to travel and some of them even organise "drug trips" overseas with the intention to try drugs and have a good laugh. They think that as long as they wait a few days after taking the drugs, it will be gone from their system and they won't get caught."
Here's the (double) hook. 
It reports that "sometimes the older youth provide drugs to the younger ones for free at the start. Once they get hooked, however, they will start to pay the price, literally." 
The price for cannabis is on average $33 per gram. Ice costs $120 per gram. 
My friend, lawyer Ray Louis, said this in the papers today, "The profile of young drug users is no longer pigeonholed to a particular stereotype of children from broken families or those who join gangs. Some of them also come from good schools." 
This is in line with the reporting that reads:-
"Unlike the past, when drug abusers tended to be from lower-income and troubled families, more of today's young drug abusers hail from middle and even upper middle-class families, with parents who have no history of drug abuse."
Should parents panic now? Should all parenting hell break loose?
Lesson? I have three, but here's the background. 
I believe poverty and affluence both have a price to pay. At the risk of oversimplifying, the poor (youth) fall into crime for survival and the rich kids go wayward for kicks.
Now, there is also the issue of peer pressure, trending, bad company, boredom and "don't overreact lah dad, it's just one harmless drag."
In Singapore, although the poor still exists in large numbers, and the rich are riding high in gated community (thanks to widening income and social inequality), the larger picture, I believe, has a lot to do with our delayed response and fumbling ability to deal with, adjust to, and live above the challenges of a changing, technologically driven, internet-fuelled, open and liberal society. 
Our values are changing fast because the world is changing fast. 
As parents, let's admit it, we are struggling with the internet (and their internet savvy friends) to sway our kids' opinion. The world is their virtual oyster. 

They can now tell you what is, in their view, right and wrong because Google has been their go-to sinseh of worldly knowledge. 
While parents are still struggling with Casio handheld calculator (to borrow an analogy), our kids are embracing and enjoying embodied cognitive technology to tell us off, keep us at bay, draw the line, and accelerate their learning (while leaving their character development and maturity lagging behind).
I further believe success is not the solution for failure just as wealth is not the solution for poverty. You don't vindicate yourself for being poor by getting rich. It is not payback. 
Likewise, being rich ("living your dream" as advertised in the world) is not the summit of our human struggles, the destination of it all (that is, the end all).
In other words, we don't finally "arrived" (so we think) at our early thirties by having more possessions, titles and wealth (or successes or hits) than our neighbours, competitors and friends. If anything, we have only just begun our lesson (or learning) in life. 
Trust me, success can be a tougher teacher than failure, more demanding (and crushing) sometimes. 
If life is a journey, you just can't "retire" halfway by naively proving to the world you are successful in the material sense without wondering what you are going to do with this (so called) success in and for the next phrase of your life's journey, or how it is going to change you - for good or bad.
Against this background, I will now introduce my three lessons as I have told you earlier. 
First, our children need to grow up to be critical thinkers. 
In the papers today, there is an article entitled "Ponder this: Philosophy churns out high-fliers too."

Carly Fiorina (former head of Hewlett-Packard) majored in philosophy, and she laments about the public perception of philosophy. 
People have a dim-view of philosophy (sarcasm unintended). Professor Christopher Morris remarked, "Most people don't have much of an idea of what philosophy is. People imagine us sort of sitting there casually talking away with a glass of wine."
According to a journalist, Katy Tur, she said:-
"Philosophy majors get a bad rap. I would argue that for the vast majority of people, an education teaching you to think critically about the world you are in and what you know and what you don't know is useful for absolutely everything that you could possibly do in the future."
Of course I am not asking for parents to run helter-skelter to enrol their children into some philosophy 101 class or degree. Alas, there's always a solution that seems simple, sensible and popular, but wrong. 
More urgently, we as parents need to inculcate that habit of thinking critically in our kids, making sure they are questioning everything, weighing pros and cons deeply, examining the root of all things, resisting crowd- or groupthink, pursuing the larger picture always, and honouring timeless values. 
Secondly, our children need to learn to be independent thinkers. 
Again, the papers today talks about helicopter parenting. It is entitled: "More schools shoot down "helicopter parenting."" 
It has got to do with a parent rushing from work just to pass his son (Pri 2) a robotic course textbook for his enrichment class because his son said that "he couldn't continue with the lesson if he didn't have the book". 
My god, some schools say that they have even put up signs "urging parents to turn around and leave." 
It further reports this:- 
"The Ministry of Education (MOE) appears to be making a similar push to weed out such excessive parenting practices. Earlier this month, it put up a Facebook post highlighting examples of helicopter parenting, such as debating with a teacher to get one more mark, or taking homework to school for a child when he forgets to take it along with him."
One parent admitted to this:- 
"I may be guilty of being a helicopter parent at times, but it has dawned on me that it's important to teach my son that he has to bear the consequences if he forgets to take an item to school." 
Likewise, we as parents have to leave room for our children to grow, and at times, it means letting them go through the consequences alone and learn them the hard way. 
It cannot be over-stressed that life is not going to place her challenges (or trials) for our child (or when he or she grows up) in a silver platter with neatly arranged utensils and all, and a spot of broccoli at the side. 
And we can't always be there for them when the shit hits the fan. And it will, sooner or later.
As such, the best way we can prepare them now (in their growing years while we are still around) is to let them fall, have some skinned knees of their own, allow them to struggle to get up by themselves with our encouragement by the side.
And when they do, that is, finally standing on their own two feet, we then go and hug them with love, hope and faith (never before all that).
Alas, there is no gain without pain, and no dispelling of fears without the shedding of tears.
And finally, the third lesson for me is our relationship with them. This is uncompromising. 
We choose to give birth to them (jointly), and the least we can do is to be around for them (wholeheartedly).
I have this theory that our children are ill-equipped to deal with the fast changing world because they do not have a stable (confidence-building) one at home to begin with. 
We as modern goal-getter parents are unavoidably busy. Most of us are even highly successful. The world out there recognises us as such. But the world in our family most times hardly recognises us to start with. 
We mistake pricy gifts for our company, big presents for our presence, and expensive holidays for playing and learning together with our kids. 
Essentially, our children crave for simple pleasures with substantial, deep impact, and not substantial gifts with shallow impact from us.
I have thus learned that there is no substitute for building relationship, one sincere gesture at a time. 
No gifts, holidays or grand birthday bashes can make it all up. At best, they are secondary to relationship. 
Ultimately, the relationship always come first, and the gifts later. The order cannot be reversed for what you do not want is for them to come to you solely expecting monetary rewards. But you desire that they come to you because they want your support, encouragement, love and assurance, that is, the resilient relationship you have nurtured and built over the years with them. 
We are therefore their first port of call for things/values that really matter in life. That is, things/values that money cannot buy, or are beyond such superficial metrics.
So, we as parents must never forget that one hug from us, one tears shed with us, one word of encouragement from us, one smile that we are proud of them, and one hand to hold with them to go through tough and confusing time as they grow up, is worth all the rendering of gifts, presents and holidays we desperately try to make up for lost time. 
Let me end by saying that as a parent, I am far, far from perfect. At best, I am still perfecting. But I will always keep those three lessons in my heart to guide and remind me. 
For in this fast-paced society, our children need us to provide them the security, trust and love they crave after in the world we call family so that they will grow up to be secure, independent and critical thinkers to face and confront the issue and challenges that the world out there brings. Cheerz.

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