For generations, our mothers have been raising children without having to go through formal parenting courses. They learnt from their parents, principally their mothers.
Parenting is a hands-on job, and experience is gained with time.
Recently, it was reported that an exasperated mother chained her child to a pillar in a parking lot because the 8-year-old refused to go to school.
Photographs of the chained girl went viral on social media and prompted the Minister for Women, Family and Community Development, Rohani Abdul Karim, to issue a statement saying that her ministry, together with the Ministry of Education and the National Social Council, would take steps to prevent similar incidents.
She also proposed compulsory parenting classes to curb child abuse.
Have she and other officials wondered whether the girl refused to attend school because she had been bullied or had gone through some other harrowing experience?
The mother’s action was cruel, but are parenting courses the solution? What about using common sense?
Despite their many frustrations, most parents do not mentally or physically torture their children. Corporal punishment and early intervention help, but today, disciplinary teachers are afraid of punishing their charges because parents threaten to sue them if they even so much as scold their children.
Traditionally, children ate simple, healthy and cheap meals. Today’s children are indulged and regularly given junk but expensive fast food.
Sitting as a family at the dining table used to be routine. Today’s fast paced living means that children sit alone in front of the television and have minimal human contact. In some households, the child is allowed to play with his smartphone even as he sits for a meal with his family. Sometimes the parents themselves play with their own phones over their meals. So, despite the appearance of togetherness, everyone might as well be on his own planet.
Boundaries are rarely set for modern children. They run riot in restaurants and shopping malls. They stay up late. At times, they take their parents’ car without their knowledge and go on a joyride.
Today’s parents seem easily manipulated. They spend less time with their children and make up for the lack of attention by giving them material things. The children have no social graces. They don’t know how to make polite conversation and they lack table manners.
Working mothers leave their children in the care of nannies or baby sitters. Contact with the child is minimal. Perhaps its the nanny who should attend parenting courses.
Rohani may want parents to attend parenting courses, but it is possible that the group of parents she has targeted would be reluctant to join these classes. The deprived mother will be too busy ekeing out a living. The privileged parent considers herself extremely knowledgeable and too smart to mix with the hoi polloi.
There are many irresponsible adults, some of whom lack the means to provide a nurturing home environment. Would parenting courses make them more responsible? Can an adult be taught to be a good parent in a few lessons? Do the marriage courses make Muslims better husbands and wives? Do driving lessons make better road users?
Courses alone are insufficient. We also need strict law enforcement and other deterrents.
Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.