I was about to board a flight earlier this week when I overheard a Caucasian mother advise her grumpy young son.
“You have to be on your best behaviour, Sam. You see all those people over there? We’ll be sharing the airplane with them – so you have to be good and respectful to them, you hear me? Can I count on you, Sam?”
The boy frowned. “Do I have to?”
“Yes, you do. You are a good boy and that’s what good boys do – they behave themselves,” she assured him.
I observed Sam from my aisle seat for most of the two-hour twenty-minute flight – and am happy to report he was pretty much an angel.
Sam got me thinking however of all the misbehaving Malaysian children who have crossed my path over the years.
• Kids who run freely in restaurants, peering into the dishes on your table before scooting off.
• Kids who run screaming in shopping malls and hotels – like it was their personal playground.
• Kids who kick-up a fuss on board buses and trains and worse yet, at private functions.
• Kids who chatter away during movies and live theatre shows.
• Kids who kick the back of your seat repetitively as you sit to watch a movie in the cinema.
• Kids who throw tantrums and roll on the floor in the middle of shopping malls because their parents refused to buy them a toy.
From my observations, I find most Malaysian parents practise either one of two extremes when it comes to parenting – they are either reluctant to discipline their kids or are strictly authoritarian.
Too many parents leave their kids to entertain themselves with electronic gadgets or run helter-skelter without supervision.
Of course, there will certainly be those who claim that parenting styles differ from one family to another depending on culture, tradition, upbringing and knowledge. However, I’d like to believe there are only two types of parenting styles – the right way and the wrong way. And most Malaysian parents do it the wrong way.
Children, although young, are still individuals in their own right. They cannot be expected to do something simply because their parents tell them to. They should be treated like intelligent human beings and therefore deserve an explanation just like the rest of us.
Instead of demanding children follow rules simply because you as a parent said so, they need to know that they function as part of a larger community and every decision or action they make has consequences not just for themselves but the people around them.
If Sam’s mother was a typical Malaysian, she would have either warned him not to make a fuss on the flight, then threatened him that the air steward would catch him; she’d have pinched him every time he misbehaved; or perhaps she’d have ignored him totally while engrossed in the flight movie.
Watching Sam and his mother, I realised how important it is to teach children from young how to be responsible members of their community.
Every child may be special, but it is essential that parents teach them that they are not the centre of their universe (neither are the parents). Instead of spoiling children by allowing them to do as they please, or threatening them so they do as their parents please, every child should be taught that they are part of a family and part of a larger community – and therefore have the responsibility to be kind, honest and respectful of the feelings of others.
“Good parents produce good children. Bad parents produce pests.” – Fa Abdul.
Fa Abdul is an FMT columnist.