YOUR VIEW: Parents are co-perpetrators of fear

Our reader suggests that parents and teachers must find a way to forge a vision of life that is robust for Singapore's children to take on the world. (Yahoo! file photo)

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Love and fear make poor bedfellows. Yet when it comes to parenting, this is the strange admixture we have.  We worry about our child’s health and safety.  We also feel anxious since the new generation is always filled with new and strange things to the present one. The tendency is to feel rather helpless towards the next generation.

In the not too distant past, the parents’ influence is strong, firm and pervasive. We live in a very different world now. The question is: do children still require parents to provide the sense of safety and certainty that comes with being the main, firm voice of right-and-wrong? Can children thrive when they need to take cues from multiple sources: parents, grandparents, maid, teachers, etc?

The simple answer is ‘yes’ if these voices agree and reinforce each other.

But is this the sense we are imparting our kids today? When it comes to growing and learning, what voices do our children hear?  In the home front, when a parent feels the constant pressure and attendant fear to grow, guide and groom the child to fit some preset expectations, he or she will inevitably communicate some measure of anxiety, stress and fear to the child.

My friend Daniel Wong recently wrote about how teachers themselves have instilled fear into students. My heart goes out to these teachers who have been told that their noble profession of imparting a love for learning is now basically a matter of how the graph looks at the end of the term.

There is a punitive element to this competitive, results-oriented approach. A society of measurements invariably fosters a subtle yet nonetheless endemic fear. Alas, parents are the co-perpetrators of this fear since we need to parent with an eye to helping our kids succeed... in a particular fashion.

I have two children whom I raised to read widely, listen to a wide range of music and explore all sorts of activities. We have travelled with an eye on history and culture, and made space and time to serve the less fortunate. But when my daughter entered formal school, things began to shift. It no longer seemed enough to have a curious mind and a hearty appetite for learning.

As I learnt more about the system and she contended more with the content load, we both felt less enthusiastic about school. In one conversation with my daughter, she remarked that teachers seemed more concerned about their grades then they themselves were.

It took a decisive mindset shift for me as a parent to not bemoan how tough it was, to position myself as a partner to the school and rise to the challenge of coaching my child in her work. It is an ongoing battle to continue to make school about learning, and that learning is fun because I have this very real burden of measuring my daughter’s growth in grades too! How I wish to have a more true-to-life way of gauging her development; if I can be also told how to encourage and measure her growth in her character, resilience, emotional and mental well-being.

She is doing her (dreaded) PSLE this year, and she and her friends have one overriding goal: how to celebrate each test and exam they complete before the next one rolls around. I believe I am not the only parent who feels lost as to how far to egg my child on to excel for this exam. Fear is not far removed from this whole experience; and fear drains us even as it drives us.

An education system which for the average child today is a lengthy sixteen to twenty-some years of life that starts off with a fear factor is just burdensome.  What’s worse, I see that many families are fighting against how this narrows much of the entire family experience to a worry-nag-overwork-reward-worry cycle.

An American teacher tells me that the West has emulated Asian educational goals and found that their teachers have left in droves and the homeschool movement growing exponentially. Parents over there are afraid and have lost confidence in their educational system on several fronts.

What about us in Singapore?  For many of us younger parents, we can no longer apply what our parents did because of how different we are from our forebears. We must find a way for parents and educators to dialogue and forge a vision of life that is robust for our kids to take on the world.

Jenni Ho-Huan, 45
Life-coach and author of Simple Tips for Happy Kids