“I remember when I was young, we used to spend a lot of time outdoors. We lived in special living quarters that were built for hospital employees, and since my one of my parents worked with the hospital, we got to stay there…it wasn’t much, but it was free housing, so we put up with the small house by spending a lot of time outdoors, which was super fun for us. There were no fences, clusters of houses, and we had lots of space with bushes, shrubs and green spaces to do gardening…which we absolutely loved.
One day, my brother and I were playing, and we caught sight of a snake sliding out towards us. We were fascinated, but when we realized the danger of the situation, shock set in and we started running as fast as we could. My dad was close by. He was clearing out some shrubs with his hoe and when he saw the commotion, he came running out to us to make sure we were okay. After running some distance, my dad quickly noticed that the snake was catching up to us and he turned and faced the snake, quickly driving his hoe right into it.
The snake died! All three of us were safe! And my dad has been our hero ever since!”
A childhood friend of mine told me this story some time back and I thought it was such an awesome story of bravery and really stepping into a fatherly role of protecting and keeping the family safe…but, then, I looked around me and thought, ‘we don’t have snakes these days’, does a family still need ‘protecting’ then?
Then I realized that children these days do need ‘protection’, in fact, maybe more than before. It just seems different because our ‘dangers’ don’t look as obvious as snakes any more. Actually, they don’t look scary at all…and if we give it some thought, we might find that these dangers lurk in our very households. Here’s a list of the ‘dangers’ that our children are exposed to on a daily basis:
- Having parents/caregivers who are not present or are emotionally absent.
This is a huge problem these days, because both parents have to work in many households, and thanks to our modern devices, we often bring our work home with us. This new situation means we work more and, sometimes, we work all the time and up go our stress levels…which, we try to cope with by using our screens for entertainment. Our work-from-everywhere-all-the-time lifestyle also means that we have less time to socialise and connect with others, leading to the use of our screens for virtual connections with others like us, more excuses to be in front of a screen, and, if we are not careful, we could be so sucked into our screens that we can’t possibly be there for our children.
“Wait a minute! But, I AM present!” Physically, yes, but, emotionally, we are absent because we are too busy numbing ourselves or distracting ourselves with our screens that it’s hard to be emotionally present for others too. This is sad because our children need us to be emotionally present so that we can help them develop their own emotional awareness (EQ), and if you think this isn’t important and that our children will figure it all out on their own, think again – have you ever wondered why our child suicide rates are going up? Think about it!
- Early exposure to screen devices.
I believe that screens were invented to help make our lives easier. And, I do believe that screens have their place in our society, our workplace and our home. Unfortunately, everything has its place and time and although I believe that screens are great for learning and allowing students to use them as a tool for collaboration, they have a limited role with young children.
In fact, I don’t think children under the age of 2 should be exposed to screens at all. 0-6 years old are a crucial time in a child’s life for them to connect and learn with us, and under no circumstances should these opportunities be jeopardized for screen time. There will come a time (after 7 years old of age) where children have already established strong foundations in their connections with their loved ones and that’s when they are ready to move on to other forms of learning, such as learning with screens. But, until then, early exposure to screens in exchange for meaningful human-to-human connection will result in children who are addicted to screens, who are temperamental, and who are robbed of their childhoods.
- Parents/Caregivers who are not constantly looking into increasing their own parenting intelligence.
I once heard a parent say that she was concerned for her son, who was really struggling to write. When I asked how old he was, she embarrassingly replied, “2 and a half,” okay, most children don’t have the fine motor dexterity to even manipulate a thick crayon at that age……let alone write! I’m not sure if these parents are oblivious or if they are desperate to have children who are better than others. Here’s the thing, parents need to get educated so that they will be able to increase their parenting intelligence, learn how to read your children’s readiness…THAT’S the key! They will show when they are ready, and that’s often the time when they learn really really fast and effortlessly. Learn how to look out for readiness to develop their fine motor skills, readiness to potty train, readiness to walk, readiness to develop print awareness, readiness to sleep on their own…and for everything else that will unfold in its own time.
The result of not looking for readiness is children who are resentful and don’t want to learn something or they lose their drive to want to learn it. How many times have we seen potty training horror stories? Or those associated with moving children into their own rooms? Or forcing them to read before their time? Here’s a good example, just two weeks ago, my 13-year old son asked me if he could try making pizza from scratch – I agreed. Then he mentioned that he would only attempt this after we leave our current location because he sensed that this environment would not be conducive for his learning. I asked him why and this is what he said, ”we can’t learn properly when someone is here, telling us what to do, and when we are doing it right and when we are doing it wrong, it takes the fun out of learning and discovering things out for yourself” – HOW WISE! Currently, we are renting a room and the host is very protective of her kitchen and is often lurking around telling people what to do and what not to do in there. When we try to teach our children something without taking into consideration their readiness, they are going to struggle with tasks that they are not yet ready to attempt, and they will eventually lose interest in learning them…especially if we are going to be standing there, telling them what to do and what not to do.
This is a huge problem in a lot of developed and developing countries…we pack our schedules, and those of our children, to bursting, and that creates a lot of childhood anxiety, compromised learning and increased household battles. We end up with extremely grouchy children who are hard to get out of the house and who are hesitant to do chores. Sound familiar? If it does, it’s probably time to take another look at your children’s schedules and to find a way to free up as much time as possible. Here’s the thing that a lot of parents don’t get naturally – and I hate to be going into applied child developmental psychology because it’s going to be another long story – but, in essence, young children DON’T LEARN LIKE US…their learning is comprised of a series of episodes…unlike downloading an app or installing a program, children’s learning happens in bits and pieces, and they have to slowly put everything together, we call this ‘the internalizing process’, in which they need time and opportunities to engage in activities that will allow them to reflect on what they learn so that they can properly internalize new stuff they come across. This ‘internalizing’ process takes time and doesn’t happen when we want it to happen, and when we overschedule our children (like with a whole lot of classes), we compromise their learning and don’t give them enough time to internalize. Catch 22, isn’t it?
- Emotional blackmail.
This is something that is extremely hard to teach to many Asian parents, because lots of our parents do this to us…it’s like a parenting norm in Asia, but it’s detrimental to children’s emotional development. “If you don’t do this, I won’t love you anymore”, “if you don’t listen, I’m not going to take you to the park”, “I love you so much because you did as I told you,”…are all examples of things I have heard so often during my trips to Asia. In as much as many of us think that this is the norm, it’s not emotionally healthy for our children, because it teaches them that (a) our love for them is conditional, (b) affection = compliance and (c) they are not good enough for us and need to be exactly what we want them to be. Children who are brought up in these environments learn to doubt themselves, they tend to struggle with feeling insecure and they will learn that it’s okay to emotionally blackmail others as well. I don’t need research to show this – just think about it – so many of us were brought up like this (including myself), how many of us need other people to verify what we want to do before we do it? We always seem to need somebody’s permission before we do something…be it from our spouse, parents, boss or, as a last resort, Facebook groups. Then also consider how many of us are bullied constantly…either by our spouses, bosses, parents or friends? Yup! That’s what emotional blackmail leads to!
Now that we have looked at our modern day ‘snakes’ and how they can endanger our children’s wellbeing and growth, can we be quick enough to drive a hoe through it? Are we on the constant lookout for them and are we running away from them like the plague? Or are we the ones allowing these things to happen? If so, we are letting snakes into our homes and into the lives of our children 🙁 Food for thought…