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Sunday, October 2, 2016, 22:29

Raising a child is a serious business

By Anisha Bhaduri

When the new school year began in September, it was with more than the usual dose of a mother’s trepidation that I greeted it.

As a Primary 5 student, this is the year my son started reading about adolescent health issues and had his first sex education lessons. As such, naturally, as I reached home after work, I would be bracing for “uncomfortably searching” questions. The questions flowed, as expected, and to answer them in a manner that was faithful to details but excluded prurience to all possible extent required a mental balancing act.

My knowledge of human biology was certainly refreshed, and if that’s possible at my age, I was decidedly awed by the range of information at my 9-year-old’s disposal and at the alacrity with which on many small (and not-so-small) details pertaining to the human reproductive system, he made me stand corrected.

My husband and I agreed that while “dumbfounded” would be the most fitting description of our customary response, as parents that was not desirable.

We reminded each other of how, as children and then as adolescents, we had groped in the dark (no pun intended) over half-baked notions picked up from equally clueless playmates. How we had agonized over the occasional red-faced tips blurted out by our parents and had weathered frowns of disapproval from teachers when even strictly academic queries got a little “out of hand”. And, we reminded each other predominantly of our sweeping ignorance of what constituted child abuse and sexual harassment and their most pervasive symptoms. No one had told us in detail; very few had bothered to try.

I nodded in commiseration when my son related how a 12-year-old girl in his class had said yes to every question the teacher had asked to assess her pupils’ correct understanding of inappropriate touching and child abuse. As I flipped through the textbook and homework worksheets, the educational potential of pictorial depictions to warn children of the many lurking dangers from pedophiles was supremely reassuring.

I marveled at the skill of the teacher in charge of sex education in taking an approach so clinical, so devoid of suggestiveness that even precocious 9-12 year olds are left in no doubt that many adolescent curiosities can be, one, satisfied right in the classroom without recourse to prurience; two, through academic discussions; and three, that none of their queries will be rebuffed.

In my view, this is the ideal of adult-child interaction, a comfort level all parents and educators should aspire to. Empathy is essential when it comes to communicating with children, and not just about sexual nuances.

According to Lingnan University’s latest Children’s Happiness Index, children in Hong Kong haven’t been so unhappy since 2012. According to the survey, parental relations were markedly worse among unhappy children — a sad indicator in a city gripped by student suicides.

A child’s mind is like clay — his impressions are waiting to be molded. A child watches and learns. That’s why educators and parents have a great responsibility in ensuring that impressions — sometime lifelong — are not negative. They have a greater responsibility in ensuring that fallacious and potentially damaging notions are effectively flushed out.

With the world increasingly bemoaning the loss of innocence, it is important to connect with our children in a way that makes them partners in a conversation. And to do that, it must be lovingly initiated, communication must be two-way and the shared level of comfort absolute.

Raising a child is a serious business. For a society, nothing can be more important than raising a child responsibly. Hong Kong will be letting down its future generations terribly if it abdicates that responsibility.

The author is Web Editor, in charge of www.chinadailyasia.com

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