Turning back time

By Dr. Henry Wong Meng Yeong | Thursday August 28, 2014

If we were to save Confucianism, how do we nurture in our children filial responsibility and respect which according to Confucian precepts is the foundation of virtue?

On raising children, King Solomon reputed for his wisdom, had this advice: Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline


Clock hands being pushed back by a business man.© Andres Rodriguez | Dreamstime.com

Them. (Proverbs 13:24). Confucius shares the sentiment that one should not spare the rod and he had this to add: “To love is not to pamper”.

The formative years of children are the most important as their characters are being molded. We have discussed the importance of managing our priorities to spend time in nurturing and not pampering. We now examine some external factors which may influence a child’s character and development.

Technology has become a powerful external influence on the child’s development in this generation we have come to label Gen Y. The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages the use of media for children under the age of two and Project iBaby cautions parents on the detrimental effects of exposing children to media and proposes solutions to solve the addiction. Parents have to be mindful that pampering children with technological devices like tablets, ipads, and smart phones can have irreversible deleterious effects as they are not toys. Parents on their part should not misuse technology to monitor and track their children’s movements as it does not foster a culture of trust.

External intervention has also a part to play in the child’s character development. Sweden is the first country to outlaw the discipline of children by hitting. A Malaysian couple is still held in Sweden for disciplining their children by hitting. If the act of disciplining children by parents is deemed abuse by the law of the land, the rod is literally spared and the authority of parents is undermined.

Another example of external intervention is the one-child policy in China which was implemented in 1980 to alleviate food shortage due to famine. It was meant to have been a temporary measure but has inadvertently lasted 30 years resulting in a generation of spoiled brats termed “Little Emperors/Empresses”. With only one offspring, the tendency for parents to indulge and pamper them becomes greater. An expectant mother from China was overheard proudly announcing that she only wants this one child and no more as she herself is an only child, and that she would not want siblings with whom to share her inheritance with. Perhaps her views are not representative of an entire nation, therein lies the root of a generation with a strong sense of entitlement.

This dilemma of spoiling children is not limited to families with one child. Families with more than one child where an only daughter or son is treated preferentially will enjoy this single child status and are also in danger of being pampered. This indulgent pampering by parents leads to a sense of entitlement and self-centeredness in their children.

China is in the process of relaxing their one-child policy. Lest one is mistaken to think that self indulgent children are only found in China, it is a global problem with a narcissistic Gen Y. Billy Graham lamented that “self-centered indulgence, pride and a lack of shame over sin are now emblems of the American lifestyle”, echoing the sentiment of President Jimmy Carter that “too many of us now tend to worship self indulgence and materialism.”

Perhaps it is too late to turn back time on Gen Y but it is not too late to change course by adopting sagely Confucian wisdom in raising them.