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‘Modern' kids drive parents to distraction

Update: May, 18/2014 - 21:36
Peer value: Many adolescents prefer to confide in their friends than their parents. — VNA photo

Anxious over their failure to control what they see as wayward behaviour, Vietnamese parents are willing to consider what would have been unthinkable a few decades ago: professional help. Hong Thuy reports.

Tran Thi Nuong clasps her hands with fumbling fingers and leaden eyes. She cannot stop thinking of the stubbornness of her 15-year-old son who does not obey any of her instructions.

"My son says he does not want to eat together as a family at meal time. Instead of eating at the dining table, he wants to eat in our living room while watching TV and chatting with his friends on Facebook.

"Though I insist on sitting together and having meal, he ignores it and is willing to skip meals even though I become furious. Then, I often end up scolding him," Nuong said with disappointment written all over her face.

She bemoans the past, when her ancestors up to the sixth generation were taught to obey their parents, otherwise they would be considered unfilial.

"People of our generation do not talk back to parents. Though we may be right, we still listen to show our respect and gratitude to our parents for giving birth and bringing us up," she added.

Influenced by Confucius's principles of a strong loyal family where children must respect their elders, it is a common perception among Vietnamese that children are duty bound to obey their parents' instructions.

Though this duty is a matter of essence in Vietnamese family, it has changed with time.

According to Professor Le Ngoc Van at the Institute for Family and Gender Studies, a parent-child relationship in the modern days is in contrast to that of the traditional relationship.

While parent-child relationship in a traditional family emphasised on the rights of parents and the duties of children, this principle in the modern days has changed as the rights of children and the duties of parents.

Dr Mai Van Hai at the Institute of Sociology attributed this change to a two-child policy in which the children are pampered both by their grandparents and parents.

Hai pointed out that many children, especially those who are born in small, well-to-do families, become selfish and demanding.

"These children want people around them to satisfy their needs while they tend not to reciprocate to others the spirit of sacrifice, the sense of responsibility and altruism," Hai remarked.

Learning discipline: Parents like their children attending military camps where they acquire key lifeskills. — VNA photo Tran Le Lam

The neglect of duties and responsibilities to people around them is likely to be backed up by what an obedient child is defined nowadays.

Whereas an obedient child was previously defined as someone who is polite, especially in showing respect to elders; is tolerant towards younger siblings and friends; and works hard at home, this definition has currently undergone a change where most families understand it as a child who is good at studies, according to a deputy director of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism's Family Department, Hoa Huu Van.

"Obedient children are expected to achieve good marks. To this end, many grandparents and parents are willing to offer a cash prize for achieving good marks, not giving household chores to children, and even exempting them from visiting kindred or attending the funeral of a close relative for fear that their studies will have an adverse impact," Van noted.

High degree has value

Truly, pursuing a good first or higher degree has a significant impact on the way Nuong educates her only son.

"My wish is to watch my son have a successful future, so I very seldom ask him to do household chores, giving him enough time to focus on studies. He spends a lot of time at school while I come home from work only late in the evenings. Because dinner time is the significant moment in a day when we can share our experiences with each other, it is intolerable that he should bother me with his stubbornness and selfishness," Nuong lamented.

Co-director of the Institute for Social Development Studies Khuat Thu Hong noted that a significant number of Vietnamese parents seem to be confused when it comes to the education for their children.

They perceive their influence over their children is increasingly less powerful and thus a loose parent-child relationship. As a result, family education has become an extremely complicated issue, Hong added.

There are various reasons contributing to the problem. These include a limited knowledge among parents in bringing up children, especially those living in rural, remote and mountain areas, pointed out a deputy director of Viet Nam Women's Union's Family and Social Affairs Department, Nguyen Thi Thanh Huong.

"Apart from a number of women living in big cities, most mothers lack parenting knowledge and skills to take care of their children," Huong noted.

Rare event: For many parents, spending time with their children has become a luxury. — VNS photo Thai Ha

To educate their children, Hong said many parents tend to model after the parenting styles of their parents, not taking into account of how parenting in the modern days is different from that in the past.

The trend is compounded by the lack of time that parents have on talking to and caring for their children.

A nationwide family survey conducted on parents of 15-year-old children in 2006 revealed that as much as 21.5 per cent of the fathers and 6.8 per cent of the mothers did not have time for their children.

While 27.8 per cent of the mothers spent a maximum of three hours with their children, 29.6 per cent of the fathers spent less than an hour.

The survey also found that only 24.7 per cent of the mothers in rural areas had spent a maximum of three hours in taking care of their children, whereas the proportion of mothers taking care of their children in cities was higher, 38.3 per cent.

Likewise, 4.6 per cent of the women in cities reported that they did not have enough time to take care of their children, as opposed to 7.5 per cent of the women in rural areas.

The pressure on earning their living was a main reason why the parents did not have enough time to look after their children, the survey reported.

Hong said parent-child bonding is on the decline due to the burden of working and financial worries, forcing parents to have insufficient time to look after their children and causing difficulties for them to keep a control over their children's behaviours.

"Parents are engrossed in earning a lot of money to satisfy their children with the material needs that they did not have when they were young. Thus, they tend to believe that a university degree is a guarantee for a higher-paying first job rather than to spend time in listening to and exchanging confidences with their children," Hong noted.

Bonding: A mother teaches her children to make banh troi (floating rice cakes). Such activities are increasingly missing from modern life in Viet Nam. — VNA photo Anh Tuan

With this trend, 47.3 per cent of the adolescents who were interviewed in the survey had chosen to confide in friends about anything to everything, followed by their mothers (26.9 per cent), siblings (12.4 per cent) and fathers (2.6 per cent).

In addition to the insufficient time spent by parents in looking after their children, Hong warned that easy access to the Internet also poses a challenge to parents in directing their children to traditional ethic values and making the parent-child relationship increasingly weak, as children do not want to communicate with parents.

As parents are confused about which effective method might help to educate their children, they are likely to lose control and end up scolding, shouting and beating their children to get them to obey.

The survey found that 42.6 per cent of the parents scolded and shouted at their teenage children when they committed mistakes. Another 11.2 per cent of parents beat their children.

Up to 80 per cent of the children under 16 in five surveyed provinces said that they had been beaten and scolded by their parents, according to a survey conducted by the Viet Nam Women's Union in 2008.

Parenting skills

Cao Ba Tuan often scolded and shouted at his children even when he knew he was short tempered and that it was not reasonable to expect his children to understand how he works hard day after day to pay their tuition fees.

"I thought I am their father so I was able to scold and shout at them to bring down my temper. My parent treated me in the same manner when I was a child," he said.

Teamwork: Parents watch their children play games at the Culture House in Ho Chi Minh City. — VNA Photo Trang Duong

Tuan started to realise his unreasonableness after attending two training sessions lasting two hours each on the importance of parent's involvement in their children's education.

"I have learnt that scolding and shouting do not help me educate my children. Instead, a soft approach has enabled me to teach them to become good persons," added the 46-year-old father.

Tuan is among 500 people taking part in a club designated to raise and educate children in Dang Xa Commune, Ha Noi City's Gia Lam District.

Though the club is a place where mothers and fathers can exchange their experiences in educating children, its outcomes still leave much to be discussed.

Tuan noted that because of the pressure of earning a living, a hard and long time at work has been a hindrance to him in regularly taking part in the club, though he knows it may help him improve his parenting skills.

The Dang Xa Commune Women's Union Chairwoman, Vu Thi Doanh, acknowledged that most of the participants share a similar situation as Tuan, thus they are not able to attend the training sessions on parenting skills from the beginning to the end.

Adding to the issue is fund shortage that hampers the women's union from inviting all the parents from the commune to participate in the training.

Doanh pointed out that the available funds are hardly sufficient to train 40-50 club members in each training session, which takes place every quarter. For this reason, parents in the commune have to take turns in attending the training.

Another obstacle is the lack of experts who have knowledge in parenting and who can give advice to the parents.

"Trainers are mostly staff members of women's unions and only attend one- to two-day training sessions on parenting skills each year, so they cannot help parents come out with any solutions for their difficulties," Doanh noted.

Started in 2010, Dang Xa is among the first communes in the country to be selected for the pilot project of training five million mothers on good parenting skills.

The project targeted mothers who have children under 16 years of age by 2015.

According to the 2009 Vietnamese population and housing census, there were about 21.5 million children under 16, meaning several tens of millions of mothers required training on good parenting skills.

Huong said the project is expected to grow after 2015 once it proves to be effective, allowing more mothers to benefit from the training.

"I am interested in the training if it can help me change my son's attitudes," Nuong said, stressing that she has no time to spare on lessons that were not worthwhile. — VNS

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