Whilst schools do a reasonably good job of preparing a person vocationally, the task of imparting life and social skills begins and continues at home even when one has left formal schooling.
A few months ago, I accompanied my friend to witness his son enlisting into National Service: taking the Singapore Armed Forces Pledge, having his first meal of Army food, and seeing the living conditions most enlistees will experience. I watched with interest how mothers tested the softness of the mattresses and fathers examined the weight of the new assault rifles issued to their sons.
I was stunned when parents were assured that their sons would get their daily eight hours of sleep – over my first three days of enlistment, I had only eight hours of sleep! Of course, times are different and things have changed. No more is camp food likened to barbwire from the obstacle course. Officers appear more like benevolent uncles than fearsome tyrants.
With all these improvements, some may wonder if our boys are getting things too easy. After all, some parents hope that enlistment will turn their boys into men.
They hope their boys would be trained to be more emotionally mature and more capable of independent living. Some parents have the fantasy that after National Service, their sons would make their own beds and tidy their own rooms. Alas, when they return home, they return to their old patterns of living, of being dependent on mother’s cooking and care.
How do our young mature to adulthood? Are there pivotal moments or experiences one has to go through, like being enlisted into the army or attending prom night? Whose responsibility is it to prepare our young for adulthood?
Over the years, I have seen parents becoming more and more reliant on teachers and schools to bring their children to maturity. Some parents do this as they want the best for their children. So they send them to the best schools, the most competent home tutors and the latest enrichment programmes. Is the task of raising a child really so complicated that parents can no longer perform any meaningful role?
Then again, there are some parents who are too bogged down with the daily chores of earning a living or running a home. They may practice subcontracting the teaching of our young even before they enter formal schooling. They depend on domestic helpers, available grandparents, and childcare specialists. When all these are unavailable, I have seen parents thrust iPads into the hands of infants and toddlers. In doing all this, we miss the opportunity to experience one of life’s greatest joys: that of imparting skills and values to our young.
Whilst schools do a reasonably good job of preparing a person vocationally, the task of imparting life and social skills begins and continues at home even when one has left formal schooling. One such life skill my daughter acquired gave her the nickname “mop queen” during a school camp for 11-year-olds. The girls were tasked to keep their rooms clean and many were unfamiliar with the use of a mop. It is a pity that some of our boys and girls only pick up the life skills of housekeeping and cooking when they are studying abroad.
However, I feel that social skills are of even greater importance. This is about the ability to build friendships and to end those that have become anipulative; to accept diversity and live in harmony with others; to discuss and exchange ideas, and agree and disagree with others in respectful ways; to be able to be a part of a community while not feeling that we have to lose our cherished ideas and values; to accept success humbly and not be crushed by failure.
Imparting these life and social skills is a task that each parent should be responsible for so that when their children are launched into the world, be it for further studies, work or even enlistment, they are adequately prepared. If we fail to do our duty, our children are not going to turn around and say: “Why didn’t my Math or English teacher teach me this?”
Photo courtesy of Christina Stanley
Benny Bong has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award in 2011 and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.