Light every moment of childhood
It is in our hands to make childhood a happy long-lasting memory that will help all children in China to thrive and develop as healthy adults.
Being a parent is not easy. At times children challenge our patience and how we are engaging with and teaching them. And parenting is even more complex now as our children are growing up in a digital world, and much of their social interactions happen online.
It is well known that we all tend to replicate the patterns of disciplining that our parents used on us when we were children. Many of us grew up in a society where disciplining children by spanking or using harsh punishments and insults was seen as normal, effective parenting.
Yet, those of us who have gone through these experiences recall those moments when a parent slapped us in the face, spanked us, or even screamed at us. And we recall not only the pain, but above all the humiliation and embarrassment.
We know that globally two thirds of children have been exposed to physical punishment, being a common practice worldwide.
Evidence has shown that corporal punishment can lead to long-term harm for children, which can follow them into adulthood, including poor mental health, poor cognitive development, lower school grades, increased aggression, poor moral regulation and increased antisocial behavior.
Evidence has also shown that positive parenting, in contrast, leads to healthy outcomes for children, as it contributes to better functioning in the brain regions associated with emotions and cognition during the teen years. It also nurtures children's self-esteem, creativity, positive feelings about the future, and ability to get along with others. In the long run, it helps children to develop better relationships, mental health, and well-being during adulthood.
So as a parent you might be wondering: “Can I do it differently? Can I do it right?”
The answer to both questions is “Yes!”
Parenting is in fact a learned behavior and we can change our patterns and practices.
Positive parenting is based on respect and dialogue, as well as on the assumption that children do not mean to act badly and can learn from their mistakes. The key elements of positive parenting are empathy, respect, mutual trust and communication. With these elements, parents can lay a foundation that will enable their children to thrive not only at home, but also online and in school.
As parents, we should be aware that nowadays children spend a lot of time on the Internet and interact with their peers through it. The Internet has tremendous potential for learning and communication, but it was not built for children. It involves risks, such as cyberbullying, exposure to violent content, grooming, sexting, and privacy breaches. But the empathy, respect, trust, and communication developed through positive parenting allow children and their parents to navigate these dangers together. And parents can teach their children safety measures, such as strong passwords, avoiding posting pictures, and turning to their parents if someone makes them feel uncomfortable online.
Through positive parenting, we can also support our children in school. Let’s not forget that parents’ behavior at home affects children’s behavior at school. Parents are important role models for their children, so, if the interactions in the family and with others are respectful and kind, children will replicate the same. Conversely, children who suffer from violence and violent discipline at home are more likely to engage in violent behavior or possibly suffer bullying at school. All over the world, almost one in three children have experienced bullying in the last month. The consequences of bullying are grave, including physical injuries, mental health, low school performance, and relations/social problems that can last into adulthood.
With positive parenting, parents can help prevent bullying and support their children if they are being bullied through communication, emotional support, and by looking for solutions together with their children, and if needed, by reporting it to school authorities. Obviously, teachers and the rest of the school community also play a crucial role. Schools need to put in place safe protocols for detecting and reporting bullying and other forms of violence, create a safe environment, and better communicate with children. Teachers should build trust and mutual respect through positive disciplining.
While recognizing the role of parents and teachers, it is important that they are not left to shoulder the entire responsibility of protecting children. As stated in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, governments must take all measures to protect children from violence, including violent discipline and bullying, and to provide support to families in their role as caregivers as well as to school communities. Policies, laws, and social services need to be in place for effective prevention and response.
In China, strong support is provided by the Law on Family Education Promotion and the Law of the People's Republic of China on the Protection of Minors. Both laws recognize the importance of preventing and avoiding all forms of violence.
No society wants their children to be exposed to any form of violence. It is in our hands to make childhood a happy and long-lasting memory that will help all children in China to thrive and develop. Together, let’s light up every moment of childhood!
This Op-ed was published in Xinhua. See here.