Friday, 25 March 2011

Toxic Childhood Syndrome

This is going to be long.

If you are a parent who lives in the modern world (kalau kat kampung tak apa lagi kot), or planning to have children, I URGE you to read this book (not suggest or recommend hehehe). If you are a grandparent, you might want to suggest this book to your children. This is like knowing your enemy to win a war, the enemy is the modern world, which is convenient to adults but a threat to children.

Toxic Childhood- How The Modern World Is Damaging Our Children And What We Can Do About It

(Serius tajuk buku ni)

The author, Sue Palmer, has 30 years of experience in teaching and education. She is also the author of more than 200 books, TV programmes, and software for 3-12 year olds. She is also an adviser for British Dept for Education and Skills, and The BBC.

The book covers all expect of modern childhood and parenting, including food, play, sleep, communication, the danger of advertising to kids etc etc. The researches are from developed countries (UK, US, Japan, Sweden, Finland, Germany etc) . It is very different from traditional childhood. The world is moving very fast, but we forgot that biologically we still grow at the same rate. The world today is for a happier, comfortable adult, but how this affect the brain and development of our children? It is proven now that developmental disorders (autism, attention deficit, learning difficulty etc) are way higher than before.  And we all know this, kids respect adults less. The effects are less in Malaysia I think, but no doubt we are moving towards there.

We think that child-rearing is 'natural'. But it was natural before because our parents' generation lived in extended families and could watch and learn by example from grandmothers, mother and aunts. But since today we live in nucleus families, we cannot assume this skill as natural anymore.

What I like about the book is, at the end of every chapter, there will be a section on "how to detox your child" eg how to detox a junk-addict, how to detox a tv -addict, how to avoid couch potato syndrome, how to detox consumer culture (brand-addicts) and many more.

Also after every chapter there will be sections on "Parent Power" and "Mind the Gap". What are these? I think these are the strength of the book. Rarely a book acknowledge that the people who are reading the book, are actually the people who don't need the book the most. Toxic Childhood Syndrome hit the poor urban people the most, but they most likely won't have the time or initiative to read at all. So these sections give some guidance on how the readers can help other parents to to close the gap. Why this is important to the readers? Because OUR children won't be safe unless OTHER children are safe too (peer pressure, drugs, gangsterism). Beautiful concept of the ummah. And the author wisely recognize this. Masya Allah.

In Finland a nursery teacher has to have a Masters Degree (!) to handle the youngsters. In Britain, the poor people are unhappier than the poorest people in a poor country.

Chapter 6 hit home the most, "Who's Looking After the Children?". This chapter deals with when both parents work, who is with the children (also applies to the 'electronic babysitters' ie TV, computers, games etc). There's a difference in child-rearing and baby sitting. If more than a couple of hours a day, than that's child-rearing. So the person we send our children to 8 hours a day (that we usually call baby sitter) or the maid in our houses, are rearing our children, not baby sitting. They influence the development of our children greatly. So choosing them is as important as choosing your spouse (if you care about the emotional outcome of your children). Something to remember here. For children under 3, who you choose will not determine your child's intelligence so much (kids can catch up later), but it affects their emotional personality very much. This stage determines whether they grow up to be somebody happy and positive, somebody angry, somebody depressive, somebody with labile mood or somebody narcissistic (attention seeker). It's best that they stay in a home (ie with a parent, a family member, a nanny or maid, or in a child minder's house) and have 1 to 1 relationship, rather than an institution (a nursery). And avoid too much changes at this stage. For under 3s, it's better to choose someone loving and firm, and loves the child even though she lacks qualification or knowledge on brain stimulation.

The 'ínternal map' of a child is largely determined by relationships formed during this period. 3 identified risks for insecure attachment in children under two are: more than 10 hours of daycare a week in the first year, a change in the childcare arrangements in the first year, and low quality daycare (no info on what is considered as low quality). For good quality daycare, more than 20 hours a week there is slight increase in disruptive, antisocial and less cooperative behaviour. The risks increase after 40 or more hours a week (and this is normal if both parents are working). Remember, this is a good nursery. It still affects your child emotional development. The study was in UK and US.

But for 3 and above, nursery setting is good for them (stimulation, friends, rules etc).

Another eye-opener chapter is on advertisements and marketing on children. Marketeers use weapon known as the KAGOY strategy (Kids Are Getting Older Younger)- to let children appreciate fashion and style (and associate it with their dignity and self worth). Video games' slogan like "Life is short, play more" and "Life's a Game" plant the idea that life is all about fun and games etc. As Muslims this is of course the opposite of what life truly is. The channel Nickelodeon's slogan is 'Kids Rule'- that's not what we want isn't it? Also, now we value people as 'what you are is what you own'. In a developed world, poverty can be so isolating, the discrepancy is staring at you all the time.

What we can do about this?

Don't give in to the pester power of the children (this is what the marketeers are targeting). Support your national campaign to ban advertising and branding to children (is there one in Malaysia?- I haven't find out yet). If your child can understand, whenever they see an advert, discuss with them- what aren't they telling us? Can the so called product bring us contentment or add values to our lives? Are the people in the advert corresponds to real life?

Something to ponder. We teach sex education at school, but we don't teach about the product of sexual relationships (babies) , how to handle them, nurture them, their developmental stages, the financial effects etc? The developmental stages of a child should also be taught in antenatal classes. I learned this in medical school, and I benefited a lot from it. For example, when our babies started throwing toys, we sometimes got angry, but if we know that this is actually a milestone for them, and that there is about 3 months different in just dropping toys and dropping toys followed by looking for it, we would say Alhamdulillah instead of being angry when our children start throwing toys.

I would like to jot down a few points here, for my own reminder. Read on if you like (or get the book yourself). To family members and friends, I anticipate you would ask me your favorite question every time I write a book review- no this is not my book. I borrowed it from the library. Had to pay fines on it because I could not renew the book as somebody else has reserved it. Ipad, Iphone, Ipod Touch and Kindle owners- the Kindle version is cheaper (memang semua pun macam tu kot kan?)

1. Eat family meals in a tv free zone.
2. Limit fast foods to eating out, and don't view it as a treat. Just a matter of convenience.
3. Make sure your kids' schools don't sell junks in canteen or vending machine. If this is the case, get other parents to campaign together. Parents can move heaven and earth when it comes to things concerning their children.
4. We want free range chickens, and beef and eggs, but not free range children? To make sure they can safely explore the neighborhood, choose a friendly neighborhood to live in, then make friends with all neighbors so everybody can keep an eye on every child. This has to be a concerted effort, but it begins with the parents. This is one striking thing lacking in modern society. (kalau kat kampung, memanglah hidup macam ni kan)
5. Never put tv in a child's bedroom until they can buy it themselves. Just like you would never let strangers sleep with your child.
6. Don't be put off by other parents' apparent competence and organization. Everyone puts on a front, but every parent is struggling.
7. Primary education is not a race. Children who do well in the long run are those who enjoy learning for their own sake, don't give up easily and can work well with others.
8. Don't take good behaviour for granted. Praise them and say you are pleased. But don't overdo it.
9. Never 'reward' a misbehaviour eg-by giving attention to a child misbehaving, by giving a treat to stop a child doing something, by laughing at bad behaviour.
10. If you have a 'little monster', choose your battles one by one. Concentrate to detox one behaviour at one time. There is a special section in this book on 'how to detox a little monster'.
11. If a child misbehaves, explain what you don't like and why, and never criticize more than necessary. State firmly and warn to punish, and don't carry on giving warnings. Always follow through. Your child will know that you are not serious if you don't.

There is a list of 34 life skills a child should  learn by age 12, I'm putting some here as my own list to tick :)

1. Sew buttons and iron own clothes (ni kalau nak masuk asrama wajib tahu ni)
2. Handwash clothes (ni pun)
3. Give simple first aid (clean wound, manage cuts and bruises)
4. Wash a car
5. Wash dishes and prepare the table (ni rasa 7-8 thn mesti patut dah pro)
6. Grow a plant (interesting...)
7. Look after a pet (I probably would choose easy ones like fish, turtles but not cat-saya fobia kucing)
8. Use the public transport by himself (this I mastered at age 10-balik sekolah sendiri naik bas awam)
9. Go shopping with a list
10. Clean a fridge (this I learned quite early too, my mum did not have a maid)
11. Sort the recycling
12. Make conversations with guests (important-but how?)

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

My Little Assistants

Who needs a maid when you have 3?

Mama's little laundry assistant (budak boleh harap)

Mama's morning buddy- pukul 6 pagi. Aktiviti: hias kapal terbang dengan stickers.

Mama's kitchen assistant- making honey cornflakes

Mama's kitchen assistant- coating doughnuts with sugar

Making own buttered toast

Mama's little angels :D

The Diary of Ma Yan

(wrote this on November 25th 2010- just realized I haven't publish it)

Remember I promised to write about the Diary of Ma Yan? She is a Muslim peasant girl of Ningxia, China. the area she lives is almost a desert and life is very hard there. In winter the snow is heavy, although it is a blessing to them because the snow is one of their main source of water (collected, stored and melted in underground cisterns to use in dry times). She rarely gets to eat meat, sometimes only once a year in eid-ul Adha.

She kept diaries of her days in a boarding school with her brother. There they only eat once a day during lunch, no breakfast or dinner. And only rice is provided. If the children have money they could buy vegetables.

I copied here her entry on one particular day that she was very hungry.

Tuesday 30th October 2000

It's freezing today. My brother and I have no more bread. At lunchtime, the comrades are all eating and we have to stand by and grit our teeth.

Seeing my tears, my brother says, as if his heart were light, "Wait, sister, I'm going to borrow some lunch tickets," But I know he feels no better than I do. He simply wants to console me and stop me worrying about him. I go back to my dorm and sit on my bed and wait for him to return.

I'm dreaming of tthis bowl of yellow rice.

He takes a very long time to come back. Then he says, "Sister, there's no more rice."

He turns to leave. I watch my brother's receding back and I can't help letting the tears flow.

Do you know what hunger is? It's an unbearable pain.

I wonder when I'll stop experiencing hunger at school.....

During one school holiday, her mum broke the news that she could not continue her education anymore. They dont' have enough money. Her parents could only afford to sent her brother to school. That particular year the draught was harsh.

She wrote her mother a sad letter. The mother was distraught. On the sight of some foreigners her mother made a quick decision. She gave the letter and Ma Yan's diary to them. That became her lifeline.

Alhamdulillah, she is not hungry anymore. She now receives scholarship from France (yes France, not any Muslim country) to complete her studies. She also receives royalties from the publication of her diaries, in which she kindly donated 25% of it to the Children of Ningxia Foundation to help her neighbors and other children of Ningxia to complete their education.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

A Night's Prayer...

for all Libyans, Egyptians, Palestinians and other oppressed brothers and sisters..