It’s funny what will set some people off. When I wrote “Mongering Revisited, I expected feedback about the girls or the guys who love to love them. Instead the seemingly innocent phrase, “Thai parents love their children” yanked some people’s chains. So here I am putting in my opinion on Thai parents. Despite what some idiots maintain, I firmly believe that Thai parents love their children as much as parents anywhere else in the world do. I suppose I should say most Thai parents. In Thailand as in any country you’d care to name there are parents who clearly do not love their children.
In the aforementioned mongering submission, I voiced the opinion that very few Thais are selling their children to pedophiles. Undoubtedly some scumbags are doing just that. Some are doing the molesting themselves. Farangland has more than its share of child molesters, including that bastard in Austria that we are all learning about.
What about parents who profit from their daughters’ whoring around? Are they in essence “pimping them out”? In some cases that’s probably true. It’s hard to imagine that any parent would look at their cute little girls and say to themselves, “Boy I can’t wait until our daughter starts selling her ass down in Bangkok.” But sad to say, I’m sure some sick bastards probably do. They are though hardly representative of the parents of most bar girls. Yes the girls come home, and yes they bring money and gifts with them, but I think most parents wish their daughters were earning their livelihood in another profession. Can you imagine one mother bragging to another that her daughter has the shiniest heels in town? Somehow I don’t think so! <No, they brag that they have the newest, shiniest, fanciest pick up truck in the village – Stick>
So once again I maintain that most Thai parents love their children. Whether Thais do a good job of parenting however is a whole other kettle of fish! Some do. Many don’t and some have no right whatsoever of being a parent. These “fine folks” have no business raising a guppy let alone a child! I should say from the start that the same is true in Farangland as well. Back in the U.S I knew many fine parents, some indifferent ones, and some who should have been sterilized at puberty to prevent them from ever being parents!
What then is a “good parent”? The definition is going to vary from culture to culture. Are there any standards that we can agree on? I think mist of would agree that above all else, a parent’s primary job is to keep them safe, nourished, clothed and healthy. Depending on economic and social backgrounds even these terms are subject to interpretation…..especially in Thailand. To most of us, having your children run around barefoot on ground strewn with bits of broken glass and rusty nails would be a definite “no-no”. To my Thai in-laws down in Buriram, that’s no big deal at all. On one occasion I saw some of my young nephews fooling around with a fire. I immediately went over and put the damned thing out before somebody burned themselves. Naturally my “good deed” marked me as a “killjoy”. Of course under my brother and sister in-law's careful eye, one of my nephews fell onto a sharp fence and would up having his spleen removed, and only last week another nephew, who is only an infant stuck his hand into a pot of boiling water. To my utter amazement, I found out that my sister-in-law never even took him to the local hospital, even though it is only a minute away from their home. I told my darling wife that my opinion of her sister just went down a few notches in my eyes!
Is this typical parenting procedure in rural Thailand? I sure as hell hope not! I do realize that parenting skills like other knowledge is passed down from one generation to another. Often times this means old wives tales as well as factual information being perpetuated. Many rural families have almost no education, so it’s hardly surprising that they might not have access to important children’s information.
I’m happy that through the Thai Government’s health initiatives, modest as they might be, more Thai children are being immunized than ever before. There is also more access to pediatricians. That is a hopeful sign. There are dozens of nutritional drinks in the markets which can be a real boon to those families that can afford them. I have no statistics on childhood diseases here in Thailand, but from what I understand things are improving.
The importance of hand washing though still has a long way to go. Most of us (I assume) were taught to wash our hands with lots of soap and water after using the toilet. On the walls of the Pratom level school I taught at last year were large posters showing how to properly wash your hands. Unfortunately there is no soap to be found at any school toilet…..or at most toilets in Thailand. <There probably was for about 3 minutes before it was pilfered. That's why there's no toilet paper either – Stick> Some people think I am obsessive about the importance of basic hygiene, but considering that people are using their bare hands to clean themselves after defecating, I really don’t think it’s a trivial matter.
As for other safety issues, let’s just say that surviving childhood in Thailand is something that just can’t be assumed. Many, many families can only afford to own a motorcycle. Why so few parents think it’s important for their children to be wearing a helmet though boggles my mind. Helmets are not expensive, and since any accident on a motorcycle is potentially serious, why isn’t every kid wearing one? As for the family car, hardly any child is wearing a seat belt, let alone in a car seat. This is true for wealthy as well as poor families. Do Thai parents simply believe that nothing bad could ever happen to their children?
Once these kids become teenagers, their parents also seem unconcerned with the reckless way that they fly around town. Not a week goes by that I don’t see a dead teenager lying in the road, up there doesn’t seem to be any outcry for toughening up the standards.
In Thailand most parents would like their children to grow up having more opportunities and a better standard of living than they did. Some parents of course are only concerned that their children be able to support them in their old age. There is of course nothing wrong with children doing just that, especially considering that is not exactly a large social safety net provided by the government.
· Most educated Thai parents realize that having a good education is an important step in their children securing good jobs. They also realize that the government schools are doing a dreadful job in educating their children. But instead of demanding more from the schools, instead they turn to after school programs to do the job. Just here in Lampang are dozens of math and English programs. Some of them are quite good. Others are simply dreadful. I see more and more very young children being pushed extremely hard by their parents to succeed academically. Sometimes much too hard. While I recognize the need to study hard, many of these kids are losing their simple childhood to their parents’ aspirations. Children need a proper balance of study, play and physical activity to become a well rounded person. This apparently is something that Thai as well as other Asian parents have yet to learn.
Outside of the sports fields, video arcades, and karaoke shops there are not a lot of fun activities available that have some kind of educational component. Forget about decent libraries, museums, science study programs etc. There is of course Scouting, but Scouting in Thailand bears no resemblance to Scouting as you and I knew it back in our corners of Farangland. Forget about learning camp craft or nature studies. Here Scouting has been reduced to marching around in uniforms. All the better I suppose in creating a group of future soldiers sharing a mass identity and used to following orders.
Ideally, good parents go beyond mere protecting, feeding and clothing and sheltering their children. Hopeful parents are able to give some moral instruction as well. What is right and what is wrong behavior varies from society to society. I will not even attempt to say which values I consider more valuable than others. I will add one small caveat: Hopefully parents are not teaching their children to hate other folks because they worship a different god, or that they have a different skin color etc. Hopefully they are telling them that someday they might have to become a suicide bomber to “please god”. <Wishful thinking – Stick>
Because many Thais live in extended families, hopefully Grandma and Grandpa can pass on any traditional wisdom and lessons about life. That is assuming Grandma and Grandpa aren’t a coup of loons. This can be true equally in the West as it is in Thailand. In many cases, having three generations living together sounds like a good idea. In the West this idea generally doesn’t happen. Instead children ship their parents off to sterile institutions to live out the “golden years”.
So how do Thai parents rate overall in the parenting game? I think I’ll leave you dear readers to draw your own conclusions. I still maintain that most of them dearly love their children. I think most of them would like their children to be happy and successful. Many of them fall somewhat short on safety and health issues. Many of them simply don’t have the parenting “tools” that we take for granted in the West. But in the end, the situation for children in Thailand is far superior to the rest of the world. Relatively few Thai children are starving, have no roof over their heads, or die from preventable childhood illnesses. For the most part there is potable water for them to drink. Free education is available, and even if it isn’t the best, most Thai children don’t grow up to be illiterate. While Thai democracy is still a bit of an oxymoron, Thai children don’t have to be worried being conscripted into the army, or being killed by the army or police. Most Thai children do have the possibility of a brighter future than their grandparents had. Thai children have enough disposable income to buy all the snack foods their hearts desire, have the latest mobile phones and internet access. All in all, they have it pretty damned good by world standards. Thai parenting has a way to go but can’t we say the same for parenting all over the world? So for now I am cautiously optimistic that in the end Thai parents can feel pleased with the job they’ve done. Now if they’ll only tell Junior to wear their god damned helmets and slow down!
This is a fascinating topic and it is hard for me to comment given that I am not a parent.
My observation of Thai parents is that they are very protective and controlling, but as you pointed out with a few anecdotes they can be prone to allowing their children to do things that are potentially hazardous. I think they are simply just not that aware of some of the dangers that exist in a house such as a stove, and hot water, for example.
I was also pleased that you touched on the issue of these prep schools and the way that kids are pushed to do hour after hour of study while missing out on the chance to just be kids. That saddens me very much. The results of this are clear – office girls reading Hello Kitty cartoons and what not while sitting on the skytrain at 25 years old.