This article is inspired by a very good documentary film, called China: Generation Left Behind (ABC News, 2016). The documentary is about rural Chinese children, whose parents leave them in order to work in big cities.
I encourage you to watch this documentary.
It may be an economic necessity for parents to find work far away from their children, but the film shows us the terrible social and personal cost of this practice. In the West, it has long been recognized that children can suffer when their parents are overly absorbed in their work. In China, this problem often involves geographic separation of parents and children.
The documentary shows a societal problem that needs to be addressed. While the system may be flawed, the problem also addresses personal and cultural problems in the families and parents: why would so many working parents neglect their children? Why would they refuse to contact their children on a regular basis? With today’s technology, they could have easily communicated with each other with internet messages, phone calls, or written letters.
Having contact with a child only once every few years is a form of neglect. While it is helpful and necessary for parents to provide financial support, children also need their parents’ presence, attention, physical touch, emotional support, empathic listening and understanding. These gestures of love and care are necessary in order for children to survive and thrive healthily!
This type of neglect does not only happen among the Chinese people living in poverty, but also in middle-class and wealthy families. We know that many Chinese children from wealthy families are sent overseas to study abroad, and some of these children may get to drive a luxury sports car and even live in a big house. However, many of these parents neglect their children studying abroad, without providing a healthy degree of emotional support and care. All the luxuries cannot compensate for the lack of parental attention! Many of these children long for parental understanding and care, and many of them have experienced emotional trauma and have suffered immensely despite having abundant financial support. This suffering leads to poor emotional health. I also believe that this pattern leads to poor emotional health in the parents too… they do not get to enjoy their children. Children are precious gifts!
The pattern of parents earning money for the household without spending much time and energy to care for their children is a norm among many Chinese people. They often believe that this is something normal, and that children must learn to cope well and develop understanding for their parents.
This documentary depicts the trauma among the Chinese children who experienced neglect. Their tears and helplessness call for our urgent attention to facilitate education and support.
China is Changing
On a positive note, there are more and more documentaries in China which promote healthy parenting and family unity, including in multi-generational families. There is also higher acceptance of different types of family structures.
Many of these parenting documentaries often feature very young children, such as infants and preschoolers. These young children can hardly monitor their own actions very much, and sometimes they would have tantrums or other behavioural problems even when there are cameras all around them. The parental reaction to this misbehaviour is a good reflection of the overall parenting style.
When parents demonstrate a healthy, authoritative parenting style, many Chinese viewers express admiration and praise. When parents demonstrate authoritarian or indulgent parenting styles, many Chinese viewers are also able to identify the problems of such parenting styles and express the need for changes.
An authoritative style of parenting involves having clear rules, which are gently and consistently enforced. It also involves showing empathy, warmth, and nurturance. It involves a lot of positive feedback and encouragement, based on specific observations of behaviour and hard work. It involves constructive guidance, explaining to children about the reasons for any parental actions. It involves encouraging the child to have a voice. It involves encouraging the child to express and discuss emotions. It does NOT involve a focus on criticism or punishment.
Studies show that a healthy authoritative parenting style is associated with positive child outcomes. Children have different temperaments, and it is the parent’s job to learn the child’s temperament and adjust the parenting techniques. The idea of authoritative parenting is just a guideline, but the actual application of this type of healthy parenting style is like an art —it requires our wisdom and some careful experimentation to put it into practice.
Affirmation: I enrich my life when I develop understanding of social problems, raise awareness of social issues, and provide constructive help for people in need.
ABC News. (2016, September 7). China: Generation left behind [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yw4sODY_lWQ