Why do parents practise double standards when it comes to teaching kids about stranger danger, SHAN WEE asks.
On a morning drive to school recently, I was talking to my five-year-old son (pictured, far right) about how one can find the answers to questions by using Google on the Internet.
“No, dad, Google is dangerous.”
“What do you mean?”
“One day, you might be doing Google and then you meet a sheep and you make a plan to meet that sheep outside. When you meet him outside, he’s not a sheep. He’s a wolf.”
I was fascinated by his reply and equally appreciative for what was obviously his school teacher’s well- intentioned attempt at an online-safety lesson.
The language was easily understood, thanks in part to the multiple occasions he and I have re-enacted the Big Bad Wolf’s gusty destruction of the Little Pig’s blanket fort in our living room.
When I recounted this drive-time conversation to my colleague, about how one might unfortunately make arrangements to meet a wolf in sheep’s clothing, she promptly piped up with: “Ha, yeah. Just like me and my love life on Tinder.”
It then occurred to me that adults do invite the wolf to their door, or at least, to a first date at Dempsey Hill.
They practise a tremendous amount of double standards in what they preach and what they do, and many parents are extremely conflicting and contradictory in their life lessons to their children.
Parents eagerly preach to their kids that strangers can be a danger and that they should trust only individuals whom they have met before.
Simultaneously, parents are revelling in the glorious convenience of Uber, Airbnb and Deliveroo. They get into cars with strangers.
They spend the night in a stranger’s home. They eat food made by a stranger. This is everything they tell their kids not to do.
And it is not just in the world of tech apps that their contradictory lessons thrive. Parents through the ages have always had this weird conflict of fear and openness.
I talk to my kids about stranger danger, yet at the same time, I always encourage them to say “hello” and chat to adults they encounter in their daily lives.
I get annoyed if the upstairs neighbour says “good morning” in the lift and my son doesn’t reply. I love it when they chit-chat with the cashier at the supermarket.
Concerning Singapore’s culture of having a domestic helper as an integral member of many families, I have known many accounts of new employers anxiously hiding their best jewellery when a new helper joins the household, but later, leaving the same helper in total charge of how the kids travel to and from school, what they eat for dinner and how they go to bed.
Do we treasure our gemstones more than our offspring? Even the way we portray society’s authority figures smacks of illogical confusion.
We would like our kids to know that if they ever feel scared in public, they can approach the nearest police officer because he is the most trustworthy source of help and security.
But when my son is being a brat in the backseat of our car, what do I threaten him with?
“Ah boy, you better behave, otherwise a policeman is gonna catch you.”
Despite our terrible swirl of contradictory advice and examples, obviously every parent wants the best for his child and while thankfully stories of child abduction in Singapore are almost non- existent, it is a serious subject that every child deserves to be educated on.
So, what can be done? I recently read an article shared on a parenting Facebook page and thought it was a fairly clever and useful approach to the issue of stranger danger. Parents should teach their children that “adults don’t need help from kids”. It is normal for a child to need help from adults: “Can you tie my shoelace? Can you open my packet of snacks?”
However, it is not normal for an adult to need help from a child. “Hi, little boy, do you like animals? Can you come with me and help? I’ve lost my cat and I think she might be over here, close to my van.”
Every family will have different ways of guarding against the ills of society, but this sounds to me like a reasonable lesson to start with.
Shan Wee is a radio DJ at One FM 91.3 and the author of 99 Rules For New Dads.
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