On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

What actually is good parenting?

Suddenly, almost every public figure has become an expert in parenting, lecturing the public on the need to spend quality time with their children.

Everyone seems to have one theory or another. Beyond blaming parents and warning them that the book could be thrown at them for the misbehaviour of their children, no one has actually been able to explain convincingly what they mean by good parenting skills.

There are statistics available on the various categories of social ills  involving the young but there is no real study on why they have resorted to such actions.

There are only sketchy theories and a lot of hot air. Just a month ago, bashing the kids was a favourite national pastime. This time, it's the parents' turn.

The general tone seems to be greater discipline, law enforcement and punishment.

Along the way, as we tried to rationalise the problems, we find ourselves distracted from the real issue, talking instead about whether the police should handcuff juveniles and whether the press has sensationalised the matter.

But what has the ordinary Malaysian to say about the issue, besides the many self-appointed guardians of morality who often get quoted in the press?

Judging from the countless letters and faxes received from the public, most parents believed that punishing parents for their children's crime will not help reduce social ills.

One touching letter came from Madam Chin Hee Fong from Kuala Lumpur. Describing herself as a busy career mother for 13 years, she is now a company manager after seven years of hard work.

“Parents are always exhausted after a long day's work. How much energy is there left to educate the children or undo all their wrongdoings?'' she asked.

Accepting her predicament that she should spend more time with her children, Chin wrote that too many children were left to their domestic maids or baby-sitters.

“Though I have achieved some material success and recognition at work, I found I have also lost so much,'' she said.

According to a report from the National Unity and Social Development Ministry, 60 per cent of Muslim women arrested for vice activities between 1990 and 1995 were divorcees with children.

It's easy to lock them up but who will be responsible for taking care of their children. Certainly not the men who abandoned them.

We seem to have overlooked many things. One important point raised by Chin, for example, is our preoccupation with material success, so much so that many important aspects of life have been neglected.

Simple things in life such as sharing, love, filial piety, honesty,  integrity and character-building are no longer emphasised.

How many parents will encourage their children to be in service-oriented jobs such as teaching, counselling and nursing, which were held in high-esteem in the past?

Despite the push for a caring society, how much more compassionate have we become? We exclude instead of embrace those who fail.

Many Malaysians prefer their children to be “career-minded'' sometimes a euphemism for being materialistic and selfish instead of compassionate and caring.

Thus, joining the Rotary or Lions Club for networking is preferred to  than joining a non-governmental organisation.

Spending quality time is one thing but what we teach our children is another.

At the office, back-stabbing to climb the corporate ladder has almost become a norm.

There are root causes which we seem to ignore. Sending our children to a three-month course will certainly keep them off the streets. Parents will know, at least, where their children are and how they spend their time.

But let us not expect a drastic transformation within that period. Most parents may not want to see themselves accountable for offences committed by their children but they cannot run away from the responsibility of teaching them the right thing.

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim correctly pointed out that the tendency now was to highlight the role of teachers and schools when students have social problems.

Parents have to be the real minders, not the schools or authorities. That aside, our children need good role models to emulate.

As one academician pointed out, what kind of message do we want to send to our children when politicians buy votes and enrich themselves; when civil servants live beyond their means, while men rape their daughters.

Like it or not, leaders have to lead by example. It's time to look at  ourselves honestly before we start blaming parents and children.