Trigger-happy, over-protective and meddling.
That’s the impression you may have formed of today’s parents, if you heard about the man who sued Anglo-Chinese School (Barker Road) recently for confiscating his son’s phone.
After the boy had been caught using his smartphone during school hours, school authorities confiscated his device for a three-month-period and refused to budge when the man, identified as lawyer Andrew Hanam, asked them to return it.
Unhappy, he took them to court, the incident made headlines, and now we’re left scratching our heads and wondering who the 14-year-old in this situation is.
In challenging school authorities for trying to enforce discipline (in other words, doing their jobs), Hanam is no pioneer. A few years ago, the mother of a Unity Primary School student came into the spotlight for filing a police report when her son’s teacher trimmed his $60 haircut after he had ignored repeated warnings to keep his hair tidy.
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While both individuals are extreme examples of helicopter parenting, there’s been a perceptible shift in who actually wears the pants in the relationship between parents and teachers in recent years.
Back in my school days, I know just what my parents would have said if I had complained about my phone getting confiscated because I’d flouted the school rules.
Just three words – serves you right. If I was particularly out of luck that day, they may have thrown in a week of grounding for good measure.
While parents like mine may have given educators free rein to discipline their children in the past, some parents today are noticeably less hands-off. Mr Li*, a junior college teacher, told The Pride: “If you compare to the past, increasingly, they want to be more involved now.”
In his eight years of teaching, he has encountered parents who questioned teachers on their teaching methods, challenged them on why their children were not selected for special programmes, and there were even some who tried to get their children’s demerit points removed.
Mr Li noted that parents like these are in the minority, but their actions can create a strain on educators. He said: “My colleague can spend almost an hour or two just talking to one parent, when that time could have been better spent on teaching and other important tasks.”
Thanks to technology, teachers have become more accessible. Ironically, this ease of communication has also made it easier for parents to be involved, and in some cases, for them to interfere.
Speaking to The Pride, Miss Ng*, who has taught at a primary school for four years, noted: “While email or phone calls are still the norm, there are teachers who let parents have their private numbers. I know of some who will send messages to certain parents almost daily to update them on what their children are doing in school.”
With the Ministry of Education often citing parents as important partners, at what point does a parent’s involvement cross into the realm of unnecessary interference?
Although Mr Li welcomed parents taking part in school activities and actively supporting their children, he cautioned that being over-protective can sometimes do more harm than good.
Citing the ACS (Barker Road) incident, Mr Li felt it was more important to reinforce the lesson that actions bear consequences, despite some commentators arguing that the confiscation period of three months was excessive.
“There’s a rule, you know the rule, if you disobey it, you should suffer the consequences. If they don’t learn to deal with the consequences of their actions, it may make them think they can get away with anything in future.
“In school, teachers may sometimes back down. But in other organisations, or in the eyes of the law, they won’t have that same liberty.”
For 43-year-old Adrian Quek, who has daughters aged 11 and 16, he felt that parents should be brought into the picture if their children run into trouble in school.
His elder daughter had once been accused of not returning a classmate’s money, and both sets of parents met the teacher to discuss the issue. Although the classmate was eventually found to have lied, Quek felt it was important that he was involved in the conversation.
“Instead of barging into the school and making a scene, I think it’s reasonable to want to find out what happened.”
By and large, Quek, who is self-employed, trusts his daughters’ teachers to do their jobs as educators and disciplinarians, and felt that parents should understand their children and be impartial enough to tell if they were right or wrong in particular incidents.
He said: “I believe in discipline as long as teachers are enforcing it fairly, and not indiscriminately. Of course, if our children are in the wrong, I would like teachers to discipline them.”
“If we parents interfere too much, why should we bother sending the kids to school?”
If there’s one area that parents should be playing a more active role, it would be on homeground – within the home environment.
“When a child is under-performing or acting out, we will inform parents and advise them on how to control their children at home. But they may come back to say that they can’t do much. My sense is that they don’t want to be the bad guy,” observed Mr Li.
The key to a meaningful partnership between parents and teachers is open communication, observed Ms Ng.
She said: “Parents and teachers should recognise that we’re all looking out for the child’s best interests, so we should work together as a partnership. The role of a protective parent in this case could be to help teachers better understand their child so we can better help them in school. However, they shouldn’t be making excuses for their child all the time.”
*Both teachers declined to provide their full names as they were not authorised to speak to media.