Filipino children and the negotiation of modernity


By Randy David ,Philippine Daily Inquirer/Asia News Network

In traditional society, the status of the child is determined by the social position of the family from which she springs. Indeed, parents ��own�� their children, a fact that proceeds from the family’s basic role as an economic unit. The state recognizes this, and defers to the primordial authority of parents over their children. The modern family, in contrast, sheds off its economic function. And with the spread of public education, it also loses a good part of its educational function. The state assumes the formal obligation to protect and ensure the growth of every child, conferring upon them all those rights that are beautifully laid out in the modern document we call the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The transition to modernity is, however, never smooth. Culture tends to lag behind the laws. The change in social awareness is slow. All too often, the family finds itself reacting to the myriad pressures of poverty by taking out its frustrations on its most vulnerable members �X the women and the children. Almost all the threats that Filipino children confront in our society �X corporal punishment, verbal abuse, child labor, child trafficking, sexual abuse, child soldiering, recruitment into criminal syndicates, etc. �X are rooted in the poverty and degradation to which at least half of our people have been consigned. For all our claims to being a loving and nurturing people that assign a great value to children, many of us still find it hard to listen to them, to take their words seriously, to respect their feelings, their pride, their dignity and self-esteem. We demand from our children unconditional obedience and trust, even when the orders we give to them may have been made during our most irrational moments. Because they are ��just children,�� we are usually dismissive of their feelings, making no effort to understand their outbursts and sudden fits of uncontrolled weeping. We treat these as signs of immaturity rather than as desperate calls for help. If this is a problem of culture, then it must be addressed as a question of how to promote a different kind of awareness. Parents, elders, teachers and adults in authority who deal with children on a regular basis need to be able to pause and reflect on the nature of their actions toward children.

This is not easy. Most of these are habits they may have picked up unconsciously in the course of their own socialization. If they grew up in an abusive family, there is a big chance they will not act any differently toward their own children. Modernity interrupts this cycle by introducing the child early to a world larger than the household �X a world where she learns to respect the needs and rights of other children, a world where other roles are possible apart from those conferred by the family. Many traditional families will regard these encounters jealously, seeing in them a threat to parental authority. That is why they may often view the school �X the teachers or the peer group �X as a source of bad influence. This culture fades away, albeit slowly, as our society enters the modern period. As government actively takes on the responsibility of protecting the nation’s children �X often against those who should be looking after them �X we should be seeing less and less of the abuses and neglect that now hound children of this generation. Even so, I would be the last to paint a glowing picture of modernity. Modernity solves many problems but brings in new ones. As they become increasingly self-reliant at an early age, young people will find less and less reason to visit, much less consult their parents.