Children's plea for peace
Domestic violence and communication problems among Hong Kong families may be worse than previously thought. A recent project asking children to speak their minds has revealed some disturbing facts about their psychological state.
Last October, three volunteer researchers approached some primary and tutorial schools seeking permission to conduct a simple study among their students. They wanted to find out, in the children's own words, what they hated most and how they would like their parents to treat them.
Unlike the demands of some elaborate academic questionnaire surveys, the volunteers' research asked the youngsters to write down on a piece of paper, in a few sentences, what they felt about the two topics.
They were not required to give their names, so they would not feel inhibited about expressing their true feelings. Instead, they were asked to state only their gender and their age.
Last year, there were about 464,200 pupils enrolled in 857 public sector primary schools in Hong Kong. The group knocked on the doors of about 40 of the schools and were granted access to 17, plus a tutorial school, in different districts with different social and religious backgrounds, including some of the best-known ones under the auspices of the Catholic Church.
Short statements from a total of 1,787 students aged between five and 14 were collected. As many as 22 per cent hoped that they could be spared physical and verbal abuse at home. Thirteen per cent of the replies also referred to hostile and irascible parents. These two categories of replies together outnumbered the 27 per cent who said they wanted more toys and other materialistic things.
A selection of the children's remarks have been compiled into two booklets under the title, Speaking from the Heart.
The findings, which have shocked some educators and social workers, will be discussed at a seminar to be hosted by the Hong Kong Boys and Girls Association tomorrow.
A child who aspired to 'serve the community as a judge' wished her parents could 'always stay with me and don't let me feel so lonely'. She also wanted her parents 'not to explode, making me sad'.
A boy, aged nine, pleaded with his parents: 'Don't call me on the phone to swear at me thousands of times a day. The two of you shouldn't be so cranky. You shouldn't be screaming and threatening to beat me so often. It isn't human. It's so frustrating.' A 10-year-old said of his parents: 'I would like them to be nicer to me, and [not to] get angry at me. When they think that I've done something wrong, they should ask me why. They should not curse and punish me before finding out what has really happened.' Writing in English, a boy of the same age listed four items which he said he wanted from his parents. At the top of the list was 'buy many toys'. It was followed by 'don't fight me'.
An older girl wrote on the same theme: 'Daddy should not lose his temper so easily and swear at me whenever he is unhappy.' Another girl said: 'I don't need anything. All I want is for dad to go out with me on weekends, and don't nag me before getting the facts straight. I wish mum could love me as much as she loves my younger sister, and could find time to chat with me to get to know better about what I do in school and let me know what happened to them at work.' An 11-year-old worried about his examination scores. 'Don't give me too much pressure when I am doing my homework. Don't strike me when I fail in dictation. Let me study slowly, I will certainly achieve better results.' Bad-tempered parents aside, many children also appeared to be troubled by an adverse relationship between their mother and father.
A girl aged seven had this to tell her mother: 'Mum should not hit me every day. Mum should not hit dad.' Another girl's message for her parents was: 'Stop quarrelling. I feel like crying, don't you know?' 'Don't punish me by ignoring me,' a boy said. 'Moreover, I want them to stop squabbling.' On the topic of what they hated most, a nine-year-old girl revealed that she disliked 'being scolded by mum, because she won't stop even the next morning'.
Some of the respondents resorted to sketches. An eight-year- old drew herself dwarfed by her mother with a cane in hand. The caption went, 'I hope my mum would not hit me, and be more pleasant to me'.
Another girl of the same age drew a woman yelling at her daughter. The woman was holding a piece of test paper scoring 95 marks. The girl wrote: 'You must not treat me like this.' An older girl outlined a frowning woman with a string of symbols, in exclamation, flowing out of her mouth.
A wide spectrum of concerns among the children was expressed in the returned papers. These concerns ranged from smoking fathers to parents not keeping their word, and the amount of housework to the amount of pocket money.
However, beatings and scoldings dominate. Lack of trust and respect for privacy were also recurring themes in the exercise.
Disgruntled youngsters may not dare, or be given the chance, to reveal their deep feelings towards their parents in a formal setting. Some parents might not be sensitive enough to detect their children's disappointment at home.
Now that the children have spoken, it is the grown-ups' turn to listen and act.