A veteran journalist's take on such diverse subjects as religion and religious violence, democracy, freedom of expression, sociology, journalism, criticism, travel, philosophy, Southeast Asia, politics,economics, and even parenthood, the supernatural, film criticism, and cooking. Please don't hesitate to participate by starting a comment thread if you have an interest in any of these subjects...or anything else, for that matter...

Theories of child-rearing: the laissez faire approach

It takes a village (?)
Patrick Guntensperger
Manado, North Sulawesi
Having little but time to spend with my son in the company of my extended family and countless neighbours, I have been in a position to observe childrearing paradigms and methods here in Indonesia.
Of course I have previously seen, as does everyone who spends any time here, how children are treated, and I have had even more intimate experience with those methods during my tenure as a school principal in a school that included students from the pre-school level through to high school. I also have close exposure to the “adult” products of these child rearing techniques when I lecture at universities in this country.
I am less than impressed.
When I first watched the deference, even reverence with which parents and adults in general treat infants in Indonesia, I instinctively put it down to an enlightened, sensitive approach to the upbringing of children. Children are treated in an almost worshipful manner: coddled, carried, spoon-fed and indulged in a way that encourages the casual observer to assume that children are deeply loved. They sleep with their parents from birth onwards, and most school-age children have quite literally never spent an instant alone in their entire lives. A typical child has never heard “no”, or been prevented from doing anything in his or her entire life by the time he or she reaches school age. 
One of the most common sights here in Indonesia is also one of the most appalling: that of a maid or nanny or mother chasing an indifferent toddler around with a spoon full of rice, while the child plays, watches television, or simply wanders about, stuffing the food into the infant’s face whenever an opportunity presents itself. The infant normally seems barely aware of the presence of the spoon wielding factotum and either opens his mouth when he wants more or spits it out when he’s had enough. Feeding this child is an all-day exercise.

Anybody who spends any time here has seen eight-year-olds being carried about by parents in malls; on many occasions I have even seen third graders being carried crying and sucking on a bottle of formula into my school by nannies whom they outweighed. I am happy to report that I instituted a policy that put an end to servants waiting on children old enough to walk being allowed on campus. This was seen by the parents as being harshly draconian. Nevertheless, I still had mothers sitting outside classrooms peering in through windows and jumping to feed their little princes when the class broke for recess. I saw – all too often – children of nine or ten who, in other countries would have been proud to make their way to school with friends via skateboard or bicycle, being transported by 13 year-old nannies riding them tandem on a bicycle.
In toddlers, getting their own way, at all times under all circumstances, seems to them to be a fundamental component of the structure of the universe. Nobody will say “no” to a child. If the child, barely able to walk, pulls on a curio cabinet door to grab a porcelain figurine and starts to cry in frustration at being unable to get the door opened, a maid, mother, or nanny is likely to open the door for her and hand her the objet d’art. When the piece is inevitably dropped and smashed, the explanation as to why the child had it in the first place is, “She wanted it!” That’s acceptable.
Nevertheless, Indonesian adults are human beings. The result is that as the children are commonly permitted to do whatever they wish, sooner or later they will get on someone’s nerves. That results in a sudden eruption from an adult who has finally become exasperated at the annoying behavior; the child of course, is utterly bewildered and dismayed. To the child there is no discernible pattern; what was normal behavior all day has suddenly elicited a harsh response from an adult. The lack of consistency and the complete dearth of limits, guidelines, boundaries, and rules leave the child assuming that all behaviour is permissible and the occasions upon which he is scolded are aberrations on the part of his guardians.
The upshot of this is seen in the culture at every level. The existence of others is barely noted even by adults, unless that other person is family or otherwise very close. Try getting out of an elevator in a crowded building. The notion of standing back to allow passengers to exit is one that never crops up. It is virtually pointless to go to the cinema if one is genuinely interested in the film being shown; one is surrounded by people talking to one another, or texting or carrying on conversations on their cell phones. There simply seems to be no awareness of normal guidelines that would entail the recognition of the existence of other human beings, particularly if those guidelines would imply the slightest constraint on self-serving behaviour.
This pattern is seen in universities and offices; the idea of arriving on schedule for anything is an alien concept. Students arrive late and wander into lectures, waving and shouting to their friends across the hall; business executives are content to have their underlings wait for hours on end until they deign to put in an appearance. All this and so much more (including the country’s endemic corruption, and even the social toleration of appalling poverty, I would argue) can be traced to the upbringing of children.
If a child is raised believing that her every action is acceptable and that every whim ought to be instantly gratified, that she and her desires are the only things that are worth any attention, it is hardly likely that a courteous, philanthropic social conscience is to develop.
My first impression was wrong. The manner in which children are raised here is neither enlightened nor sensitive. It is simply lazy. It is taking the path of least resistance; hardly surprising, since the parents were brought up in the same way.
A typical scenario which we have all seen: a child demands an adult’s cell phone. He is refused. He whines and then throws himself on the ground screaming. The adult gives him the cell phone. Why? It’s easier…it shuts him up. But what does the child learn? His desires are paramount. His desires, if intensely expressed, override any resistance. And where does that lead us?
I am reminded of Theo Toemeon, the once Chairman of Indonesia’s powerful Investment Coordination Board. Several years ago while watching a second grade basketball game at the prestigious Jakarta International School, he went berserk. Not happy with some of the calls made by a fourteen year-old referee, he leapt from the stands and tried to strangle him. During the ensuing melee, one executive from a major oil company had his nose broken and another required several stitches to his head after Theo or one of his body guards reportedly whacked him with a chair. Theo responded to threats of having the police called by telling the crowd that he “owned” the police and, further, that he could have anyone he wished thrown out of the country. The executive with the broken nose soon left the country with his family after having received death threats, allegedly from Theo’s cronies.
The high ranking govenment official later defended his actions by stating that he had become overcome by patriotism (apparently the calls to which he took exception were against

It’s patriotic fervour!

Indonesian students). This “apology” was generally accepted. Although he was soon replaced in his position, the Indonesian government insisted that his move had been planned before the incident and was unrelated. There was no loss of face.

But of course Theo’s justification for his out of control behaviour was sufficient to the minds of those raised in typical Indonesian fashion. He hadn’t, after all, had things go his way; a desire had been thwarted. His response had been conditioned by his upbringing…what else should we expect ?


Hire Patrick

Want to hire Patrick for a speaking engagement, as a teacher or for a writing project? Send him a message here:



Your Message

To use CAPTCHA, you need Really Simple CAPTCHA plugin installed.

Speak Your Mind