Sunday, January 8, 2012

Let traditions take root
04:46 AM Jan 08, 2012
by Frances Ess
Every year without fail, the entire family would troop down to the Thomson Road nurseries to hunt for a Christmas tree.
When the children were younger, it was a much easier process as everyone would be home and we could go any time in November or December. Last Christmas, it took military precision to execute this exercise with our six children, aged six to 22, to coordinate.
First, the event was announced on the family Facebook closed group. A date was selected, but it was rejected as one child had to work, while another had to go for a church outing. Another date was proposed, and it was accepted provided we could be done by 1pm as another child had to go online to apply for her courses at a local university.
Still, the occasion was filled with much fun and joy as the older children showed the younger ones the art of selecting a tree. It was good to see the family tradition passed down from one generation to another.
While watching Mary Poppins, a phrase from the song The Life I Lead caught my attention. It argues that tradition, discipline and rule are what you need to run a British family, or else there will be disorder, catastrophe and anarchy.
While we do not subscribe to ruling the family and our children with an iron hand, we discovered that, if we provide our children with a balance of tradition, discipline and rule, it would help them to navigate obstacles in life's playground.
In this globalised century, where our six-year-old understands the concept of Skype and protests that he does not wants his pictures to be posted on Facebook, unconsciously we are allowing this interconnected and integrated world to form part of his rituals and traditions.
For example, some of us will not believe an event has taken place unless it has been posted on some trusted website. Our children no longer take the textbook as the gospel truth, and turn to Google or Wikipedia to seek answers.
Dr Diana Oblinger observed that, by age 21, our children will have spent 10,000 hours playing video games, sent 200,000 emails, watched 20,000 hours of television and spent 10,000 hours on a mobile phone. This implies that our children could miss out on the opportunity to develop social and emotional skills. As our children's brains become digitally rewired, they may find it more difficult to interact with other human beings.
In addition, information and knowledge, data and facts are changing and being updated constantly. In the world of Facebook, there are some who constantly update their status with what they eat, where they are going and who they are with.
Although we have to train our children to understand that change is the only constant and that they have to learn to adapt, there is value in following some family traditions. They give the children a sense of continuity, of being rooted, of belonging to a community.
It provides them with a feeling of expectation, of waiting for something to happen, and thus develops patience - a virtue which is becoming more scarce as our children complain when a website takes more than 10 seconds to load.
In Singapore, we have many great family traditions that are threatened by the digital age, and we must guard against them being eroded. For example, Chinese New Year is around the corner, and we should ensure that it is a time for family members to interact and catch up on the past year's happenings.
But more and more children might prefer to stay home and hooked up to the digital world rather than go visiting. We need to ensure they learn how to show respect to our relatives and elders by continuing this beautiful tradition.
We may be accused of being old-fashioned or sentimental. But without developing and following traditions, we are depriving our children of the roots with which to anchor their lives. Of course, some traditions need to be updated and adapted. But as long as our children have some to fall back on, we are providing them some form of security to face the world.
Frances Ess is a mother of six.

This article was first published in Today 8.1.2012

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