Azlan Othman (left), the father of Azali Azlan (centre) who scored 20 1As in last year’s SPM exam, believes that his children should also have solid footing in religion. With them is Azali’s mother, Rozita Sanapi.
In the light of the episode of Sufiah Yusof, the child prodigy who turned prostitute, Malaysian child experts and psychologists speak their mind to NURRIS ISHAK
FROM dawn to dusk, their day is filled with activities. A typical Malaysian school-going child’s daily schedule could rival that of an ant.
School, tuition, ballet, piano, computer and swimming lessons, religious classes and many more.
And when they come home, all they can do is to collapse in bed exhausted.
And the same cycle repeats again the next day.
In some schools, extra classes are held on Saturdays to give students an academic edge.
When then, does the child get to be a child?
Children as young as three have been pushed to the limits to live their parents’ dream.
Success is measured by exam results, academic or otherwise, and anything short of a string of As is considered a failure.
“It is like they are in a competition,” said National Association of Early Childhood Care and Education Malaysia president Datin Radziah Mohd Daud.
“It seems that many parents these days are rushing their children through childhood.
“Children as young as three years’ old are being sent for piano lessons and computer classes.”
“These were not the right activities for children of that age,” said Radziah.
“Children should be left to develop at their own pace and parents should not push them too much.
“Childhood only comes once in a lifetime and they should be left to enjoy it while growing up.
“They should be holistic in their development, the focus should not be solely based on academic performance.”
As more parents enter the competition of “whose child is the brightest of them all”, the ones who suffer the most are the children.
Would they go the way of Sufiah Yusof, who at 12 years’ old, made headlines as the youngest student to enter Oxford University?
Sufiah passed the A-Level mathematics that she needed to enter Oxford.
After three years in Oxford, she sparked a massive police hunt by running away from home.
Sufiah sent a scathing e-mail to her family, describing life under her father as a “living hell”.
According to newspaper reports, Sufiah’s recollections of her childhood were of an abusive father with so much pressure to excel academically, that she did not even have time to play and make friends.
Dr Jas Laile Suzana Jaafar, Universiti Malaya’s Adolescent and Child psychologist, said based on psychological research, parents tended to overemphasise on Intelligence Quotient (IQ).
“But IQ alone is not enough. Emotional Quotient (EQ) is just as important,” said Jas Laile.
“Even if you are intelligent but lack the social skills, it is of no good.
“Nowadays, psychologists do not give much emphasis on IQ anymore.
“Of course, IQ is also important. If a person is not academically qualified, it can be a huge loss.
“And there is a large possibility that undesirable elements might exert their influence over the child.
“But academic excellence should not be made a must.”
In Sufiah’s case, she said, the math prodigy was mentally abused by her father and was traumatised by a rigid study schedule.
“Her father had made her study all day long. It was just study, study, work and work to achieve academic excellence.
“Now, when you look at her, you wonder what had gone so wrong.
“It was her childhood scars left by the years of abuse and the effects are evident.
“Look at the adult she has become,” she said.
“God gave us the power to think, to deduce and He gave us social support to enable us to go through life, to pull through difficulties.
“But in Sufiah’s case, she had little or no support network and she didn’t have many friends because of her restricted life. There was no one to guide her or give her support.”
“What Sufiah had achieved academically is marred by her lack of social and emotional support, leaving her with little self-esteem.
“And when the self-esteem is at its lowest, the person would be more prone to psychosocial problems.”
A person who suffered from psychosocial problems was more vulnerable to negative influence, said Jas Laile.
Thus it is imperative for parents to be aware of the warning signs in their children.
Declining academic performance, skipping school or classes and changes in behaviour are among the warning signs that parents need to heed.
According to Dr Edward Chan, principal consultant psychologist of the Malaysian Psychology Centre (MPC), parents must take into account their children’s maturity level when dealing with them.
“It is important for parents to avoid or minimise criticism and nagging,” said Chan.
“Children would not want to hear a long lecture.
“They would withdraw to themselves as a defence mechanism in a reaction to pushy parents.
“Child rebellion is not natural, it comes about from the parents’ pushy behaviour.
“The more you push, the more they rebel.
“Right from the beginning, parents should respect the child as an individual being.
“If they want to voice out their opinion about schoolwork, let them. Respect the child if the child says no.
“The child should be emotionally secure and should be able to trust his parents enough to open up to them.”
When children are forced to do something, it creates a lot of conflict and negative feelings.
It compromises the child’s good perception, not only on their parents but also on all adult figures.
For Azlan Othman, 51, the father of 17-year-old Azali Azlan who scored 20 A1s in last year’s SPM examination, his son’s academic achievement was not the “be all and end all”.
“My wife and I have always instilled the sense of responsibility in our children,” said Azlan.
“We taught them religious values, so that they know what is wrong and what is right.
“We believe that it is important for our children to have a grounding in religion and balance between both worlds.
“There are many people who are successful in their worldly endeavours, but they fail to prepare themselves for the hereafter.
“We have always provided a good atmosphere for the children at home, so they feel comfortable.”