Mr Jason Wong delivered a lively presentation, peppered with personal anecdotes, on the importance of parenting "for life".
"Parents should not just emphasise and focus on academic results, but put equal weightage on character and values." This was the main message behind Mr Jason Wong's recent presentation at MOE's annual ExCEL Fest. His sharing session, "'Being Mums and Dads for Life", was held on 30 March 2012.
Mr Wong, a Senior Director with the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, as well as a father of two, is a trained counsellor with extensive work experience in the prisons and rehabilitation sectors, and part of the team that conceptualised Singapore's Dads for Life movement. Armed with this wealth of experience, he brought up a number of moving personal anecdotes during his talk, as well as drew on extensive research on international studies. He strongly believes that "it is easier to build boys and children than fix men and adults", and encouraged parents to play an active role in their children's lives.
From his almost 17 years of working in the prisons service, as well as recent work with victims of child abuse and youths at risk, Mr Wong has personally encountered the effects of negative and absentee parenting on children. One of the main points which he sought to drive home was that "parents should focus on their marital relationship if they wish to be good parents." He further shared that a survey conducted two years ago by Dads for Life revealed that fathers who were satisfied with their spousal relationships were more involved in their children's lives.
He added that parents should pay attention to character building and the teaching of values, and reminded parents that they are role models to their children. "How children relate to each other, how they behave, and how they speak, are all means by which values are transmitted from one generation to another," he said.
Recounting an encounter he had while volunteering at a children's home, he described a boy who was behaving in an unusually withdrawn manner, who cried and revealed that he missed his mother who was then in a rehabilitation centre. This encapsulated for him how much children want and need their parents. "We must never do anything to give them the impression that we do not care, or we do not want them," he said.
Mr Wong's advice and anecdotes resonated deeply with the audience at MOE ExCEL Fest 2012.
Mr Wong emphasised the importance of parental involvement in the light of children spending the bulk of their time in school. Acknowledging that this is a challenge for many working parents, he suggested participating in school activities such as orientation days, meet-the-parent sessions, and open houses. Parents should also talk to their children about their school life and communicate with their teachers. He pointed out, "Taking an interest and making an effort to know what is happening in school will signal clearly to the child that school and education are important."
IPPT for fathers
Given his involvement in Dads for Life, it's no surprise that Mr Wong champions getting fathers to be more involved in their children's lives. Humorously comparing the role of fathers to the Singapore Armed Forces' Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT), he said that as in the IPPT, fathers also have five "stations", or roles, to clear or fulfill: playmates, role models, teachers, mentors and coaches. This is what Mr Wong light-heartedly calls a different type of IPPT: the "Individual Pa Pa Test".
Ultimately, Mr Wong concluded, it is the children who stand to benefit because those with more caring fathers are often more secure and sociable, experience less emotional distress, show greater self-control and perform better in school.
Mr Wong's message resonated deeply with the parents who attended his presentation at the ExCEL Fest. Mdm Urmila Devi, a mother of a 10-year-old girl, afterwards likened the roles of the mother and father to using a pair of chopsticks to eat. In her family, for example, she shared that her daughter yearns to spend time with her father, and would catapult into his arms whenever he returns from official trips overseas.
"I could really connect with what Jason said in his talk," said Mdm Devi. "He was very inspiring, and the videos he showed helped to bring the message across. His talk was so important that I am preparing to share it with members of my parent support group."
The effort he has inspired in Mdm Devi is also something that Mr Wong advocates. "One of the best ways to learn how to be better parents is through the sharing offered by other parents, and this can only take place if parents come together to learn from each other," he said in a follow-up interview. "For parents who feel they have been too busy, I strongly suggest that they plan in advance - and give it a try!"