Professor Jem Bendell

notes from a strategist and educator on social and organisational change

Free the toddlers, save the world, n let me write in peace

Posted by jembendell on September 28, 2008

Its what’s great about modern cities. Wifi! Its all over the place here in Singapore. Which means I get to sit in this cafe and work. Freedom from my office.. and I’m so dedicated to my vocation that I don’t get distracted by my surroundings.

Except by screaming toddlers at the table next to me. And now I’m further distracted by how irate I’ve become about it. Surely I should care more for kids?! Ah.. I realise I do, and I’m still annoyed. Because why are they here hurting my ears?! Its a stylish cafe, for people to read in. Last night I was sat in lovely bar in the middle of the botanical gardens to finishing writing my next book. Surrounded by shrieking kids. A bar, in the evening, toddlers screaming.

I do care – why aren’t they outside playing, or in a play group? Toddlers are meant to kick and scream, to run around shrieking at the joy of their wobbly legs careering them around, and the full-on colour, texture and noise of their surroundings.

Now it hits me. This is the country of coast to coast apartments and shops. The ultra modern city, the vision of the urban dream made real. Because this year the human race has become, officially, an urban species. In 1800 only about 3 percent of people lived in towns, but almost exactly around now, according to the UN, the majority of us live in cities. And the largest share of that – in Asia.

So this is now distracting enough for me to blog about it.

As a child I was able to play in the fields nearby, or just mess about in my garden, or the neighbours gardens. Its the simplest of joys, the most basic of needs. And its now being denied to millions, nay, billions of children. So I feel a bit melancholic, as I look at these kids next to me. If they’re lucky they might have a balcony at home. Or a parent who will take them to one of the few parks in this city state. Perhaps the supremely manicured botanical gardens, the massive walk-though plant pot that I escape to most days. But if mum doesn’t like the heat, she might take you to the air con shopping mall instead, and therefore, to a cafe like this one when your little feet get bored of shopping. God I hated walking around shops as a kid.

This isn’t nostalgia. I’m feeling some sadness and fear. Because without that connection with nature, or just a back garden, what are today’s urban toddlers missing out on? As their synapses are formed, along with their sense of reality and their place within it, where will the natural world be in their future consciousness? Will they be most relaxed under neon lights, and feel they are what they buy?

I just saw a tragic parent child pantomime play out. A toddler gets excited at the table, laughs and smiles, the parent laughs back and so the kid jumps up and down and shrieks, and then the parent looks a bit guilty and shushes the child. And then the whole thing happens again. That must be one of the quickest ways to raise a scitzo child. If I was one of them, Id surely go berserk. When I was 3 years old, I was here only 3 days, and was “the naughtiest you ever were” as I discovered the joys of the switches of huge electric curtains and long corridors to run down, in the Mandarin Oriental.

Things are made worse by the family dislocation that’s going on due to migrant labour.. many of the young families here are expats and don’t have extended family to help out.

One great thing today was seeing thousands of Philippinos in the botanical gardens, in huge groups, with loads of kids who zoomed around on the grass, as kids do, running towards, nothing much, shrieking about, whatever, then turning around and charging back to where they were. Perfect. Now their parents just have to set a good example by picking up their litter…

The lack of nature in kids lives is something that a mate of mine here is doing something about, through his art show on Nickelodeon. Its working, as he is now officially the most famous Norwegian TV star.. which surprised most adults living in Norway who read that fact. But not to the crowds of thousands he speaks to when doing publicity gigs around Asia… thousands kids who want to draw animals! So lets hope that’s nature not nurture. Although we could do more to help kids connect with their environment, if our urban species is going to have enough natural consciousness to know how to survive this century. www.earthtree.com.sg/

2 Responses to “Free the toddlers, save the world, n let me write in peace”

  1. Tim said

    It is a sad state of the world when children grown up only knowing an urban environment and become adults having never slept under stars. So is it any wonder that the vast majority of kids today do not know where pork or beef come from?

    When I grew up my parents said “Be back at sundown…” and promptly forgot about me until dinner while I played in some culvert miles from home trying to catch crayfish. Now parents don’t let you go beyond the garden gate and if you dare stroll even half way there you had better have a mobile phone on you.

    Sorry disjointed comments….

  2. thea said

    My mother used to rebuke saying that she did not have to be calling me for dinner twice while I was outdoors (playing mostly ball games with boys)…
    It is all the same in Geneva and I have the impression that expat wives’ the only socializing opportunity here is meeting other expat wives for lunch at places like spaghetti factory with their screaming kids running around. This is the inevitable part of the modern life, I guess.

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