Children need more than mottos

One of the most difficult tasks for Thailand’s prime minister this time of the year is to creatively reinvent a motto for Wan Dek, or National Children’s Day, which is tomorrow.

Published: 9/01/2015 at 08:18 AM

One of the most difficult tasks for Thailand’s prime minister this time of the year is to creatively reinvent a motto for Wan Dek, or National Children’s Day, which is tomorrow.

The tradition of having a motto for Children’s Day began in 1956, and over the years 18 PMs have delivered key messages to instil good conduct and moral values among children.

The first, from Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsongkram, encouraged altruistic actions that benefit others for a common interest, whereas this year’s motto from General Prayut Chan-o-cha states: “With knowledge and morality comes a brighter future.”

The only one that I can always remember is, “Dek dee pen sri kae chat; dek chalard chat charoen (Good children are assets to the nation; clever children build the nation’s prosperity).”

This catchphrase was used twice, by two other military PMs: Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn and General Kriangsak Chomanan. Then I was at the tender age of 10 and a confused 15, though a good girl with good grades who complied with the motto.

Other versions emphasised virtues and core values such as discipline, perseverance, honesty, unity, as well as a love for learning and Thai culture.

Democracy was conveyed in Chuan Leekpai’s mottos, which called for discipline — along with learning and morality — while keeping abreast of technology was raised by both Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra in one of their mottos.

No matter what the adult Premieres emphasise, kids have to know the motto by heart, for the sake of giving the right answer when someone asks them about it.

After Wan Dek, it’s just another watchword by another PM, without much further campaigning to embed positive attitudes throughout the year. As much as asking children to be good girls and boys, Wan Dek should be an occasion for the adults to review what they can do for children regarding welfare, rights and other child-related issues.

Other countries celebrate the day based on a certain theme. Britain, for example, focuses on natural developmental rights and freedom of children. This year, the country’s National Children’s Day (May 17) will reinforce how playing is important for child development, following its recognition by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child (Article 31).

Play is a fundamental activity for youngsters’ physical, social, cognitive, emotional and spiritual development.

However, changing family structure and societal environments have significantly hindered playing, particularly in the outdoors, as children lead more rushed, competitive and academically and technology-driven lifestyles.

Many Thai youths now play with their computer and tablets instead of being with friends, and there are not many safe places for them to run around and play together.

Public children’s playgrounds are disappearing, even the one in the park near my house, where kids in the neighbourhood used to have rusty see-saws and swings as recreational equipment.

On weekends, parents take their children to indoor playgrounds in shopping malls.

But even that playtime is cut short by tutoring classes.

Tomorrow, the awaited Wan Dek gives Thai children the time and space to play at the many events organised by the public and private sectors.

Again, it’s a day of fun and frolic.

Too bad that it only comes once a year, when similar significance and treats can be given to the little ones on International Children’s Day (June 1) and Universal Children’s Day (Nov 20).

Nevertheless, kids will make the most of the privileges from those activities, whether at museums, amusement parks or TV stations.

Visiting military units will give them the opportunity to get on armoured trucks, Humvees, rescue cars and helicopters and other aircraft.

Definitely, there will be a long queue at the Government House, where the PM’s Office welcomes children to pose for a picture on General Prayut’s chair.

For any of them aspiring to be PM, keep in mind that if you one day are seated in that chair, please give the next generation of youngsters more than a good motto on National Children’s Day.

Kanokporn Chanasongkram is a feature writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.