x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Neglect of children demands attention

What does it mean that 40 per cent of children told interviewers they feel neglected? Not much in itself, perhaps, but the issue is food for thought.

A survey result suggesting that as many as 40 per cent of Emirati children feel neglected by their parents, reported yesterday in The National, should be taken with some caution.

After all, the figures - from 11- and 12-year-olds in Sharjah in 2008-10 - measure only impressions, not actual abuse or even measurable lack of interest by parents. We all have days when everyone and everything seems cold and aloof, no matter what our age. And preteens can sometimes detect "neglect" in, for example, parents' refusal to provide the latest gadget or fashion.

All the same, the report gives pause to all parents, regardless of background or location. In an era when both parents may work outside the home, when so many families have nannies and other help and when life provides so many distractions, the "quality time" parents spend with children seems to be dwindling.

Yet in many societies throughout history, upper- and upper-middle-class parents have often delegated childcare and education to nannies, governesses, tutors, and the like, all without statistically evident harm to individuals or society.

For any child, maturing is by definition a process of growing apart from parents, starting at the moment of birth. How many of the same children who now claim to feel neglected will, by their middle teens, be convinced that mum and dad are meddling intolerably in their lives?

Genuine neglect, of course, is criminal in extreme cases and is be tragic when, for example, a child is accidentally left in a car in summer weather. Even the best of parents, being human, can allow accidents to happen to their offspring.

But true persistent neglect, even when there are no physical consequences, can certainly damage children seriously at the psychological level. The problem for other relatives, social workers, police and everyone else in the broader community of involved in ensuring a child's welfare, is to distinguish between the healthy normal and the damaging abnormal.

The scholars involved in the Sharjah survey themselves acknowledge that more information is needed, and there's no denying that. Helpfully the results of a larger survey, conducted by the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, should be available later this year.