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Pick your battles, kids
by Clara Chow

AFORMER rugby-player friend of mine used to joke that, while soccer is a gentleman’s game played by hooligans, rugby is a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen.

But in view of a recent fray atan inter-school rugby match, I’m not so sure about this statement anymore.

As rugby’s popularity in Singapore grows, the contact sport is no longer the domain of upper-crust English public-school boys who can flatten you in a scrum one moment, and dust you off and buy you a pint at the pub the next.

The post-game brawl between Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) and St Andrew’s Secondary School, which made the front pages of local newspapers, set me thinking about raising boys, and handling their adolescent aggression and propensity for violence.

Already, at the age of four, my elder son Julian has been displaying a preference for the kind of rough-and-tumble play that takes place between young males in the animal kingdom.

The little boys in his nursery class like to deliberately bump and bash into one another, and then break into peals of laughter when shoved to the ground. When they are not crashing around like bulls in a china shop, they are shooting at one another with finger-pistols.

If they want to get a playmate’s attention, typical gestures include boxing him hard on the shoulder, shaking his arm until it is in danger of falling off, and hollering at the top of their voice in his ear.

The strange thing – to me, at least, having grown up surrounded by demure girls in a convent school – is that Julian and his best buddies are insanely happy horsing around like this. None of them ever cry or get hurt. To them, it’s just fun.

You could say that boys will be boys, and watch sanguinely over these fledgling acts of machismo.

But there is also a fine line between relaxed parenting and turning a blind eye to tendencies that may develop into more disturbing behaviour later on.

Back at home, the Supportive Spouse and I make it a point to remind Julian that hitting someone is wrong.

Even casual slaps and thumps on the back that are too forceful are unacceptable.

For a while, Julian’s obsession with boxing meant that he would playfully try to throw some punches and jabs at hisdad.

But we try to nip this in the bud with stern warnings that this is painful and not funny. In our household, the message is never ambiguous: Using violence is wrong.

It is a message that I believe must be drilled into our kids from a young age if we are to have any chance of keeping their proclivity in check.

Beyond that, it is up to us parents, elders and mentors to set a good example on gracious behaviour on a daily basis; to remind our youth that winning or losing is not everything, and to pick their battles wisely.

As my own boys make the transition into young men, I will be telling them that life is not about rising to provocation, but about protecting what you believe in; that there is no shame or cowardice in walking – or running – away from a threat.

But all that, of course, may be easier said than done. And young men may very well end up doing things against their better judgment in the increasingly complex world they have to negotiate through today.

A punch thrown in front of everybody in daylight, while no less of a mistake, is more straightforward and easier to deal with than insidious cyber- bullying, Facebook-stalking and other forms of harassment that adults are clueless about.

As the mother of two future hot-blooded men, I can teach my boys what I believe is right. But I won’t be able to shield them forever.

Should they ever forget to be anything but their best, my only hope is that they’ll be given the chance to recover with grace and polish.

For more my paper stories click here.

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