From China To France To America, A Backlash Against Overprotective Parents

The smothering starts young...
The smothering starts young...
Doan Bui

PARIS – In the U.S., they are called the helicopter parents. These are the hyper-moms and uber-dads who hover relentlessly over their children, transforming themselves into personal assistants on the weekends: driving them to baseball or dance practice, Chinese lessons, screaming at the math teacher who had the nerve to give little darling a B grade.

Overprotective much? Last year, TIME Magazine put a woman breast-feeding a three-year-old on its cover with the title Are You Mom Enough? The cover article described the new attachment parenting trend: co-sleeping, extended breast-feeding, home schooling.

Child rearing is the new national obsession, according to the infinite number of best-seller books on the subject – preaching every parenting method under the sun. It’s all so confusing that the U.S. is starting to wonder if, by putting children on pedestals, they are doing more damage than good. So now it’s hip to be against hyper-parenting (hyper-education) and kindergarchy (rule of the child-king), helicopter parents are turning their children into wimps or land them in therapy.

In 2011, Amy Chua, the famous Tiger Mom, ignited a national debate when she bragged about the results of her super strict Chinese-style parenting in her book Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.

2012 was the year French-style parenting became the new model to follow. In her opus Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting, ex-Wall Street journalist Pamela Druckerman, living in France with her three children, wrote about the merits of a French education. She was amazed, for instance, that French children don’t play Frisbee with their bread.

Tiger Mom vs. Fromage Mom

“Amy Chua and I don’t preach the same educational style,” says Druckerman, “the only thing we have in common is that we question the principle of always praising our children. The famous ‘good job.’”

An American professor who is against hyper-parenting admits that he is extremely frustrated to not be able to write “D-, too much love at home” on some copies.

“We also came of age during the divorce boom in the 1980s,” says Pamela Druckerman “and we’re determined to act more selflessly than we believe our own parents did. In the context of economic instability, family is the last refuge. This is why we are terrified at the idea of hurting and messing up our children.

According to Hilary, an American mother living in France, “the parents here don’t feel as guilty. They get more help from the state: subsidies, childcare facilities -- and the schooldays are longer.”

What about parental authority? “The French parents I’ve interviewed often say they are strict. It’s a positive value. In the U.S., we are less inclined to show our authority,” says Pamela Druckerman.

A French mother of five, Mélanie Schmidt, who is just back in France after spending a few years in the U.S., has another point of view: “The mothers are just as lost in the U.S. as they are on this side of the pond but over there, they’re not afraid to talk about it. At our childrens' American school, every two months there were parenting classes that were very popular. France is thinking about doing the same!” As a matter of fact, Mélanie, who created a parental coaching service in the U.S., is about to launch her own business in France too.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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