Illustrations: Chen Xia/GT
September is back-to-school month for most children in China. Aside from books, bags and stationery, however, many urban parents are now adding one more item to their preschoolers to-buy list: smart watches. The average kindergarten student has not yet learned how to tell time, but these specialized watches aren't for the students themselves. Instead, they are "spy" watches that allow parents to secretly record the goings-on of their child's classroom.
With K-12 schools across the country starting last week, such 200-yuan watches are currently one of the biggest electronics sellers on Chinese e-retail sites, where tens of thousands of units have sold in just the past month. The popularity of these watches may have something to do with the rising number of abuse case occurring at local kindergartens and primary schools. In the past year alone, numerous teachers at various grade levels have been caught physically, mentally and even sexually abusing their students.
Thanks to social media and smart-phone technology, many predators have been publicly exposed, but an untold number get away with their actions because of a lack of proof. Police require actual evidence such as video or audio in order to prosecute suspected abusers. It is understandable, then, that parents have grown cautious about leaving children alone with teachers.
I'm not a parent, but to me it seems like an over-reaction for parents to start turning their toddlers into "spy kids" in order to catch a predator. First and foremost, assuming that teachers are going to abuse your child is the definition of paranoia. Our educational system is founded on trust: we must trust in schools to vet and hire qualified teachers and we must give teachers the authority to discipline students. Otherwise, what are schools for?
Moreover, this growing fear and anxiety that Chinese parents have toward teachers is detrimental and counter-productive to the mental health and well-being of young students. Children will be able to immediately sense their parents' distrust of teachers, which will cause conflicts in the classroom.
As for the watch itself, I don't believe that preschoolers should bring such gadgets to school. Kindergarten is a time for students to learn how to socially interact with other kids. Digital devices such as smartphones and tablets are proven to be anti-social. Researchers at the University of Washington, for example, recently revealed that digital gadgets are not necessary for early childhood development; overexposure to technology has even been linked to attention deficit, cognitive delays and impaired learning.
Not to mention that teachers are probably already aware of these spy watches and on the lookout for any kids with them on their wrists. It's likely that this could provoke an instinctive dislike of the child and their parent by the teacher; after all, nobody wants to feel like a suspect.
In recent years there have been many public calls from concerned parents to place security cameras in Chinese classrooms due to the growing number of physical and mental abuse cases being perpetuated by overzealous teachers. Even Shanghai's elite "international schools," where parents pay exorbitant tuition in the hopes of keeping their children extra-safe and sheltered, are not exempt from accidentally hiring predators, as reported in several high-profile media articles.
But again, this undermines the whole point of school, which is supposed to be about letting children become independent from their parents. Knowing that their mommy and daddy are watching or listening to them all day long is the antithesis of independence and will only increase their anxiety. Yes, Chinese schools could benefit from being more transparent, but we as a society need to trust that our educators are not perverts and predators.
I know this is tough for Chinese parents to swallow, but the fact is that over-protection is simply not good for a child's social development. How can you expect your kid to behave well in school and obey authority figures if they know that their parents will always take their side even when they are wrong? And how can you expect them to ever respect people's privacy if their own privacy is being undermined?
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.