BEIJING, April 22-- Slipping into the classroom to watch her 9-year-old daughter giggling and chatting happily with other kids and confidently quizzing a UNICEF official during a simulated news conference, left Wang Yiyi stunned.
"She looks totally different at home. I'm always worried that she is too quiet and likes to play alone," her mother, a lawyer with Beijing Hualian Law Firm said.
"But today I got a fresh impression of my daughter who I had thought I quite understood, but obviously not enough."
Wang was not the only parent who made a few surprise discoveries during a training programme held in Beijing last weekend.
The programme, called Children's Express, is targeted at helping children, aged eight to 18 years old, build up their ability to freely express their opinions through writing to newspapers or magazines.
Begun in the United States in 1975 and already popular in many countries, the idea was introduced to China a few years ago.
But it was not until last week that the programme was officially launched by the Soong Ching Ling Foundation and the United Nations Children Foundation.
Some 40 children from Beijing, Shandong and Jiangsu provinces participated in the two-day event during which they launched their own news website- out of the watchful gaze of parents.
It took a little time before they took advantage of the freedom to express their ideas and urged adults to listen.
Charles Rycroft, head of the communication section of the UNICEF(China) Office warned the"communication gap between children and parents is a common problem in many countries. But it is sad that Chinese kids choose to keep a distance between their parents, while many parents actually ignore the problem."
A tradition of not communicating with children has existed for a long time in China, and"Chinese children need more encouragement and tutorship on how to express themselves," said Rycroft.
Those parents, who peeked in on the sessions, unbeknown to their offspring, and compared their children's behaviour to that at home, realized the lack of communication between parents and children had begun when their children were very young.
And many parents, including Wang, admitted they rarely listen to their children or take what they said seriously.
"One eight-year-old on the course described his mother as being like a fierce big cat who often forces him to do something he doesn't want to do. Although my daughter did not describe me like that, I also sometimes neglected her ideas," said Wang.
"Focusing too much on a child's academic performance, sending them to various after-school classes... Chinese parents not surprisingly have hardly any time to squeeze a talk into the already busy schedule of children," said Wang Shuai, a Junior Two student from Beijing Luhe Middle School.
Along with the boom in the Chinese economy, it seems that parents are spending more and more money on children, but less time listening or talking with them, analysts said.
"Not only in the family, but also in school, where teachers seldom listen to student's ideas in class," said Fan Yuxiao a 14-year-old girl from Middle School affiliated to Beihang University.
She said she loved the atmosphere in the Children's Express programme. Teachers here were more willing to let students do what they want to do and just provided some help when needed.
"I was told that Chinese children always keep quiet and are unco-operative in class before I came to Beijing," said Cliff Hahn, a communications consultant from New York City. He taught the course in Beijing and has been to other countries before.
"But it turns out to be the contrary. At the very beginning, children were so quiet just listening to what you said. But only after a few minutes, especially when their parents were out of their sight, they became as enthusiastic as kids in other parts of the word, and had even more creative ideas.
"It seems that many Chinese kids are escaping from, if not intending to refuse, exchanging their point of views with adults, especially, their parents. They are actually very thirsty for a chance to express themselves," he said.
Hahn also called for the media to give more opportunities for children's voices to be heard.
"It will not only encourage children to have the courage to express themselves, but also raise the attention of parents to their children's voices," said Hahn.
Although China has more than 340 million children under the age of 18, after a careful study of newspaper stories, only few were found to cover children, according to Bu Wei, associate professor and director of the Media& Youth Development Research Centre of the Journalism Research Institute under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
"Most voices of children in the news media are actually those of teachers and parents," said Bu, who points out that faking children's voices is likely to further discourage children from speaking out.
To Bu and Rycroft, it is wrong not to listen to children, and even worse to take their words away.
Quoting the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Rycroft pointed out that children have the right to express their point of views freely on all matters that affect their lives.
"For this purpose, I think training programmes like this are very useful and significant," he said.
"By learning basic knowledge about how to write news stories, carrying out an interview, and even how to compete with adult journalists in new conferences, children can gain more confidence to express themselves and will be more skilful when talking with parents at home," said Hahn.
"You have the power to make your voice heard. Just do it," he encouraged Chinese children.
(Source: China Daily)