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In a video that went viral just yesterday, two St Hilda’s Secondary School boys were seen fighting with another classmate while their intern teacher looked on. Naturally, as Singaporeans often do with viral videos, the superpower of choice emerged: the keyboard, along with two clear camps.

One camp wielded the classic Lion Mums argument—“I could have done it better”—chastising the adult in the video for not having lived up to their vague moral standards and stopping the kids who didn’t know better.

The other camp grabbed their popcorn, plonked their asses down on the couch, turned the volume up, and engaged in a play-by-play commentary of the kids’ MMA potential (or lack thereof).

Throughout all this, we couldn’t help wondering, is there really no merit in letting kids fight?

Everyone faces personal battles at some point in their life. From childhood through to adolescence and adulthood, whether schoolyard brawls or classroom politics, there’s always a battle to be fought and a lesson to be learnt.

Sure, a video of prepubescent children brawling in a classroom wearing shirts emblazoned loud and proud with their school’s name screams “INAPPROPRIATE” at every turn. But while we say don’t disgrace the school and don’t do it in an environment meant for education and learning, does this mean don’t do it at all?

I remember being in an all-girls secondary school, faced with my own struggle of having seniors who attempted to make my life miserable over the most trivial of arguments. I was faced with three choices: “tell the teacher”, “roll over” or “deal with it.”

It didn’t take the rocket scientist in me to see how futile the ‘telling teacher or parents’ strategy could be. Run to the teacher and risk being labelled a tattletale incapable of dealing with your own problems, or tell your parents and risk them escalating it to the school, the principal, or even MOE.

And so I engaged. I too might have been in the wrong, or I might not have been. On hindsight, being the adult I am now, I scoff at my childish method of fighting fire with fire; fighting bitchiness with more bitchiness.

Thinking back now, I probably perpetuated my own circumstances in secondary school. I probably should have been the “lady” my school always expected us to magically transform into. Safe to say that the way my adversaries and I played it, we were all far from “ladylike.”

At the same time, looking back on my folly and the futile nature of such “fights”, it gives me nothing but consolation when I see where my bullies and I have ended up 7 years later. I like to think that we’ve all learnt how to fight fire with anything but fire, and that we can now think, process, and problem solve. I like to think that I am one of those who now “know better.”

The need to “adult” our kids at every stage usually ends up with counterproductive results.

Today, it often feels like we’ve simply graduated from “tell teacher” to “call police”. It’s gotten to a point where Singaporeans call the cops for the most miniscule of inconveniences such as a car parked at an undesignated spot, or seeing something that offends them online. Or even reporting Amos Yee to the police upon seeing something that offends you.

I get that the impulse after watching this video is to immediately chide the children for not knowing better and assigning blame to teachers, parents and what not. But what good does blame or seeking out immediate consequences really do?

Call the police? Call MOE? Call this, that, whatever authority we Singaporeans are so fond of calling to fight our battles? Why haven’t we learnt to deal with things that upset us on our own?

That only serves to reinforce stereotypical Singaporean behaviour which dumps all responsibility and hardship in life to the authorities. It’s gotten to the point where a traffic jam, the weather and almost every aspect of everyday life is blamed on the government.

The need to “adult” our kids at every stage usually ends up with counterproductive results. Instead of teaching them responsibility, we cripple them for life.

We’re definitely not advocating violence, or saying that teachers should encourage fighting. But we do need to rethink our reactions and adopt a more mindful approach when it comes to conflicts that are a normal part of every child’s life. Instead of singling out the intern to blame, we should just accept that such incidents are part and parcel of life at any age.

And so what if the adult in the video let the kids fight it out? There’s always the option to counsel them after, mete out an appropriate punishment, let their bruises and cuts ache and smart, and then they can evaluate whether it was all worth it. It is still a learning opportunity.

After all, younger generations often bear the criticism of being too soft, and arguing that adults should always intervene simply perpetuates this “problem”.

Teaching children that violence doesn’t solve anything has to go beyond verbal lessons. To truly internalise that violence achieves nothing, these kids probably have no better teacher than experience itself.

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