Circumcision. After having encountered intense debate about circumcision in the US, it has been fascinating to learn the traditions here. In Java the vast majority of boys are circumcised, but they get to choose themselves if they want to and when they want to. Most choose it around age 12 or 13, in keeping with Muslim tradition around the world. Why in the world, American men wonder, would a teenager CHOOSE circumcision? Mostly because everyone else is doing it and it's sort of a, "Yeah, I want to be man too" sort of thing. As a facebook commenter said, worst peer pressure ever. I even heard about police station offering free mass circumcisions as a way to boost their reputation among the local population. What.the.heck.
I always chuckle because Americans grimace and think it's all quite cruel to wait till the kids are teenager when they can remember and feel the pain, but Indonesians are horrified that we would inflict a painful procedure on babies!
Since discipline of children has been on my mind, I asked local friends for their perspective. I knew before coming here that generally little kids are coddled more here. I knew spanking was less common. But now that we've been here several months I wanted a deeper response. I told my friends that I remember my neighbor kid being beaten my his mom when we lived on another island, and of course that can happen in every culture, but is that normal here? What is the acceptable response to disobedience here? Their response:
Oh no, while some individuals might hit their kids, generally that is very unacceptable here. We feel so sorry for the children of Westerners that are spanked. We think that if hit your children, they will hit other children, and eventually they will hit their own children, and someday when you are old they will hit you too.
Okay, well then what do you do?
We just instruct them, tell them, again and again. And yeah, it's true that at the ages of your kids they generally don't listen yet, and they keep disobeying, but we don't really do anything else. Eventually they will learn. Until they are in kindergarten we just mostly give them whatever they want.
Now, that's a personal answer and not true of everyone here. People here do spank sometimes. But it is true that in general younger kids are more often coddled. What absolutely blows me (and all the other mothers of toddlers that just moved here from America) is that the vast majority of Indonesian children that we're around seem better behaved than Western children and rarely cry.
So. How does that work out? One observation is that kids are just carried around for so much longer. We in the West encourage independence from day one. We do tummy time, have kids sleep alone, teach them to eat by themselves as soon as they can, help them learn to sit and crawl and walk as early as possible. All of those things are seen as signs of good development and skill. Here kids are carried, not often left to play alone, and are fed by parents for years. The upside is that kids are generally trained to contentedly be carried around or sit by their parents quietly for years. The independence and will is developed and tested later than it is in your average American kid.
So much to learn! There are some big cultural differences and some subtle ones. It's a trick to determine what is personal differences that aren't true of the whole culture, and what is a broad difference that can be pinned on the culture. It's also a massive country with varied cultures within the country that are steadily mixing just as in the US, so that adds to the complication.