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'Mother's Helpers' Emerge

A new profession dubbed "mother's helper" has emerged in Harbin, capital of China's northernmost province of Heilongjiang, to assist parents in family education.

Guan, who declined to give her full name, was among the first parents to hire a helper for her 14-year-old son. She said she had trouble with her boy, who hated schoolwork and was not interested in anything at school.

"He simply refused to talk to me, no matter how hard I tried to draw him out," she said.

But Guan said she saw hope again with the help she received from Wang Ge, a veteran teacher who works to bridge the gap between children and their parents.

"We help the children solve their problems in study and in life, and help parents improve parenting techniques," said Wang.

Wang, 50, is a consultant with the Harbin-based Tianshun Family Consulting Co, which is receiving up to 30 phone calls a day from parents who are at their wit's end about how to help relieve their worries about their teenage sons and daughters.

The parents say their children have problems ranging from poor schoolwork and puppy love to bewilderment in life and distrust of parents and teachers.

"As a professional helper, it's crucial to win the children's trust," said Wang, an avid lover of heavy metal, the Internet, modern dances and virtually all trends enjoyed by teenagers.

The cost of a "mother's helper" ranges from a few hundred to more than 1,000 yuan (US$120) a month, depending on how complicated the case is and how often the helper has to visit.

"Chinese parents tend to have very high expectations of their children, but their traditional ways of parenting sometimes contradict the youngster's demands for independence and individuality," said Tang Biao, a consultant with the firm.

"As a result, children are not willing to vent their anxiety and bewilderment to their parents, who in turn become puzzled and helpless themselves."

Such contradictions, said Tang, are a catalyst for the emerging occupation of "mother's helpers."

"In today's society, family education is no longer a private issue; it has become a market and calls for professional help," said Tang.

Tang said most of his colleagues are veteran teachers like himself. "Our job is to carry out solutions that have been tailored for each family by our 'troubleshooting panel' consisting of teachers, psychologists and sociologists," he said.

Though some parents are not willing to involve others in what they still believe to be "family affairs," the new profession has been applauded by many teachers.

As a new means of family education, "mother's helper" is a challenge to traditional means of parenting, which are based on the "feelings and first-hand experience of the parents themselves," said Professor Wang Fengqiu with the Harbin Normal University.

"A 'mother's helper' does not only convey book knowledge, but brings love and care to the youngsters," said Xi Changjiang, a veteran teacher who has been teaching for 30 years.

"A professional helper is therefore more than a private tutor and can complement school education in many ways."

(Xinhua News Agency December 23, 2003)

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