The most recent incident happened a month ago.
My son was a victim of a bicycle accident. He was walking on the pedestrian pavement when a boy came dashing right into his back. We wanted to let the boy's parents know about the dangerous act. The boy was riding very fast. The grandmother (not the old auntie that you are imagining. She was young for a grandmother and conversed well in English) came over and asked the boy, "did you say sorry?" The boy answered yes and the grandmother spoke indifferently to us, "he said sorry already...". Well, it turned into an ugly episode when she started blaming my son for not moving away when his grandson rang the bell. And she even told her grandson, "Don't worry, it's ok. You did nothing wrong." Well, does a driver has a right to knock a pedestrian down because he had sounded his horn? And in this case, the pedestrian didn't hear the horn? A young child doesn't understand this maybe but what about an adult?
I digress. I'm not going to discuss about the safety issue here. The right and wrong in this incident is not even debatable at all. The point that I'm driving is, is the word "sorry" so important after you hurt someone? Shouldn't the well being of the person that was hurt the first to come to mind? That kid never knows what he did wrong and what he should have done. All he knows is, whatever I've done, it's ok so long I've said "sorry".
I was in the queue with my son waiting for his turn to wash his brushes after a calligraphy class when the boy in front of him sprayed black ink all over his face and clothes. My son lost his cool and shouted "How dare you?!" Though I can understand the frustration of being sprayed ink all over, shouting back at the boy was inappropriate and I reprimanded him. I apologised to the kid on my son's behalf and explained that my boy was too upset. What I didn't expect was, the boy went crying to his mother and accused my son of threatening to beat him up! His mother confronted us. I explained the situation to her and the first thing she asked was "did my son say sorry?". Her son didn't and I wasn't even interested in an apology. Is the apology so important? How about the child who had ink all over his face and clothes? The child that I had a hard time cleaning up? The child that was so upset that the ink may never be washed off his favourite t-shirt? Anyway, the mother was only concerned of her own son. After she knew he didn't apologise, she brushed it off and said that he is only a child. I totally understand that it may be an accident (which I'm not too sure now as it happened again the next day) and that was why I didn't even pursue the matter. She just continued to complain how my son had scared her son.
From the above 2 incidents, I noticed that today's parenting and discipline stops at "SORRY". Whatever you do wrong, you MUST say SORRY. Any misdeeds stops at SORRY. You are ok so long you have said your SORRY. But sorry, "sorry... no cure". That's what we used to say to our friends when we were a child ourselves.
When a child's action cause hurt to others, saying sorry isn't helpful. An apology doesn't wash off all the responsibility from them. In my opinion, the hurt child's well being should come first.
"Are you alright?"
"Is there anything I can do to help to make you feel better?"
Forget about the "sorry", teach the child to ask themselves what they have done to another kid. How would they feel if they were hurt. Look at his/her face, is he/she alright? How can they help? Young children does not know how to react, so we, as parents, should teach them empathy. If we can show our concern to the hurt child, our children will learn. At the same time, we should stop being overly defensive and protective of our own children and disregard other people's children. Bear in mind that it can happen to your own children as well.
We should stop teaching our children to say "sorry" and as a result, teaching them to use it to escape from the situation instead of being responsible for their actions.
We should also stop using the excuse "children are too young to understand". They may not understand but we, as adults, should know better. We should model the right behaviour to our children so they can follow. Treat other people's children like how you want your children to be treated by others.
So, my dear fellow parents, let's forget about saying "sorry" and rethink how we can teach our kids to be responsible for their actions, to empathise with others and to treat others with respect.