THAILAND - Some parents have brought their children to join the anti-government protests in the hope that they might learn about democracy and be part of the historic events, but experts warn the experience could have a negative effect on children's mental and physical health due to the exposure to loud noise and over-crowded conditions. Children might also end up copying the bad behaviour of some protesters, they said.
"Grandpa, tomorrow is my day off, please take us with you to the protests," 67-year-old Boonserm Wong-ruampaiboon quoted his two granddaughters, aged 5 and 9, as saying. It was his reason for taking them to the rally site at Bangkok's Ratchaprasong intersection, he said. However, he added that as a precaution, he only took them during daytime and would return home before evening when the crowd began to get much larger.
Images of parents protesting or sitting with their children in front of the protest stages - listening to passionate speeches through booming speakers - is not uncommon.
Boonserm believes his granddaughters - although still very young - were able to absorb the atmosphere and understand that the protests were against corruption.
While he admitted that some of the speeches were coarse, he said that daytime speeches tended to be milder and there was a lot more musical entertainment. If rude remarks were made, Boonserm said he would try to distract his granddaughters' attention away from the rude remarks.
Another demonstrator, Patcharawan Padpai, who brought her five-year-old son to join the Pathumwan intersection rally, said she came during the daytime when there were not too many people. She said she would leave quickly if the situation began to deteriorate into violence.
She said she believed children should participate in the rally so that they could see the process of positive change, and so that they would learn that wrongdoers could not stand in the way of a peaceful society. Her son had also asked to join the rally, she added. Asked why he wanted to join the rally, the boy said he wanted to wave a flag and blow his whistle.
Dr Panpimol Wipulakorn, deputy director of the Department of Mental Health, said children aged 1-6 could only understand simple matters and that those who attended the rally with their parents would only be able to absorb the atmosphere. However, children aged 7-12 might understand more through simple explanations and parental guidance, she said.
Panpimol cited as an example a child's experience in choosing a fellow classmate to be "leader of the classroom". Children, she said, would be able to understand that the purpose of having a student as the leader was to take care of fellow classmates, but if that leader did something wrong, then that might lead to changes which could be peacefully adopted through discussion.
An explanation of this kind, which was relevant to the direct experience of a child, could help them to understand the protest situation more clearly, she said.
Panpimol also warned that children might pick up rude words and behaviour, and it was therefore important for parents to explain that some of the remarks made at the rallies were inappropriate in daily life.
She also urged parents to leave the rally sites from time to time, so that their children could take time off to relax and play. However, she added that taking very young children to the rallies was inappropriate, and that they should be left at home with a babysitter.
She also warned that prolonged exposure to loud noises beyond the safety level of 50 decibels might affect their hearing, while overcrowded conditions amid changing weather conditions could lead to them catching flu.