First of all, this really refers to Chiriquí children here in the province where I live, but most outsiders don't know what or where Chiriquí is. These descriptions may not apply to children elsewhere in Panama, especially in Panama City, which is for all intents and purposes like the U.S. I will call them Panamanian children, with the understanding that I am referring to children in Chiriquí, especially those in Boquete and its environs.
Panamanian children are extremely well-behaved. I have yet to see one that would be labeled "hyper-active". They sit and stand still, they hold their parent's or sibling's hands when walking, and they follow directions the first time they are asked.
In other words, they are like U.S. children of two or more generations ago.
Why is this?
I doubt if I could get a research grant to do a full-blown epidemiological study on this question, nor am I interested in spending a lot of time doing that. However, I can posit a few observations that may or may not be pertinent. Some of these ideas were proposed by my friends, but I honestly can't remember who said what:
- Panamanians do not use baby strollers. Instead, the mothers CARRY their children until they are old enough to walk and hold their mother's hand while walking. This means the babies learn to be still. It also promotes mother-child bonding. It's impossible to push a stroller down these rough unpaved mountain roads. And it's impossible for a mother to talk on a cell phone while carrying a child in her arms. I've seen U.S. mothers talking on cell phones, virtually ignoring their babies in strollers. This is one of the saddest things, for a baby to feel ignored. Perhaps these ignored babies act out as they get older, in desperate attempts to get attention, if not love, from those around them.
- Panamanian children do not seem to eat fast foods or even a lot of prepared foods. The nearest McDonald's is an hour away, and there are no fast-food restaurants in Boquete unless you count Milquiburger. There are a few local cafeterias serving local food consisting mainly of chicken or some meat, rice, beans or lentils, vegetables and salad. No bread. No dessert.
- I doubt that many Panamanians drink sodas. With an average daily wage of about $10 and sodas at U.S. prices, they are cost prohibitive to most average Panamanians.
- Panamanians walk. A lot. Many of them don't own cars, and I have yet to see any indigenous people in private cars. Instead of hopping into their car to go to the corner store, they walk down the rough unpaved mountain road, sometimes at all hours of the dark night, to the nearest bus stop on the main highway. This walk may be several miles each way. Today, Sunday, I saw an indigenous teenaged boy walking down the road in front of my house. He had the muscle definition of a professional athlete. And he was whistling, as if he were happy.
It seems to me that the bad behavior of children (and their parents) seems to increase in direct proportion to the parents' adoption of the U.S. materialistic lifestyle. Yes, this is a value judgement. I am calling the behavior and lifestyle bad because they do not seem to be directly related to happiness.