24 October 2016
Parents should encourage their kids to excel, but should take care not to put too much pressure. Photo:HKEJ
Parents should encourage their kids to excel, but should take care not to put too much pressure. Photo:HKEJ

How far should you push your kids?

Media reports related to the results of Primary One Central allocation give us an idea of just how much pressure that kids as well as their parents in Hong Kong are currently facing.  

Critics have alleged that children are being put under undue stress by “monster parents”, who desperately want their kids to win at the starting line.

In Hong Kong, “monster parents” refer to those who pay extremely close attention to everything about their kids. They also tend to be interfering parents at schools.

Other descriptions like “helicopter parents” and “tiger mom and dad” used in Western countries also refer to the same phenomenon.

From a broader perspective, parentocracy has become a global trend.

To be fair, parents always want the best for their children. It is also understandable that they keep a big eye on their kids’ academic prospects. After all, better education is a necessary condition for getting a decent job in the future. Parents who care so much about their kids’ education are not necessarily “tiger” parents.

Parenting is indeed is very tough balancing act. On one hand, parents worry that they would become too authoritarian on parenting. At the same time, they don’t want their children to become some spoilt little brats if they are too lax.

How to walk the line between paranoid and free-range parenting is obviously a hard nut to crack.

Some folks may have noticed that there is something wrong in the currently over-competitive education environment, but they can do nothing about it. They feel insecure about the prospect of their kids as there are many uncertainties lying ahead.

The feeling of insecurity spreads out among the parents and becomes a vicious cycle. It would be quite impossible for them to find an alternative other than competing harder and keep pushing their kids.

The sad thing is, kids who grow up in such an environment would think they are fully responsible for their performance at school.

In order to meet parents’ expectation and get to prestigious schools, children often get so exhausted from attending endless lessons and extracurricular activities.

In fact, research has shown that many local students are suffering from overpressure. Some kids have even developed schoolphobia.

These pressures are sometimes unspoken.

For example, when parents want their children to show an independent mind in school interviews, they often train the kids in daily lives by asking them to make their own choices and judgments.

It may sound nice as the kids’ choices are treated seriously by adults. But most of the time, when letting the children make their own choices, the parents neglect the fact that brain development of the children at this stage is not ready for them to handle difficult tasks yet.

They would easily lead to wrong choices if too much freedom is given to them. One big source of mental stress is the fear of making the wrong choice and letting their parents down.

Of course, many parents nowadays wouldn’t use harsh words like “you really disappoint me” or “you are such a loser” to their sons and daughters.

They often won’t reveal their expectations directly to their kids. When the kids are not doing well, they would even cheer them up by saying something like “no problem, try harder next time”.

But kids can usually pick up traces of what their parents truly think from non-verbal communications.

For instance, if the children fail to get admitted to the dream school and the parents break into tears, the kids can tell that they’ve disappointed their parents.

Such fear of upsetting the parents puts tremendous pressure on the children.

Do we really want to see the next generation growing up in an environment where they are mentally stressed out every day?

A suitable dosage of pressure could be a motivation of course. But it’s really tricky to find the right balance.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 11.

Translation by Betsy Tse

[Chinese version 中文版]

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