Raising children, though, isn’t just about my own parenting philosophy. It matters what others think. If in Hong Kong all the other parents care only about academic results, then this still affects my child, whether I like it or not. In the world of children, nothing spreads faster and further than narcissism.
A recent City University study confirms this: Hong Kong children are more narcissistic than their US, British and Australian counterparts. They also show more signs of aggression and bullying.
This is devastating news. No matter what the end goal, spoiling children is a bad game plan. It doesn’t make it any easier to get into top schools. It makes it a whole lot harder to get and keep jobs. And, most of all, it creates bad people, the kind nobody wants to be around.
So why are we doing it? When we buy our kids all those new toys and gadgets, are we trying to live out our own childhood fantasies? Or is it simply a matter of too much work, too little time, and too much parental outsourcing?
Whatever the reason, we need to do something about it. If we’re serious about reversing the trend of “spoiled brats”, here are a few changes we need to make.
Firstly, university admissions should be determined primarily on coursework rather than exam results. Right now, education is all about the destination; it needs to be more about the journey. We also need to require all students to do community service and play team sports. Divas stand no chance in team sports, where the emphasis is on co-operation and thinking as a group.
Secondly, parents need to allow children to waste time. Let them do chores. Let them be responsible for more than schoolwork; it’s imperative they understand the consequences of their actions. I once asked a student why he doesn’t do any chores at home. He said that was what the helper was for. The look of shock on my face made him correct himself. He said, “Actually, I don’t do chores because it’s inefficient. It’s a waste of my time. Why would I do that when I could be studying?”
This logic reflects how a lot of children and adults think in our city. And I’m not innocent myself – I admit there are nights when my son is so late starting his homework that asking him to tidy up is the last thing on my mind. But, as parents, we have to stand firm. It is our duty to create not just children who score well but also children who are kind and considerate. We can’t lose sight of what’s important.
Finally, we need to lead by example. If we want our children to consider others, we need to do the same. If we want them to mature, sometimes we have to do what’s inefficient. If we want to truly parent – to teach, not just to please – we can’t be afraid to say no.
Kelly Yang is the founder of The Kelly Yang Project, an after-school programme for children in Hong Kong. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard Law School.
This article originally appeared in the May 1st edition of SCMP.