Dear fellow Singapore Parents,
When I was in Basic Military Training (BMT) in 1995, I saw a sight that burned into my mind till today. It happened during the weekend when parents could come visit their poor, suffering boys after the first two weeks of BMT training.
I was waiting for my mum to turn up when I saw this scene – one of the recruits was sitting upright on a bench, closing his eyes and looking very pleased. His mother was sitting next to him, and was carefully using a cotton bud to dig his left ear for him. There must have been a lot of ear wax to excavate, because both of them did not pay attention to the rest of the world.
It was an encounter with the likes of over-pampering parents in Singapore. Thanks to this story, I have often told myself I would never dig my son’s ears in private or in public. It’s just pretty gross and frankly, my son should never allow that to happen!
This was a harmless incident but I also wonder if the recruit (who should be 40 now) has children of his own and what kind of parenting style does he have?
You know, our generation (“Gen X”) often complains about the misbehavior of the Millennials today – from their self-centeredness to their overbearing sense of entitlement.
Obviously, not all Millennials are bad eggs – the majority of them are good folks and I work with a few great colleagues in their 20s who exercise solid work ethics at all times.
But we’ve also seen cases where Millennials agree to come to job interviews and then go mysteriously missing at the appointed hour. My friend and entrepreneur Aaron recently experienced four no-shows in one day for a job opening, and as you can imagine, he was livid.
I have also attended a training course where most of the attendees were middle-aged folks. The few Millennials in the class said they were a misunderstood generation but had no qualms about turning up nearly one hour late for each day of the course.
The media and Gen X often blame the environment these young people grew up in – with hyper-short attention spans due to the Internet and mobile devices, and an education system which builds their confidence to aspire to immense heights before they even work one day of their lives. We older folks also suffer from device addiction and materialistic desires too, so we are not immune.
But I’ve come to believe it’s not the modern environment that is the only factor.
It’s a specific type of SG parenting that has directly bred the instances of bad youth behavior which we despair over. A parenting style that disregards consequences for individual and society, and one that involves throwing money at problems for a quick fix or attainment of “an ideal future for my child”. This form of parenting makes life less savory for the rest of us who have to deal with the consequences.
Take for example, the whole Direct School Admission (DSA) scheme for secondary schools. It was originally designed “to let secondary schools broaden their admission criteria beyond PSLE scores” and allow kids who were talented in sports and the arts to enter their choice of schools. Many parents (and principals) decided to game the system to also allow in kids who were strong academically.
That was a failure of both MOE and school principals to resist changing any system to the same-old, same-old of getting school rankings up via “grades farming”. And it is also another predictable behavior of such SG parents to spend money and convert a well-meaning placement program to something more suited for the narrow way they bring up their kids (you know, the grades-mean-everything approach).
Then there are some parents who send their kids to special sports coaches so they can bypass the PSLE with DSA…even when their children may not have the gift for track and field. Sports and sportsmanship hold no meaning for the young folks when treated this way.
Still, some say – if we don’t try (to exploit the DSA), we don’t know if we can, right?
And how about parents who have helped shape today’s miserable school-going situation?
When my son entered primary school seven years ago, the school was happy to flood my inbox with emails and declare that education was a “partnership” between the school and parents.
I did not want a partnership at all. To me, this was an obvious consequence of teachers being hounded to death by overbearing parents who insist their children should be treated like gold and that the school should tell parents of every single detail that is happening in class. Personally, I just wanted the school to teach my children properly, and discipline them if they flout the rules.
Sadly, the schools have made it my problem to ensure my children can absorb the excessive curriculum and get them the hours of expensive tuition that other parents seem to be happy to pay for.
For these “other parents”, do you not see that by piling our children with tuition, you have fueled the arms race for grades and declared that the ridiculous and poorly set school curriculum is perfectly acceptable? You blame the school or MOE for the high standards of PSLE or O-Levels, but like blind, ignorant sheep, you give it your utmost, slavish support.
Yes, on this blog, I have railed against the education system and done my best to not be a typical kiasu SG parent. As of 2016, I have resigned myself to the fact that the Ministry of Education will never change its myopic view of education despite all the fancy talk. All their mantra about “teach less, learn more” is just political spiel they do not really even grasp, much less practice. The system is simply the inevitable product of cookie-cutter scholars, not caring teachers and parents.
But I still hold out some hope that more parents will realize that the next generation is increasingly less prepared for the future if ignorant and unexposed parents have their way. Young people can feel self-entitled because their parents make it happen….
Wait, you say! “Which parent does not want the best for their children?”
I know I do!
But my definition of “the best” is a little different.
I want my children to have the time to rest and play and have the space to think for themselves. (I feel sad when they come home after a long day at single-session school with more homework than they can complete).
I make them do housework weekly with me so they can learn that it is not necessary to have a maid in the house when you can mop your own floor. I insist we do not eat at restaurants except on special occasions so they can learn the value of money and the simple satisfaction of a well-cooked hawker or home-made meal.
No, I am not starving my kids nor depriving them of what they need. I simply do not believe in pampering them, because I already have enough difficulty convincing them of how families in poorer countries cope with no money and starvation. I know my own experiences with having little luxuries as a child gave me a better grip on my finances today, and kids who grow up with much tend to appreciate little. This is the fundamental challenge of bringing up kids in the most expensive city in the world.
I know many parents share my sentiments and rail silently against those who seem intent on smothering their kids with the things money can buy. Bad parenting…okay, maybe I’ll be kinder… disconnected parenting starts at a young age too.
Every week, I see some parents shoving an iPad into the hands of their toddlers so they can go back to surfing on their own phones. That is really awful, don’t you think? It is not just encouraging eyesight deterioration, it is an abdication of knowledge transfer to the cold, unfeeling device with a shiny screen. As the kids grow up, they cling on to their iPads as they spend more time with tutors than their parents.
Young people today in SG may have no idea how intense the competition is from other countries… from their peers overseas who can both work hard and think outside the box AND accept a far lower starting pay to start at the bottom rung. You may have the grades, but believing you deserve a higher starting pay when you have no track record (yet) makes both you and the rest of the country less competitive than ever.
Parenting is hard, and each generation of parents faces new headaches (and terrible Top 40 songs). Our generation is encountering a landscape that changes so quickly, jobs become obsolete overnight and skills become worthless if we do not upgrade them furiously. Is this a landscape which micro-managed and sheltered young people can cope with?
When our generation X was young, we had much more free time to ourselves with minimal parental oversight and we turned out okay.
So I wonder, these parents that I rail against… where did they come from? Do they not see what they are doing to their children… and indirectly, ours? What can we do to make them see things our way?
Signing off as one weary father,