Traditional parenting styles at odds with global thinking

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 January, 2012, 12:00am


The clash of Chinese and Western cultures in Hong Kong shows in differing parenting philosophies. Traditional Chinese practices express warmth, but are restrictive in what is acceptable. Children are expected to accept advice from their parents without much questioning.

Increasingly internationalised attitudes have led to shifts in parent-child relationships. But a recent study by one of my students indicates that local parents' idea of independence for children still differs greatly from the West.

A housewife in her 40s with two daughters gave the following example of 'independence':

'My daughter's classmate, who is also 12 years old, is much more independent than my daughter. Neither of her parents can take care of her because of their work. They employ a private tutor to help her study. She takes her own initiative in buying extra exercise books and doing extra exercises, especially in English listening. I really hope my daughter can look to her as a role model.'

This shows conformity to expectations rather than a Western concept of independence. For others, independence means the child grows up to be a person who can earn a living and doesn't need to rely on their parents or welfare.

How, then, do parents push their children to become independent? Education and academic success are perceived to be musts.

A working mother in her 30s, who has two sons, aged nine and two, says: 'Sometimes even those with university degrees may not get job interviews. An undergraduate degree is basic. Without this qualification, the child will miss a lot of opportunities.'

A father in his 30s with two young children says: 'I am anxious my children will be left behind [if they do not take interest and tutorial classes]. On the other hand, I worry they will detest these activities. There is extra pressure when other children learn so many things.'

A housewife with a 12-year-old daughter says: 'To be a parent is not easy. We have to respect children's rights; harsh and tough parenting is no longer suitable. I feel a lot of pressure from the school and society. I want my child to have a happy childhood although it seems impossible. It is not only hard for parents, but it is hard for teachers, as well.'

The balance of power in parent-child relations has become more complex and difficult to master. The search for 'good-enough parenting' requires our deep reflection on the cultural dissonances facing society, hopefully leading to a discussion on the desired outcomes we prefer and the parenting style required.

Dr Lau Yuk- king is a professional consultant with the department of social work at Chinese University