Are you a ‘Monster Parent’? Experts say trend worsening in Hong Kong

When it comes to putting children under pressure to succeed at school, many parents in city are guilty, as experts warn of a growing risk to youngsters’ mental health and more spoiled brats

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 July, 2017, 3:00pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 July, 2017, 12:09pm

What is a “monster parent”?

The monster parent has become a worryingly prevalent archetype in Hong Kong, and the problem appears to be worsening, experts say.

Some of the defining factors of a monster parent, according to users on a popular parenting forum, Baby Kingdom, include;

Having ultimate control over their child.

Discouraging individual thought and believing academic results come first.

Suggesting free time does not exist.

Thinking their child is always right.

Why has this trend emerged and why is it a concern?

Chinese cultural pressures to succeed, an increasingly competitive education system and job market, and uncertainty over the future prosperity of Hong Kong have all been cited as factors in the monster parent trend.

Competition for school places, as early as Primary One, is intense in part owing to the education system, which is exam-orientated.

Last month saw the lowest success rate of families receiving their preferred school. Out of 32,235 children only 67.6 per cent were allocated one of their top three schools, the Education Bureau said.

Dr Ian Lam Chun-bun, associate professor and associate head in the department of early childhood education at the Education University, acknowledged that the stereotypical monster parent was becoming increasingly common.

“I think it is a phenomenon that is intensifying in Hong Kong,” he said. “But in a way I think it is understandable that parents feel like this.

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“We have a very narrow definition of what is successful in Hong Kong; like lawyers and financial managers ... all those kinds of jobs.

“Given a large proportion of Hong Kong students do not end up at a university, it is understandable that they will feel like failures. And then even if you are going to be so-called ‘successful’, it is very hard.”

Sadly, the tendency for parents to be overly demanding may be contributing to the declining mental health of their children, experts strongly believe.

It could also, conversely, be prompting children to lose motivation during early childhood.

A study by Chinese University in 2013 warned monster parents were producing a generation of spoiled brats who have an inflated view of their abilities.

Academics tested 9,400 pupils with an average age of 11 using a questionnaire that detects antisocial traits.

The average level of narcissism displayed by youngsters in the city was 3.89 on a 14-point scale, higher than 2.9 for children in the United States, 2.81 in Australia and 2.36 in Britain.

Lam warned against parents becoming too strict and pushy with their children, particularly in their early years, because it was actually likely to discourage them from working hard.

“What most parents don’t understand is that if you set the bar too high, then the child will stop trying,” he said.

At HK$1 million, Hong Kong parents spend three times global average on children’s education: study

“Soft skills, such as learning to get on with other children or learning to follow instructions, in my opinion, are as important as hard, academic-based skills.”

Chinese University conducted a telephone survey on monster parenting in June 2016.

Of the 751 parents polled, 34.8 per cent believed children should be “winning at the starting line”.

The main reasons for this belief were it could “discover and develop the children’s interests as early as possible”, and mean “younger children absorb knowledge quickly and learn better”.

Support groups have created parenting courses in an attempt to reverse the worrying monster parent trend.

The Hong Kong Institute of Family Education runs 12 lessons dedicated to helping teach adults parenting.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Academy for Gifted Education runs parent programmes on how they should nurture their children.

Tiffany Sin, deputy head of the affective education division at the academy, said Hong Kong parents tend to “focus on academic achievement and as a consequence sometimes they lack social emotions”.

Four things Hong Kong parents do suggesting they fit the stereotype:

1. Try to “win” before the start of a race

In a programme on “tiger parenting” on television channel TVB last year, a mother referred to as “Tuen Mun Irene” suggested parents should aim to have a January baby because the oldest children in a school year may have admission advantages. She shocked the audience after suggesting winning in the parenting race starts “from the moment of ejaculation”.

But Peter Chiu Wing-tak, an honorary adviser of the Hong Kong Association of Careers Masters and Guidance Masters, told Apple Daily it was not true that children born earlier have an advantage over others.

2. Change their religion in order to boost school admission chances

In September 2013, a mainland Chinese mother converted from Buddhism to Protestantism and bought a luxury flat in an expensive area of Kowloon in a desperate attempt to get her son accepted at the prestigious La Salle Primary School. Unfortunately for her, the school is actually Catholic, Ming Pao Daily News reported.

3. Join the “door-knocking” race

This month distraught parents of some Primary Six pupils began knocking on the doors of secondary schools in an attempt to secure leftover places after some were not allocated their choices.

One parent, surnamed Woo, told the Post she planned to spend the whole day with her son approaching schools in the western part of Hong Kong Island after being allocated one outside their top five list.

4. Spend extortionate amounts of money on exercise books before their child can walk

In the past two years, the sale of exercise books aimed at those in kindergarten has soared. Some series of English language books, such as those from Oxford Path, may cost up to HK$48,000. Last year, a couple broke records after spending HK$60,000 on educational materials at the Hong Kong Book Fair for their 17-month-old daughter and five-month-old son.