Hothouse Hong Kong is spawning a new breed of monster parents
Alice Wu says a mother’s advice to aim for a January baby – in the mistaken belief that it will give the child a competitive edge – reflects all that has gone wrong with our education system
The world can always count on uber-competitve Hongkongers to overdo just about everything, and parenting is no exception.
Hongkongers have taken the phrase “win at the starting line” as the guiding principle for this competitive sport. Parents here believe giving their children a head start is the key to success. Toddlers must win their spot in elite kindergartens by first winning a place in the right playground, and learning as many languages, sports and musical instruments as possible.
Hong Kong parents need to take a long, hard look at themselves – and stop piling pressure on their kids
Step aside, Tiger Mum Amy Chua; we now have “Tuen Mun Irene”. And thanks to TVB, her secret weapon is out: “Win at the moment of ejaculation”. That’s right. Forget the starting line, Hong Kong kids must be “winners” as soon as sperm meets egg! The competition is now so fierce that two-year-olds dabbling in music, dance, sports and languages no longer stand out. So now, the delivery date for the baby must be given due consideration.
Apparently, enough people believe that children born in January have an edge over those born later in the same year. So, that means the competitive mating season ended on May 10. Best save your eggs and swimmers for spring 2017!
Ever since TVB aired the programme last week, the station and “Tuen Mun Irene” have been lambasted. Denounce them all we want, but monster parenting has become a reality for Hong Kong. What “Tuen Mun Irene” espouses may be extreme, but discouraging that sort of mindset is going to take a lot more than ridicule. We can worry about maternity wards filled to capacity every January, or we can admit, once and for all, that our education system is broken.
Blame parents, educators, and policymakers for the mess. If the system didn’t determine a child’s future by the age of two, parents would not go to these lengths. Toddlers would be busy trying to blow bubbles, not trying to blow away the competition.
A 2013 study by City University social scientist Annis Fung Lai-chu raised the alarm over monster parenting. It revealed that local children show excessive self-regard, a sense of superiority and vanity, and that 16 per cent of the students tested showed signs of being aggressors and bullies. Apparently, it didn’t quite raise enough alarm for change.
Life is not about winning, and a good education is not just about high test scores. Even if we must use a “race” as a metaphor for life, consider that jumping the gun is cheating. Educators complain about monster parents, but they must also rethink their own single-minded focus on academic performance. Our kids may be great test takers, but we need to think long and hard about what education actually means. Life isn’t a race or a test.
Policymakers should be losing sleep over “Tuen Mun Irene” – she is just one of the many monster parents they have created.
It’s natural and noble for parents to want to give their children the best chance possible in life. It’s virtuous to push children to achieve their potential. But what we have in Hong Kong isn’t natural, noble or virtuous. We aren’t only robbing our children of their childhood, we’re making “growing pains” cruel and unusual punishment – degrading parenthood and, most atrociously, our children’s dignity.
And, finally, a word of caution to the “Irenes” of all 18 districts: scientific studies have shown that stress – something the pressure to “win at the moment of ejaculation” would add to – leads to the production of abnormally shaped sperm and sperm with mobility issues. The strategy definitely is not a winner.
Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA