A recent Global Times English edition article ("Soft Parents Make Kids Raw to Life’s Cruelties," Oct 8, 2011, see our previous post here ) discusses an unfortunate trend in Chinese society: teenage suicide. In the past couple of years, a number of adolescents have killed themselves for reasons often related to the pressures of school – in one case a group of teens made a suicide pact in order to “die and not have to do homework anymore” and in another instance a group of young people caught cheating on an exam made a pact to “die without being punished in front of their classmates.”
What’s compelling these kids to resort to such drastic measures? When these things happen it’s easy to lay all the blame on academic pressure, terrible teachers or a twisted education system that breeds competition at all costs. But rather than simply blaming environmental factors, the article posits the parents’ role in preventing these tragedies and urges parents to teach their children that nothing matters more than their own lives.
As a Chinese mother of two young children (my husband is French), I try my best to be the “right” parent for my kids. We all know how difficult parenting is, especially here in China with its highly competitive education system. Many, if not most, Chinese parents want their children to be at the top of the class and get the best score in every subject. But as the article points out it’s important that we not forget to teach our kids how to face problems with a confident, head on attitude.
Because most Chinese families are only able to have one child, children tend to be spoiled and overprotected. For example, many Chinese parents – and especially grandparents – cannot stand to see a child crying. When a child asks to have one more toy many feel hard pressed to refuse, even if the kid already has a houseful of toys.
Along with that comes the fear of “suffering” – in an (often overzealous) effort to ensure that kids are comfortable and safe, many Chinese families go overboard when it comes to looking after their kids (if you have Chinese parents or in-laws, I’m sure you can relate). This over-protectiveness can even extend to strangers – think back to all those times old ladies in your compound badgered you to put an extra pair of socks or a sweater on your kid in the summer because a slight breeze had blown through.
A more recent example happened earlier this month when a soccer team from Ditan Primary School in Beijing’s Dongcheng district lost 11-0 to Russian primary school team in a 40-minute game. A picture posted on Sina Weibo shows how much taller the Russian students are compared to their Chinese counterparts – Weibo users forwarded this photo more than 20,000 times and questioned if the physical condition of Chinese kids today is somehow diminishing because of academic pressure. Adding fuel to the fire, Cai Wei, the head coach of the Chinese school’s team, said after the game that "… most parents are unwilling to send their children to play football due to injury concerns, and many believe playing football cannot promise a bright future."
Which brings us back to the Global Times article: The writer has labeled overprotective Chinese parents as “soft parents,” which seems apt in many ways, but given the complex realities of society today, the description does not fully fit.
It seems that assigning labels to perceived types of parents has been a worldwide trend lately. For example a similar term exists in the US for the “soft parents” described in the Global Times article – “Helicopter Parents," a term that some would arguably apply to the parents featured in Race to Nowhere, the US documentary that criticizes the American education system for the perceived toll it is exacting on its students.
On the flipside, this viewpoint seems to be the polar opposite of another parenting meme, the (in)famous “Tiger Mom,” a concept that interestingly enough is also a US export.
All of these “parenting labels” show that there is no single (or singular) way to label parents – it goes without saying that every family is as different as the people who constitute them, just as there is no single “right” way to raise your kids.
But one thing is for sure – it really is up to us parents to teach our kids how to cope and survive in an imperfect world. It’s a sad reality that families, regardless of their socio-economic background, tend to break down because the parents are either too detached or even worse, are at war with each other. Suffice it to say that everyone, especially the kids, loses in these situations.
So perhaps labeling the different ways we go about “parenting” should not be the point, but instead, it’s simply that we continually, consistently and constructively engage our kids.
I’m certainly in no position to tell you how to do this, much less label your approach, so fellow parents, what lessons and approaches are you applying to teach your kids how to survive and thrive in our chaotic world? Please feel free to comment below.