What is Success?

Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (May 18, 2013)

I was recently having dinner with some friends who have an adorable 2 year-old son. At dinner, this couple started to tell me all about the parenting classes they had just attended and how they are finding it a challenge to choose a school for their son. The parenting classes they had attended were 3 hours long each and had the aim of enlightening first time parents to the different tiers of kindergartens, the interview processes at each and all the ‘tricks’ into passing the interviews with flying colours.


My friend started telling me about how there is a ‘correct way’ for a 2 year old to play with blocks that are given to him and there’s a ‘correct answer’ for every question that is asked (even if the question could have multiple answers). It saddened me to hear how parents are feeling the pressure of moulding their child into the perfect interview child and subsequently translating the pressure to their children.


I’ve heard stories of how parents walk out of the 3-hour seminars and are so wrought with fear that their child will not get into the best kindergarten, that they frantically buy all the expensive ‘preparation materials’ that they can use to help their child prepare for the interview. I’ve heard of stories where parents enroll their toddler in an array of classes so they can collect certificates to add to their 4-inch thick portfolios to show to the schools. I can’t imagine how pressured a 2 year old would feel when told that there is a ‘correct’ way to play with blocks (you’d think blocks are to have fun with!) and that their future success depends on their performance at a 20-minute kindergarten interview.


In reflecting on these parents, I have come to appreciate that they love their children and want what is best for them. They want their children to go to good kindergartens which will lead to good primary schools, which will lead to good high schools and universities and subsequently a good job and life. These parents want to give their child a bright future, perhaps one that is better than theirs. Bottom line is, they want their child to succeed.


However, my question is: what is success?


Is success measured by grades? The prestigious reputation of the school they attend? The number of instruments he can play? The number of awards won? The university she goes to? The salary he has when he graduates?


I personally have nothing against success of the aforementioned and I think all children should work hard and be the best they can be. But I don’t think those ‘successes’ should ever come at the cost of other more important things – physical health, emotional stability, spiritual well-being, family relationships and contribution to the greater good of the society.


Depression and emotional issues are becoming more and more prevalent in young children and a pediatric doctor was telling me that in recent years, more and more young children are suffering from anorexia and bulimia, conditions that were in the past associated more with teenagers and young adults. And in recent years, more and more children and teenagers either contemplate or actually commit suicide, many of whom seem ‘successful’ on the outside.


I’ve personally seen 9-year-old children lose sleep and start to have their hair fall out because of the stress of school. I’ve seen 11-year-old children fall into anorexia and depression because of pressures placed on them. I don’t think any number of grade As or awards are worth physical and emotional illnesses.


And what I fear most for parents is that whilst they think they are doing what’s best for the children, it is coming at a cost of their relationship with the very children they are trying to help. I was recently having a heart-to-heart talk with an extremely bright and accomplished 8-year-old where I was asking her about her mum. She was telling me how her mum is very strict, tells her off if she slips in her marks and makes her learn a lot of things. When I asked whether she loves her mother, she replied with a ‘not really’. When I heard that, it was like a knife in my heart even though she’s not my daughter. This 8-year-old is still at the age where she relies on her mother and has to comply but I fear that when she is 18, she will choose to become distant. I don’t think accomplishments are worth a broken relationship.


So, what is your definition of success?



#Uniqueness #successful #correct #grades #academics #expectation #pressure #perfection #relationship

甚麼是成功?


我最近和朋友共進晚餐,他們有一名兩歲的愛兒。晚餐時,這對夫妻告訴我他們最近報讀了育兒班,發現為兒子選擇學校相當困難。朋友報讀的育兒班每次長三小時,為初為人父母的家長介紹不同等級的幼兒園,講解每間學校的面試程序,並傳授面試的「必勝秘訣」。


朋友告訴我他們教導兩歲兒子積木的「正確玩法」,每條面試題目也有「正確答案」(即使問題可能有多於一個答案)。聽到父母為孩子準備面試時面臨的壓力,以及延伸至子女身上的壓力時,我感到很難過。


我聽過家長完成育兒班後滿帶驚惶,擔心孩子將來未能入讀最好的幼兒園,便瘋狂地購買昂貴的「準備物資」,為孩子準備面試。我聽過父母為幼兒報讀一連串課堂,為的就是將各種證書集成四寸厚的個人履歷展示給學校。兩歲的孩子竟被告知積木有「正確玩法」(玩積木本是樂事!),他們未來的成功更取決於長20分鐘的幼兒園面試表現,我無法想像壓力會有多大。


反思這些家長的做法同時,我亦深切體會到他們很愛自己的孩子,想將最好的一切給予孩子。他們希望孩子就讀好的幼兒園,升上好的小學、中學和大學,並得到好工作和優質生活。這些家長希望為孩子帶來光明前途,青出於藍,他們都希望孩子成功。


然而,我的問題是:「甚麼是成功?」


成功是以成績衡量的嗎?著名學府的名聲?精通的樂器數目?獎項的多少?上哪家大學?還是畢業時的工資?


我個人並不反對上述的成就,我認為所有孩子應努力學習,盡自己所能展現最好的一面,但我不認為應為那些「成功」犧牲其他更重要的東西,包括健康、情緒、精神、家庭關係及貢獻社會的機會。


年幼孩子的抑鬱和情緒問題變得越見普遍。一位兒科醫生告訴我在最近幾年,越來越多幼兒患上厭食症和暴食症,這些疾病過往的患者多為青年。近年,意圖或企圖自殺的兒童和青少年越來越多,當中有很多是外人看起來很「成功」的人。


我本人見過9歲的孩子因學校的壓力而失眠及有脫髮問題,亦見過11歲的孩子因外間壓力患上厭食症和抑鬱症。我認為再好的成績或再多的獎項,也不比身體及心靈健康重要。


我最怕的是,家長雖然是為了孩子好,但所做的事卻會破壞親子關係。最近我和一位8歲的孩子傾心暢談,並談及她的媽媽。這個女孩開朗無比,亦非常優異。她告訴我她的媽媽非常嚴格,會在她成績下滑時責備她,令小女孩觉得很内疚。我問她是否愛她的媽媽,她回答說:「不太愛。」縱然她不是我的女兒,但我聽到時心如刀割。這個8歲的小女孩還在需要依靠母親和依從的年紀,但我擔心當她18歲時會選擇遠離母親。我認為,再多的成就也不值得犧牲親子關係。


你對成功的定義是甚麼?

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