By Sabrina Almeida
With around two weeks left for the new school year to begin families are in preparation mode. Typically focused on academics, a majority of South Asian students are already being initiated into the study routine by their parents so that they can hit the ground running. Kindergarteners too are subjected to daily exercises of reading and math to get ahead. A marked difference from Caucasian kids that are typically encouraged to enjoy the last days of vacation and excited about going to school with all their new clothes and supplies. Unfortunately, this overzealousness on the part of South Asian parents tends to create an aversion to learning.
I recently met a six-year old who like many kids his age is not excited by the prospect of doing homework. His parents remedy is to send him to Kumon for ‘extra’ learning. The result is piles of incomplete worksheets sitting in the kitchen drawer… a belligerent child, frustrated teachers and irate parents. Most of their time is spent trying to convince him to do his homework while he uses every trick he can conjure up to get out of it.
Many school-going kids also choose to complete their homework in school, sacrificing their playtime, to escape this intense parental scrutiny.
As South Asian parents remind kids of the importance of doing well (emphasizing that the family reputation is at stake), making a few simple changes with how they handle their children’s academics (and parenting in general) might yield more positive and fulfilling results.
I have observed that helicopter parenting (which I too have been guilty of) tends to propel kids in the opposite direction. Parents that are less intrusive, on the other hand, seem to raise more responsible and successful children.
What are we doing wrong? Overprotecting our kids and robbing them of opportunities to become confident and well-adjusted adults. Convinced that bad things will happen if we do not intervene, we take over the steering wheel completely. What we are really doing is preventing them from learning vital problem-solving skills. Making them needy and dependent on us instead.
One South Asian mother quit her job so that she could help her daughter (now in Grade 11) prepare for university. Having spoken to the young lady who appeared to have everything under control with all mandatory credits complete, this seemed way over the top. But like most South Asian parents it is hard for her mother to relinquish control.
Constant monitoring and nagging makes kids rebellious. This can manifest in many ways ranging from open defiance to finding ingenious ways to cover their tracks. We either don’t or choose not to get this. As a result, many parents including me have learned the hard way that there comes a point when you can no longer strongarm your kids into doing what you want. The sooner we acknowledge this and learn to let go the better for all involved, especially our children.
Psychologists, teachers and our parents tell us that the best way to teach responsibility is to let kids face the consequences of making poor decisions rather than launching a rescue mission every time. (Yes, I know it is easier said than done.) Many South Asian parents are also guilty of doing school projects for their kids so that they can get good marks. In addition to being unethical, it robs kids of a sense of achievement. You can’t take pride in something you haven’t done. What kids learn when you step in is that no matter what they do (or don’t do) mom or dad will bail them out. Definitely not the outcome we aspire to.
Recognizing when to push your child and when to back off is perhaps the biggest challenge for parents. More importantly each one is different and what works well for the first might be detrimental for the second or third. It also doesn’t help to compare sibling’s achievements and shame them into action. One smart fourth grader told her brother she was better off being an average student as it lowered parental expectations. He on the other hand was constantly under pressure to maintain his high marks. Now in university, she has proven to be more successful than him.
Academics is not the only way to teach kids accountability. Giving them chores and responsibilities like caring for a younger sibling also prepares them for life. Just like rewarding them for achieving goals or a job well done rather then just showing up encourages them to reach higher.
Most important, we need to have confidence in our kids. This means taking a back seat and letting them handle situations on their own. This will replace feelings of insecurity, inadequacy and dependence with self-confidence and resilience.
It’s the reason our parents were less involved and we can pay it forward by doing the same for our kids.