March 05, 2011

Are we nurturing a generation of pussies and wusses?

IF you’re a cooking-show addict like I am, I’m pretty sure you’ve been glued to your TV screens lately watching Junior MasterChef Australia.

More than the amazing culinary creations these group of seriously kick-ass kids have been able to whip up, I also watch with amusement at how the four judges try not to crush the little spirits of those cute kids, even though they are possibly choking on the dishes served!

I keep half-hoping that one of the judges would actually call out a terrible dish for what it really is (a la Chef Gordon Ramsay in Kitchen Nightmares), instead of just saying, for instance, “wonderful presentation!” or “good job”, without even explaining why it is so. You can certainly tell how the judges actually feel about the dishes because they effusively praise the ones they do enjoy.

But they’re kids, you say. You cannot make them feel bad about themselves, so you can’t tell them their dishes stink. But being diplomatic doesn’t mean one should lie to them, because that’s not how it works in the real world. Bosses will actually tell you your work sucks, and you need to revise it, and will not sugarcoat it in so many words.

So why tippity-toe around the truth when it comes to children? I’ve always believed that we owe it to the younger generations to prepare them for their future, which certainly isn’t about lollipops and sugar-plum fairies.

These days, parents and even teachers always seem too preoccupied about not hurting their children’s self-esteem. There is too much positive encouragement and reassurances, but not enough of the plain truth, however negative it may be.

Back in the day, even in nursery school or kindergarten, we either got a star (if we aced a project that day) or not. If we didn’t get it, then we tried harder in the next project to get one. These days, the kids are all given stars just for their effort alone. What kind of message are teachers sending their kids? That they are doing great even when, say, they don’t get their alphabet right or are not counting numbers 1 to 10 correctly?

It’s not that I’m trying to channel the heavily criticized Amy Chua, the Filipino-Chinese-American author of the controversial Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, and advocate calling children “garbage” if they don’t do their homework or projects well. It’s just that I think many parents and teachers have gone too soft on the kids. Telling them to “try your best” instead of “you can do it better than everyone else,” and you end up with two different types of kids.

In the former, a child doesn’t become goal-oriented, and instead condemns them to an eternal life of excuses, e.g., “I tried my best.” In the second, a parent infuses the child with confidence, that he can beat the odds put against him. I think the latter kind of attitude-formation toward work or play makes the child strive more to be successful. After all, in the real world, results count. Employees are rewarded for their output, not for “trying their best.” It’s a cold harsh fact, and overprotecting one’s kids from that kind of reality is preparing them for a life of fantasy. (Just look at all the crazed contestants on American Idol, hahaha.)

While parents don’t need to go overboard and apply the Chinese mothers’ prescription for nurturing their kids (study, study, study!), there has to be a return to tough discipline—the kind that made our parents and grandparents all strong and resilient in the face of extreme challenges like, yes, the Japanese Occupation! I wonder if kids these days would be able to be withstand their car breaking down in the middle of Edsa without throwing a hissy fit.

If he isn’t doing well in his school work, then drill him ’til he gets it right, no matter how long it takes. It’s a way of teaching the kid not to give up, and letting him experience the satisfaction of success when he does get it.

There must be a return to plain honesty as well. If a child isn’t good enough to be a ballet dancer, or a singer, then tell them and interest them in some other hobby perhaps. Either way, parents need to buckle up and prepare their kids for the real world.

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. This piece was published on Feb. 25, 2011. Photo from

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