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Helicopter Parents “Land” in Hong Kong

By Chan Wing Tung

A three-year-old kid sits in a car seat with his dad holding the steering wheel as the child’s mother proudly films this scenario on the streets of Hong Kong. Another “helicopter mother” threatens to jump from a Kowloon building after her daughter’s application to a Hong Kong university is rejected.

A new round of discussions about parenting and education has erupted. More and more epithets are being bandied about to depict how overly involved parents negatively affect their children’s behaviour. These are the so-called monster parents, tiger mums, and helicopter parents.

Bank officer Chan Nga Wai (Right)  had a family meeting with her 4-years-old son. Picture taken by Chan Wing Tung.

Bank officer Chan Nga Wai confesses that she is a helicopter parent who pushes her four-year-old son to attend a language school in the city. The school is teaching him how to speak and understand three languages: Mandarin, English, and Korean. She also pays an English tutor by the hour to teach her baby some grammar. Chan Nga Wai believes that her son will able to absorb this.

“I started looking for some potential playgroups for my child. If my son cannot get into a good kindergarten, he will not be able to enter an elite primary school. I planned everything for my son when I was pregnant.”

” I have another son, who is six years old. Last month, he told me that he wanted to hang out with a little girl. I was shocked. I spent all my time with him after work so that he could spend his time learning violin rather than entertain himself.”

Some parents believe that exposing their foetuses to classical music like Mozart might raise their future intelligence because it has a desirable effect. Mozart might not make babies more clever, but it does increase their brain activity.

However, some Hong Kongers begin to play classical music, sonatas, and even ABC songs for their unborn babies in the womb. This might result in babies who stay calm more easily when they hear that music after birth.

More importantly, many parents have adopted the phrase “win at the starting line” as a guiding principle. They believe that an early start is the key to their toddler’s success.

“To make your child a winner, it’s good to have playgroup teachers who are acquainted with the interview process in reputable kindergartens so that your child can overcome his shyness and be willing to talk with strangers” explains Chan Nga Wai.

Many parents use a similar approach to plan their children’s life. Karen Ho, an international student from Hong Kong, doesn’t grumble about her parents. On the contrary, she is proud of them; they love her so much, and treat her the best they can.

In the 1950s, people were self-reliant and persevered because they wanted their children  to escape poverty.  Most men tried to work harder to achieve their dream.

After experiencing a series of deprivations, now they can afford to protect their “prince” or “princess”. They want their children to be well-educated and to train them as winners, who will able to tackle all the difficulties in their homework.

Karen Ho is one of the princesses who studied overseas in UNSW. She said, “It is a fact that I got an intense pressure from school. I have a substantial amount of assignments at night and at weekends. After a long school day, we still have a private tutorial class from another student centre. Everything gets worse when my parents push me too hard.”

Karen Ho, Hong Kong International Student from University of New South Wales. Photo taken by Chan Wing Tung

“88% of parents in Hong Kong are currently paying for private tuition. My mum thinks the tutors are important because they are the people who guide me in gaining exam skills.”

However, most parents in Hong Kong are combating with the transformation of their children so that they can become more competitive and strong.

Interestingly, private tutoring has evolved into a big business in Hong Kong. A star tutor from Beacon learning centre, Lam Yat-yan, has gained more profit than the average British Premier League footballer. He earns around HK $85 million for his annual salary.

In Beacon learning centre, Lam appears on life-sized posters in railway stations and on buses, professionally dressed up as a model to show his talent in Chinese literature. The poster is printed with his credentials at the bottom, guaranteeing students better results on the DSE public exam.

“All my cousins and friends know him and would like to spend money on his tutorial class because he is smart and makes good speeches on Chinese literature,” explained Karen.

“Modern Education, another learning centre, ran an open letter in local newspapers offering Lam Yat-Tan to jump ship and take 25,000 students with him.”

Unfortunately, Lam rejected their offer and replied in a message on Facebook saying that he has maintained a good relationship with Beacon learning centre and has no desire to change his working environment.

From this phenomenon, we can see that the star tutor, Mr. Lam, is respected in the same way as a celebrity. His face is plastered all over billboards and on reality shows. His good looks attract many teenagers who worship him as a god.

With the growth of private tutoring in Hong Kong, helicopter parents have developed the propensity to spend more on their children’s education. They believe that this can create an opportunity for them to learn.

Photo taken by Chan Wing Tung

Society has put pressure on the educational industry, as the parents are always helicopter parents, while the children are condemned as being pitiful. This culture may affect children’s concept of how they view their parents, and they may not see the hardship behind them.

“I’m spending so much quality time with my son. Whether my son is less academically successful than I thought or is not the musician I expected, I still love him. They are my gifted kids and I have the responsibility to take care of them well,” said Chan Nga Wai.

Helicopter parenting may be viewed as parents who are overly protective of their children. But when you look back on life, you will find that your parents have put in considerable effort on you. They use time, love and perseverance to ensure that everything is just right for their children.