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A parentocracy with entitled children

I learnt a new word from the Sunday Times, courtesy of NIE’s Assoc Professor Jason Tan: Parentocracy.


He said that meritocracy in Singapore is being increasingly replaced by parentocracy. What he means: It doesn’t matter if your kid is smart or hardworking or talented, it matters more who his parents are. Now, we’ve heard this all before: that the privileged beget the privileged and can endow them with the resources that money can buy. So tuition, enrichment classes and alma mater links can mean the kid gets not just a head start but a growth spurt.

So far though, we’ve thought about it only in the academic sphere where grades matter. The education system has been gradually evolving to include non-academic indicators of talent in response to among other things, parents who moan about the unfair competitive advantage that the richer kids have. But it still doesn’t mean the playing field is being levelled. A well-to-do parent can afford coaches, music instructors and even people who write admission papers. So there goes the Direct Schools Admission scheme which looks at non-academic talent. If your kid can’t score at exams, make him a footballer or train him to be another Joseph Schooling. Or give your girl ballet lessons and drama classes. That will get them into “good’’ schools.

I want to add to this: Parents with education also have plenty of social capital, besides capital capital, to spread around. They move in certain circles, with members who can tap each other for help. How many times have an employer heard young adults drop their parents’ name in order to secure, say, an internship? How many times have you yourself had friends asking for favours for their kid? Okay, maybe you’re not some big-time person but you can bet that if you are, there will be more calls to help out a friend’s child with something or other. And…chances are, you will say yes. Who knows? That friend might help your own child out some day.  

 What does this mean? That those lower down the ladder will stay there – and so will their children and even their children’s children. If you are a nobody who knows nobody, your kid will be a nobody too. It sounds scary but there is some truth in what he said – unless society can pitch in to level up the children whose parents are less privileged.

There is another article on the same page which talks about the flip side – children who have a sense of “entitlement’’. They think that their parents or society at large should provide them with whatever they need or want – even without them having to work for it. 

Okay, if you are of a certain generation and a parent, you’ll probably be nodding in agreement – because it is always some other person’s kid who is like that, not yours…

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Anyway, American parenting gurus Richard and Linda Eyre had some tips to stop children growing up like this, except that they seem more tailored for more Western-style parents. Like having clear rules for the family, including for parents who set the rules. One example given was a “repentance’’ bench: do something against the rules and you go sit there. I wonder how many parents here will do this. It’s more a case of “do as I say and not as I do’’ with Asian parents methinks. And a repentance bench? Maybe the kid will be asked to face the wall but I can’t think of an adult doing the same willingly.

As for the second tip, it was for family rituals, such as a weekly meeting. I suppose this meeting can be replaced with Sunday dinner in the Singapore context. That might work.

Then there is a third tip to get the kids to earn what they want. So it’s do the dishes and there will be some money for you to buy your favourite whatever. I totally object to this. It turns responsibility for the household and family into something transactional. What is wrong with just ordering the kids to do the dishes because it is about being part and parcel of being responsible for the family? And if the kid does take on jobs that bring in some money from other people, what is wrong about turning the dough over to the parents to pay for some household bills? Or if you really want to be “transactional’’, pay for his own food and lodging?  

The two articles are worrying. The first, because it’s probably true and the second, because it’s not the right “cultural fit’’ for us. At least, that’s what I think.   


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An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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