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Tiger Tactics of the Rich

Give Kids the Gift of Hardship


Give Kids the Gift of Hardship

Children who grow up pampered, praised and protected often turn into self-indulgent, helpless adults. But as many of the most prosperous families have learned, kids who endure hardship can take setbacks in their stride.



Give Kids the Gift of Hardship

By Monique Hou
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 470 )

Hong Kong "Superman" Li Ka-shing was once asked by a Chinese entrepreneur: "Like me, you have two sons. How do you educate them?" Li responded: "I let them experience hardship."

When his sons Victor and Richard went abroad to study in the United States, billionaire Li covered only their most basic living costs. Richard, whom the media have dubbed "Little Superman," once sold hamburgers at McDonalds and worked as a golf caddie. Carrying a heavy golf bag, he even sustained a shoulder injury that still nags him today.

Taiwanese entrepreneur Wang Yung-ching, who was the island’s richest man when he passed away in 2008, was even stricter with his kids, frugal to the point of stinginess despite his great wealth. Wang’s sons and daughters were forced to work during their studies overseas to support themselves.

Not long ago, Singapore’s media were abuzz with a story about a young man from a wealthy family who reported for military service with a maid in tow who carried his backpack for him. Soon afterwards, a Taiwanese reader reacted in a letter to the editor in a Taiwanese newspaper with a tirade against parents, asking accusingly: "If you can’t support me in luxury for my whole life, why have you let me cultivate these habits since I was a child?"

Letting children experience hardships from childhood on is the best gift parents can give. Otherwise, the time-honored tradition of "raising children to provide for your old age" will work no longer. Instead, "beware of your children in old age" might become a popular adage, as a growing number of grown-up children rely on support from their elderly parents.

Disciplined Children Do Better in Life

Wang Wen-hsuan works in a large consulting firm. Recently, one of her friends packed up her bags yet again to "study" in Milan.

Wang’s friend has wealthy parents who like to spoil her. "She likes art, and her parents respect her interests. She takes money from her parents to study all over the world instead of working. After France she went to Britain. After Britain she went to Italy, still studying at the age of 30," Wang relates.

Two years ago her friend finally returned to Taiwan at her parents’ insistence. Although she did not want to take a job at all and good jobs are not easy to find, her parents eventually arranged for her to teach children’s art classes at a private cram school. "She’d come home from work every day, complaining, ‘You have no idea how annoying those kids are,’" Wang recalls. "She quit her job after only a short stint."

A while ago, the friend complained to Wang that her mother turned her down when she asked for money to stage an art exhibition. "I wondered what she would do next. But in the end her mother gave in again and let her take refuge at school once more," says Wang. Her friend’s ongoing art studies in Milan are, of course, bankrolled by her parents.

Like Wang’s art-loving friend, her colleague Ku Shu-ren is the second-generation scion of a prominent, wealthy family. But Ku’s parents deliberately sent him to a boarding school away from home when he was in senior high school. His father’s rationale was that Ku "will never leave the comfort of his sheltered home," unless he is forced to learn how to cope on his own.

For the same reason, Ku’s father blocked him from applying to schools near home in northern Taiwan when it was time to sit for the university entrance exam. So Ku went to study at National Cheng Kung University in Tainan a few hundred kilometers away.

Although Ku’s family has a housekeeper, he was raised to do household chores such as sweeping and wiping the floor and cleaning the toilet. "In senior high school and college, my classmates used to wonder why I was such an expert at cleaning toilets," Ku recalls with a smile.

After starting his career Ku won the trust of his supervisors for his self-discipline, sense of responsibility, and organized, methodical work style. Nothing in his low-key manner and simple dress habits gives away Ku’s membership in a prominent family.

Wang, who has recently had a baby, has already drawn her own conclusions. "I keep telling myself I really need to be strict in parenting my child," she says.

Lack of Self-control

As in the United States and other advanced countries, the post-war baby boomers of Taiwan are the most affluent generation in the nation’s history. Never before has a single generation accumulated more material wealth. Their children and grand children have led comfortable lives lacking nothing. They are strangers to hardship. Within the coming two decades, the baby boomers will hand their riches to this next generation. Statistics show that in the United States alone a collective fortune of about US$1 trillion will change hands, a wealth transfer of unprecedented dimensions.

Rich parents often raise children with low personal organizational abilities. Yet it is a child’s self-organizational skills that most directly translate into self-confidence and self-esteem, and have a far-reaching impact on future learning achievements.

"At our school, we have a lot of little tyrants whose ability to cope with frustration is very low," says Lam Hu, founder of Taipei Montessori School. "I often tell parents that many things they do actually hinder their children’s development. How can such pampered children face difficulties and assume responsibility on their own once they have stepped out into society?" In response Hu introduced the Montessori method at her kindergarten, which puts an emphasis on fostering children’s independence and self-discipline. "A child is not born to be your child, but to grow into a person that is able to survive," declares Hu.

The Japanese teach their kids that aside from the sunlight and the air that nature provides, everything else needs to be earned through hard work.

Pampering Hampers a Child’s Development

In the summer of 1992, a group of 77 Japanese and 30 Chinese children jointly participated in a summer camp in Mongolia. As it turned out, the Chinese kids were constantly snacking during outings, dropping wrappers and other trash whenever and wherever they pleased. The Japanese kids, for their part, collected all their trash in plastic bags and carried it back to camp.

If the Chinese children felt ill, they would return to camp to rest, whereas the Japanese kids stuck it out, walking the whole trail, despite feeling unwell. If their child had a fever, the Japanese parents would get in their cars and drive away, simply leaving their young ones words of encouragement. But the Chinese parents would trail the group by car and give their offspring a lift when the road got rough. After arriving at their destination, the Japanese children pitched their tents, built a fire and cooked rice porridge for dinner. The Chinese youngsters assumed they would be served, and whined to the guide that they were hungry.

One recent survey finds that 57 percent of parents in China believe that they have "pampered" their kids. And a survey by the Hong Kong Mood Disorders Center shows that some 30 percent of Hong Kong children are so pampered that they can’t wash their hair or tie their shoelaces by themselves at the age of 12 or 13. Many of these children have emotional problems.

No similar surveys have been conducted in Taiwan. But Su Hsiao-hui, author of the book Teaching Kids to Handle Adversity Makes Them Happy, has first-hand experience with today's youth. Su notes that among the more than 100 students that she has taught, "there was only one whose parents made him clean up his own room. And not a single one was required to help with household chores."

Want to Be Happy? First Learn to Suffer

The poor living conditions and hard life that shaped the personalities of Wang Yung-ching and his contemporaries no longer exist. But there are ways to take kids out of their comfort zone at least temporarily.

In China, endurance camps have recently become popular. Some parents send their kids to the countryside to live with rural peasants or experience life in an orphanage. Some use military-style training or marathon marches of up to 25 kilometers. As many as 73 percent of Chinese parents intend to send their kids off to endurance camps, surveys show. Only 18 percent believe that home is the best place for training children to develop resilience and responsibility.

"If education at home isn’t in synch with these short-term training camps, their effectiveness will only be short-lived, if they’re effective at all. They won’t be able to bring about lasting changes," cautions Hsia Ping-hsin, an emotional management counselor. Whether efforts to raise kids into hard-working, responsible people can succeed in an affluent society very much depends on the parents’ attitude and the situation at home. "You will see much better results if the children take part in long-term group training such as the Scout Movement," Hsia explains.

The 19th-century Russian playwright Ivan Turgenev once said: "You want to be a happy person? Then first learn to suffer. Those who can suffer can endure any misfortune. There’s nothing they can’t overcome."

So let your child learn from the school of hard knocks!

Translated from the Chinese by Susanne Ganz