Singapore is a great city to work in. It’s secure not just in terms of crime, but also in terms of job security. But at the same time, because it’s such a safe place, our children have lesser room to learn from hardships compared to children living in other countries.
CEO of Ascott Limited and father of three, Lee Chee Koon, agrees. His position in international business lets him see how the youth of other countries struggling with unemployment are pushed to seek jobs overseas. This competitive experience in available job opportunities is something our local children won’t have as much trouble with, therefore leading them to be unchallenged in their bubble of comfort.
But Mr. Lee sees a future where this comfort would be temporary, where our kids would soon be required to compete with foreign workers. Their bubble would burst, and they would be forced to deal with the harsh reality.
“Singapore is a safe environment. We really care for citizens from cradle to grave,” Mr Lee says. “It’s nice to work here, but it’s also quite surreal, because the rest of the world is not like that. Even the other global cities.”
Therefore, Mr. Lee feels that it’s better for our children to fail faster. When they fail faster, they learn faster.
“We need to be prepared to let our children make mistakes and fail,” says Mr Lee. “Our role is to provide a safety net, and not to over-parent.”
To deal with the lack of challenges for his children in Singapore, Mr. Lee had to artificially create hardships in his home environment. He shares a list of lessons that parents could teach their children to make them more resilient.
- Eat or go hungry. “When my kids refuse to eat what is being served at mealtimes, I’ll tell my wife that we can pack the leftover food. Nothing until the next meal; no snacks in between. Then they will learn what hunger means.”
- Pack their own bags. “I hope to send them to camps when they are young, without parental involvement. I know of parents here who worry about whether their kids have brought everything they need for camps. My take is, you can give your child a checklist. Let him pack. If he doesn’t bring anything [that he needs later], let him learn the hard ”
- Build things. “We build things together, whether it’s a simple Lego set, or a model kitchen made of cardboard, or a piece of furniture from Ikea. The idea is to get them used to working with their hands and go through the trial and error process.”
- Fix things. “When something is spoiled at home, like a clock, I will fix it with them. I will remove the screws, explain how it works, and get them to try putting it back together.”
- Look out for others. “When our younger son goes for his English class, we will sit our elder son outside the classroom and tell him to wait for his little brother. We do this to teach him about being responsible for someone else. Also, it can be quite daunting for a 7-year-old to wait alone but he has to learn to overcome his anxieties.”
- Take the lead when crossing the road. “When crossing the road with my 4-year-old kid I will say, ‘Tell me when you think it’s time to cross.’ This trains them to be independent because we’re not going to be there whenever they cross the road.”
- Go outdoors and get dirty. “On weekends, we go to the Botanic Gardens, farms, and all the different parks. They do their skate-scooting, and we teach them cycling. We want them to run around and get used to a more rugged life.”
- See the grittier side. “As the kids grow up, I want to bring them to see societies which may be underprivileged. We could always bring them to nice places that are good for the holidays, but I want them to be mindful of underprivileged people, and develop empathy for them.”
- Gain work experience early. “I intend to find work opportunities for them when they are a little older – it could be at a hawker centre, where they can learn how to serve, or at a provision shop where they can learn how to handle money and convince people why they should buy something from them.”
Mr. Lee believes that such an approach should be applied to their studies as well. He thinks that parents should be prepared to accept whatever results our children have as long as they have tried their best instead of sending them to top schools and hope they will come out on top. After all, when they grow up, parents will no longer be around to compensate for their failures with better schools.
“The question is whether or not they can learn to pick themselves up [after getting poor grades]. If they try and still fail, it could be that they’re just not good in that subject. Our role then is to help them uncover their strengths.”
As he says, “If they only suffer failure when they are adults, it will be far more difficult to handle.”