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Not all children are born equal but our fast-paced educational system may be blind to that reality

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By: Michael Han

We all hate bullies. Bullies in schools, in the playgrounds and at work. But what if we have bullies at home. No, I am not referring to our elder siblings, but I am talking about parents themselves.

If bullies make us feel bad, spoil our day and crush our self-worth, can parents qualify as a bully too? Can love be so misguided (and ill-expressed) that we take for granted the feelings of our children and exploit them as a means to our own self-serving ends (that is, boasting about our kids’ results to other parents)?

Today’s papers talk about a tragic tale. A 11-year-old boy fell 17 floors from his bedroom window because he could not live up to his parents’ expectation.

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Now, let me be absolutely clear that my condolences are with the parents because they will have to live with the pain for a major part of their life. I am a parent myself and such tragedy is unspeakable to any parent.

Going back to the case, the State Coroner Judge Mavin Bay found it to be “a deliberate act of suicide”. It reports that “(Judge Bay) urged parents and educators to remind children that “their efforts in study may not always yield a commensurate result, and also that such failures are transient or temporary events.””

Judge Bay added, “Parents and educators should also constantly reassure children that they will always be there to help them through each stumble, winding turn and setback in their education journey.”

Apparently, the court heard that “the mother would cane the boy’s palm lightly, for every mark he fell short of her stipulated standard of 70 per cent.”

On May 16, the boy got 57.5 out of 100 for his Science exam. Based on the mother’s stipulated standard, that would mean at least 12 strokes of the cane for falling short of expectation.

Before his fall, and when asked by his parent, the boy would say he scored average marks (in an attempt to remain vague about it). He did this to keep his parents’ disappointment at bay.

But on that fateful day, that is, May 18, he locked himself in his bedroom agonizing over his borderline marks. The thought of showing his results to his parents petrified him.

When his parents realised that something was amiss, they unlocked the door to his bedroom with a spare keys, and looked out of the window. They saw a motionless body of their son lying at the foot of the block. The boy died of a fractured skull.

It reports that “the mother was seen crying and repeatedly saying in Mandarin next to her son, “I only ask for 70 marks, I don’t expect you to get 80 marks.””

Lesson? Just one, and I am speaking in general.

More than two years ago, I apologised to my son for being a jerk. I recall I told him off for getting just average grades when I expected more from him. He cried silent tears in front of me when he was having dinner and I regretted my outburst deeply.

The next day I wrote him a note (which is in my blog under “A letter of apology to my son“). I told him that I had been led astray by what I wanted for him without sparing a thought about how much he wanted to do well for me but just couldn’t. Like what Judge Bay said that “their efforts in study may not always yield a commensurate result.”

Everyday since then, I have to remind myself that our children do not come to this world to make us look good. They are not accessory or embellishments to our ego or pride. They came into this world to be loved by us unconditionally. They look forward to a lasting relationship, a bond of intimacy, with us, and not a “brag-about” performance based upon them jumping from one hoop to another.

Sure, I would not tolerate laziness and truancy, but I too have to understand that not all children are born equal with excellent academic gifts. Neither do they bloom at the same time and rate with all and sundry.

Our fast-paced educational system may be blind to that reality or truth, but I as their parent should never based my kids’ future and potential on transient or temporary setback.

Personally, I never believe in an average child, but I believe however in a yet-to-bloom child. And given time, patience and love, they will one day pleasantly surprise us when we can truly look back at all our muted sighs in the past with a hearty smile.

Let me end with the haunting words of the perspicacious judge: “Master H appeared to have difficulty in understanding, and coming to terms with his precipitous fall in his grades. He appeared fearful of revealing his poor grades to his parents…

“In his desperation, he had woven a fictitious account of his grades to preserve an impression that he was coping well, and attaining grades that conformed to their pre-set expectations…. He had tragically taken his own life, rather than face the remainder of the day.”

We as parents will do well to bear this in our hearts that we may well unknowingly act like a bully at home when we arbitrarily withdraw our love for our child (when they need it most) just because he or she happens to fail to live up to our expectations on one or two occasions.

Food for thought?

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