Why are parents so obsessed about their children’s academics?


Ever wonder why, as a nation, Singapore is obsessed with tuition classes?

Of course, not every parent is an obsessive one. But many parents become stressed—even more stressed than their children!—when it’s exam time.

For example, it’s not uncommon for parents to take leave from work or quit their job to help their child prepare for the Primary School Leaving Examination.

Neither is it uncommon for parents to beg a teacher to give their child half a mark more for a test or exam, just so their child can get one grade higher.

Other parents behave as if it’s the end of the world when their child doesn't make it to his or her first-choice school.

Parents, what do you want most for your children?

Through my work, I've spoken to thousands of students and parents.

I like to ask parents, “What do you want most for your children?”

The response I get usually goes something like this: “I just want my children to be happy and to enjoy learning.”

Yet it’s these same parents who sign their children up for five or more tuition classes a week, send them for enrichment courses, and severely restrict the time their kids have to discover, learn and explore outside the syllabus.

What parents want vs. what parents do

These parents’ behaviour is almost certainly not going to help their children to be happy and to enjoy learning.

An over-emphasis on academics affects a child’s overall development, and decreases the chances of his or her long-term success.

Clearly, there’s a disconnect between what some parents say they want for their children, and what they actually do as parents.

5 reasons for parents’ obsession

Confused, I decided to analyze why this disconnect exists.

I’ve come up with five reasons why some parents are obsessed about their children’s academic performance.

If you’re a parent reading this article, I hope you’ll reflect on which ones—if any— apply to you, so that you’ll be able to help your child lead a more balanced life.

1. They are trying to achieve their own dreams through their children.

Some parents wanted to become a lawyer or doctor when they were kids, but for various reasons weren't able to.

Others aspired to go to university, but didn't have the opportunity to.

These parents sometimes try to live out these unfulfilled dreams through their children.

They become fixated on their children’s academic performance, regardless of where their children’s actual talents and potential lie.

2. They are afraid of failing as parents.

I know a mum who recently helped her daughter to apply for the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme. When she compared her daughter’s portfolio to the other applicants, she was shocked.

The other applicants’ portfolios were full of impressive work: artwork created, websites designed, music pieces composed, essays published.

In contrast, her daughter’s portfolio was bare.

This mum felt like a complete failure because she felt as if she hadn't prepared her daughter adequately. She vowed that, in the future, she would push her daughter to do more and achieve more.

No matter what our role in life, we want to be successful.

Parents know it’s important to encourage their children continually, love them unreservedly, and support them unconditionally.

But it’s difficult to measure just how encouraging, loving and supportive a parent is.

It’s much easier to use their children’s academic results as an indication of their parenting ability and success. The better their children are performing in school, the better they must be performing as parents.

But this logic is flawed.

I've spoken to far too many students who get excellent grades, but who are frustrated by their parents’ overbearing ways. Parents’ obsession with academics can adversely affect the parent-child relationship.

3. They think that academic success alone will lead to success in the real world.

My older brother, Jonathan, got 2 A’s and 2 B’s for his GCE A-Level exams. (This was almost 15 years ago.)

When one of my mum’s friends heard about how Jonathan had done, she exclaimed to my mum, “How could you let him get such a poor score?!”

First of all, I don’t think that 2 A’s and 2 B’s is a poor score.

Second of all, I don’t think that Jonathan’s academic performance was my mum’s responsibility.

Jonathan has attained remarkable success as the founder and CEO of Genesis Gym, as well as a Yahoo! blogger, PhD holder and an all-around great person.

(Of course, I'm completely unbiased when I say this.)

All of this despite his “poor” academic results.

Academic success alone doesn't guarantee real world success, so parents shouldn't focus solely on grades, at the expense of other developmental areas.

4. They give in to pressure from other parents.

Parents frequently say to me, “Daniel, I don’t want to send my child for all of these tuition classes. But when I see so many other parents doing it, I feel like I can’t not do it too!”

Parents don’t want their children to get “left behind”, so they sign their children up for extra tuition classes, even if they don’t think it’s good for their overall development.

Peer pressure can be unhealthy when you’re a child, and also when you’re a parent.

5. They want to boast about their children.

Singaporean parents—especially Chinese parents, based on my observations—tend to take immense pride in their children’s achievements in three main areas:

  • Academic achievement
  • Musical instrument mastery
  • Profession

Such achievements provide prime opportunities to boast about their children at family gatherings.

There’s nothing evil about being proud of your children, but over-emphasizing accomplishments can send your children the signal that performance matters more than character.

Parents who are obsessed about their children’s grades—just so they can boast to their friends and relatives—are in danger of instilling the wrong values in their children.

In closing…

If you’re a parent who’s continually putting pressure on your children to excel academically, what’s your reason for doing so?

Don’t get me wrong; I'm not saying that academics don't matter.

But the main benefit of pursuing excellence isn't the exam score. Rather, it’s who you’re becoming through the process.

As this anonymous quote says: “Many succeed momentarily by what they know; some succeed temporarily by what they do; few succeed permanently by what they are.”

Permanent success is about what you are. It’s about your character.

Remember that your performance doesn't define you. It merely describes you.

You’re defined by the values you hold on to, and the values you live out.

Values—now that’s something worth being obsessed about.

Daniel Wong is a learning and personal development expert, as well as a certified youth counselor. A sought-after speaker and coach, he is also the best-selling author of "The Happy Student: 5 Steps to Academic Fulfillment and Success". He offers programmes to help students attain exam excellence while also finding happiness and fulfillment, and to empower parents to motivate their unmotivated teenagers. He writes regularly at www.daniel-wong.com. Download his FREE e-books, "The Unhappiness Manifesto: Do You Make These 150 Mistakes In The Pursuit Of Happiness?" and "Singapore Scholarship Guide: The $500,000 Decision". The views expressed are his own.