Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Of Child Doctors and Child CEOs

One fifteen year Indian kid operated on a patient and actually performed the surgery aided by his own father in Tamil Nadu. The father is proud of his son’s achievements and when the medical association protested against this surgery, the father said that everyone is ‘jealous’ of his son’s achievements.

In another incident, a thirteen year old Indian CEO launched his own company in Silicon Valley. He has an executive team of other thirteen year olds. He hopes to secure funding for his company, and drop out just like Bill Gates.

Many Indian parents nowadays try to see accomplishments and their successes through their kid’s performance and achievements. These parents having reached midlife see a plateau in their career. They now compare their kids with others and feel proud only through the achievements made by their kids.

In India, parents are obsessed with the scores of their kids. They measure the kids only by the scores they get in various subjects at school. And when the kids don’t do well in the exams, these parents get really upset. Some of the parents punish themselves for their kids lack of performance. They are not ready to go out and face the world. They don’t talk to the kid for months. Some parents resort to punishing the kids, stopping their allowance, stopping their play activities, stop their TV watching, etc.

These days its all about child prodigies and child geniuses. The parents don’t want a good kid, they don’t want an excellent kid, what they want is a genius kid- a Bill Gates or Lakshmi Mittal. Not anything less.

Some readers may quickly conclude that we do this because we are in a rat race here in India. Its not very different in other countries. Most Indians kids in US are in a race to outperform the other. Scores, marks, grades, percentiles matter more than anything else. Not much has changed just because you are in a different country.

You will see hundreds of parents in US who want to outdo the others through their kid’s achievements. For most part, their life revolves completely around these kids. They drop them off at school, pick them up from the school, get them ready for music class, drop them off, pick them up, drop them off at soccer practice, pick them up, finish their homework, etc. Their weekends involve more such practices or meeting up other parents who have their kids in the same rat race. The talk revolves mostly around the kid’s performances. In fact, most Indian kids perform very well in US. Spelling Bee contest, or a Quiz competition, Indian kids are right there to outperform everyone else. Those parents whose kids are doing well are sought after for advice by other parents who want to bring up their kids the same way. And those parents whose kids are not doing well, and have realized this, have shunned themselves from such parties, and they hang their faces in shame.

So who are these parents?

These are the middle class parents, just like you and me- lower middle class, upper middle class, all middle class. Most of these parents are above average, have done well in life, but NOT that well. They always felt that they should have had a head start, should have had much better education (than what they had), should have much better opportunities (than what they had). They feel they would have become much more, a Bill Gates, a Sunil Mittal, a Sharapova, if ONLY, if only they had much better access to opportunities, if ONLY they spent more time studying instead of whiling away time in the playground playing silly games, if ONLY they had come home from school and went to evening classes instead of spending time with friends. For these parents, who feel they have lost out on missed opportunities, their kids shouldn’t be wasting their time. They shouldn’t wait to become adults to prove and perform, they should start right away, right now. They should win the spelling bee contests, win the trophies and awards, speak in debates, win the quizzes, win the talent competitions, and be the smartest, brightest, and always the first. These parents PUSH the kids to perform better and better each time, raising the bar each time, and when these kids win accolades, these parents bask in that glory. These are the parents who want to be behind the stage, on the stands, in the audience, congratulating, encouraging, supporting, video-recording, photo-shooting, while their kids keep winning laurels. They have given up struggle for themselves, and instead focus that struggle on their kids now. They think they have reached the peak of their performance, but believe their kids have the world open for them to conquer.

Its not much different for Indian parents in US. Every Indian family in US is more or less the same- two cars, a house, a green card or citizenship, few trips to nearby states, a big TV, small investments in real estate in India, etc. Now they want to differentiate from other families, and this they do by pushing their kids to perform.

Wasted childhood

Recently, I was visiting a bookstore in Bangalore. A mom was accompanied by her 3-year old kid. While the kid was looking blank into the space, the mom was buying a book, it was titled something like ‘How to make your kid a genius’. There, I felt pity for that little kid and I thought, ‘here goes another wasted childhood’.


  1. Very True. One wonders whether we will have all identical genius kids and MissWorld girls in the world. Then who will they compete with?

    There are few parents who dont push their kids, who let them choose. The dont push them into software jobs, luxury cars, fine apartments etc,,the parents don't worry much when the children want to return to India ! But I can assure you, our middle class looks upon such parents as "IDIOTS".

    May be we are living in confusing times.. a few years down the line will reveal , who is more happier.

  2. I am so glad that my brother is not a parent like this. He has made it clear that he will not let his daughter get into the rat race. She will be given opportunities to become an artist or a teacher instead of an IIT engineer or doctor or MBA graduate.

    You are dead right, Sujai, that parents try to fulfil their failures through their children's lives. Scores is all that matters. The child is not taught basic couyrtsey of greeting elders, giving up one's desires for others, sharing, charity, making a difference to the under privileged in teh world - all this goes off with not a word mentioned.
    It doesn't matter whether the child becomes a good thoughtful considerate citizen. What matters is the number of medals won, the percentage marks secured, the newspaper columns he appears in, the engineering or medical institute he gets into and finally, whether he lands a job in the US.

    That is very sad.

    ~ Vinod

  3. This is a great blog and found it through your well-considered and rational comments at the Desicritics. Bravo - you made me smile:)

    I will keep visiting.

  4. Look at that 13 year old kid entrepreneur (from Elementeo). in this video. I do not see his parents in this video anywhere, am I missing something?

  5. Darpan: You are missing the point. He is addressing an issue far more abstract than one video can debunk.

    The pressure on children in india is horrific. Any bit of curiosity is slowly, methodically and unconsciously removed from the mind of children, and they are slowly zombified to textbook-xerox-machnies (hope i got that right :)

    Regarding the video, It could be that

    a)He is a kid who has good communication skills, and had prepared what he said.

    b)He is actually a prodigy of an entrepreneur , who thought about creating a game and opening up a company to spread it at age 13.

    I am very skeptical about b. My theory is that his parents had a large part in this. No (average/good/excellent) boy would have a complete plan to start off a company by age 13. That would probably mean he started thinking about Elementeo by 10-11. That age is simply a time to go out and play in the sand!

    What I think happened is the kid was unconsciously put into a frame where the constant encouragement by his parents led him to believe _he_ actually planned the whole thing through. It is not highly improbable that the parents were very well meaning and were themselves deluded into believing they were only giving the helping hand, and the actual plans were the kid's.

    In the improbable event that the truth is option b, I would have to reconsider my views on the subject. I know that any kids I have will at age 13 be encouraged to not worry about the world affairs, and rather 'go out and play'

  6. Anil: Thanks for that explanation. I got it - it was a bad example used by Sujai to explain his point.

    Sujai: Why do you have to beat yourself (and other Indians) up for every universal problem? You are setting an example for self-loathing.

    "How to raise kids?" is a global question and has nothing to do with "aspiring" Indians. My Egyptian friend had the same question and the same issue of "focus" on kids. Have mybeen to China and Taiwan? Where does "Idiot India" come from?

    Why does it have to be either-or when it comes to letting them explore this world on their own and suggesting against (to quote Sujai - visit prostitutes and drinking alcohol) when they are 13?

    How many kids have you raised Sujai? How many kids do you wake up in the morning, feed, prepare for school, read books to, play silly games like throwing and catching a ball? How many diapers (or chaddis) do you change before you go and Blog about "Idiotic Indians"?

    = Darpan =

  7. Darpan:
    Raise your kid by imparting all your prejudices.

    I won't.

    I am hoping there would some people (not many, but minority few) who would like to raise them without imparting their prejudices onto their kids.

    Even if it is a mere 1%, imagine the impact? Our country's income would increase by 33%!


  8. What prejudices are you talking about? Are you making some assumptions here? And, what is your math behind 33% income increase?

    What were the prejudices that your parents passed on to you? What could they have done better?

    What are your own prejudices?

  9. Food for thought -

    Read these learning frameworks in light of parenting.

  10. Another life wasted. This is the other extreme of raising kids with prejudices for drinking alcohol, watching erotic stuff et al. You know where these kids end up being, jail under DUI.

    Just another perspective, I guess.

    Less than two weeks after leaving a rehabilitation facility, Lindsay Lohan was pulled over by police early Tuesday morning in Santa Monica and arrested on five counts, including driving under the influence of alcohol, driving on a suspended license and possession of narcotics, according to a Santa Monica Police Department spokesperson.

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  12. All I have to say is...PURE hit this "epidemic" right on the spot.

  13. Some other parents trying to do the same - but hey they are not Indians ;-)

    Five-year-old Rockford girl is a piano prodigy

    June 5, 2007 -- It is the kind of activity you find a five-and-a half-year-old doing when she is not doing other things but Emily Bear is hardly typical for her age. Among the other things she does is play the piano.
    Emily was two years old when she simply sat down at a piano and started playing rhythm patterns she had overheard.
    "It was easy for me when I first started playing because it had so many good pieces that I liked that popped in my head the first day," Bear said. "I played one the next day and I played it perfectly."
    The youngster is also an all-around athlete. She was a figure skating contestant who took second place in national competition this year at Jackson Hole, Wyoming. She also plays tennis and basketball.

  14. Great analysis - recommend movie "Tarein zameen par".

    - Bodhisvaha.

  15. see this is the problem in india...a man and woman when they become parents,they will say that we will give lots and lots of love to the kid..arr..i mean to say loving kids in india is to provide them a video game,a pc,or a cricket gear..leaving the child to school in car..allowing him to sleep till 9:00 am during weekends..and then one day..they will say..we have done enough for with 99.9999%(becuase in english,it is difficult to get 100%,so this is the maximum)in class Xth,then take science with computers(because it has got a lot of scope),write IIT,rank has to be intop 3,or become doc in AIIMS,then IIM..this is the genius kid which every parent in india looks after..

    Now,most of the parents in india dont preach them to become good human beings,the one who has to actually set examples for others. The only example which has to be set is to stash the money in a bank that they can say that my son/daughter has 3lakh stored in cash plus there are 10 investments but her age is 22. These parents actually are saying that I HAVE 3 LAKHS . they bask in glory. They are making their battle to be fought with their children.

    In a way,what indian parents want are earning machines who will be labelled as a price in the marriage market. For god sake,TRY TO RAISE GOOD HUMAN BEINGS.

  16. Couldn't agree with you more, Peterparker.

    In my view, Indian parents should try to teach kids the generic values of discipline, hard work, love, compassion; and more specifically physical fitness, critical thinking and reasoning, ability to take decisions on one's own and basic practical life skills (washing clothes, saving money, cooking food, repairing broken items etc.) and skills on how to deal with people.

    They should provide ample space and time for the very young child to play, explore and grow on his/her own accord.

    And then, as the child grows, they should help the child choose his/her line of study/vocation based upon his/her talents and interests, purely.

  17. Yes loctus83,you have hit the nail right on the spot..this is thing which a child has to be thought,that what it takes to lead a to be disciplined. i have seen that in india,parents actually pamper their kids a lot.i have seen most of the dads polishing their kids i am not saying that it is wrong becuase it is the love of a man as a dad that he should do something for his child.but in india, what happens kid see it as an opportunity.and then it becomes a habit.. i have only seen here that a 12year old is spoon fed for food. And if parents say something to their kid,like scolding,kids go on berserk.

    All kids have to be thought the value of ethics,moral,hardship,value of money,sacrifice,love,physical fitness,a good conduct,decency towards their parents and others elder including parents of others also.

  18. there is no harm in winning medals and all,,because that will be an achievement of a kid..and obviously it is a good thing..but what is really bad is that parents especially dads will have their "SAMAAJ MEI GARDAN OONCHI" they will not say that my kid is genius..what they will say is that he is my kid who has won medal...and this attitude makes all the children and parents to get engaged in a rat race..and because of this attitude of parents,all child lose their uniqueness and their inherent potential which could have gone on to make a legendary painter or a great athlete or a marvellous engineer.


  20. In the US Indian parents try to replicate their formula for success. With the software inrush into the US since mid 1990s lower middle class people with very average to below average education immigrated to the US and made good money, bought a house cars etc. for them the route to US was to attend coaching classes,pay a donation in some private college to get a degree,try for a rank(seen as excellence),get trained in some software institute,recruited by some head hunter, reach US. Settle there.
    The education system in US emphasizes Critical Thinking and all round development of the Child.Parents have no clue what that means all they know is the rote systems of India. The Spelling bees, Geography bees etc are great venues that reward rote learning well. So the Inidan kids shine easily(Mainstream American kids especially the really smart ones could'nt care less for these bees so they just left the field open for Indian kids) Very rarely would one come across an Indian kid who is a creative genius - most are just extreme hard workers - great rote learners, very average critical thinking skills. Indian parents may want their kid to be as successful as Bill gates, but they would not want to recognize that he had Asperger's syndrome and the disabilties that came with it. They certainly would not want their kids to be like Bill Gates, they just want his success and his fame....
    Indians in the US even form their own organizations where one can pay a donation, get coaching for a bee,hold their own bees where one can win a rank(medal) - seen as excellence by Indians,make role models of the kids who win the bees,even if they barely have a sense of presenting themselves properly....
    Actually most mainstream Americans view the success of Indian kids in the bees with a bemused attitude...No one really thinks of them as great achievers or geniuses except for the Indians, who treat them like celebrities...Everyone aks "Why are the bees so important to Indians?"


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