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What are we making of our children?
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Chinese parents are strange beings. On one hand, they rarely show mercy when they force their children to "study" 10 hours a day seven days a week. On the other, they shower them with every care and comfort, and exempt them from attending to any household chore.

Exaggeration? Maybe. But one has to admit this is rather common in a considerably large number of families.

A photograph I saw online a few days ago impressed me. The picture, obviously shot from the ceiling, showed hundreds of men and women sleeping on the floor of an indoor stadium in Central China Normal University, each on a mattress and a bed-sheet provided free by the university. They were parents who had escorted their newly enrolled children to the campus from across the country but who could not afford a room in nearby hotels.

The scene was spectacular. A similar photo was shot in the same stadium last year and was included in China 1949-2009, an album reflecting Chinese people's daily lives during the 60 years since the founding of the People's Republic of China.

The university in Wuhan is my alma mater. Forty-five years ago, I went there all by myself to register as a freshman, carrying a wooden trunk and a cotton quilt on a bamboo pole. All my schoolmates did the same. No parents accompanied their children.

I know times have changed and today's society is much more treacherous than in the 1960s. Nearly all parents, even those in the countryside, escort their children to universities for fear that they would meet with some unknown danger on the way.

That is understandable. But parents today seem to have gone too far. They do everything for their children, from getting them registered in schools and finding their dormitories and canteens to making their beds and hanging the mosquito nets.

A story I read on an online news portal early this month saddened me. A father from the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region accompanied his daughter to Zhengzhou University in Henan province. It was around 11 pm after he had arranged everything for her and made sure she went to bed in the girls' dormitory. He went outside and squatted in a corner for the night, holding an umbrella to protect him from the autumn rain and shivering from the cold. I wonder what his daughter would have thought when she learned the next morning how her father had spent the night.

And what happened in Wuhan University is more thought-provoking. On Sept 7, the university president invited the parents of the newly enrolled students for a meeting. A woman complained, weeping, that the school had no air conditioners in the dormitories because of which her daughter had to suffer from the heat on her first night in school. A man even went on to say he was ready to install an air conditioner in his child's room at his own cost.

The university president said today's students were pampered and too vulnerable to undergo any hardship. Citing an example, he said last year a student brought with him 30 new shirts, each labeled with a number. His mother had told him to change shirts regularly and take the dirty ones back home during vacation.

The two cases are certainly extreme examples. But there is no denying that today's youths are too fragile to meet the challenges of life.

It is time we adults seriously rethought the way we bring up our children. Kids will learn the lessons of life when they enter the wider society and experience setbacks and sufferings. Sooner or later they will mature. But why should we wait for their own awakening instead of encouraging them during their childhood or adolescence to toughen their willpower and ability to take on the challenges?

(China Daily September 23, 2009)

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