|(Illustration: Peter C. Espina/GT)|
I've recently fallen in love with the Hong Kong-produced TV series, Triumph in the Skies II, a sequel to the 2003 Triumph in the Skies. The TV drama follows the personal and professional lives of a group of pilots and stewardesses and sheds light on what their jobs require them. But in truth, I'm mostly hooked on the show because of the pilots, who manage to look so handsome while displaying such dedication to their profession.
So when I came across the news this week about a five-year-old Chinese boy who flew a light aircraft to become the world's youngest-ever pilot, I wondered how he was able to adhere to such professional standards at an age where most kids cannot even tie their own shoelaces.
As it turns out, the young boy's father, nicknamed "Eagle Dad" by Chinese media, is no stranger to using controversial teaching methods to achieve results. Eagle Dad angered the nation last year after forcing his then 4-year-old son to run naked through the snow in New York City - he said the exercise was meant to "toughen his kid up."
Knowing Eagle Dad's ways makes it somewhat easier to understand how such a little boy could be capable of flying a plane - not that it should take away from the accomplishment - and even if the very thought of a 5-year-old controlling an aircraft makes people nervous.
But while the young boy may have been having fun in the sky above, applying the skills that his peers are without, the stunt drew fears about how Chinese children are raised and educated by pushy parents from Chinese and foreign media on the ground.
In China, parents always hold the upper hand, especially when it comes to making decisions about their kids. They dominate the choices made by their children and kids are not supposed to question that, or ask why. Chinese parents are known for their tendency to shelter their young ones and to overprotect them by refusing to expose them to activities that run even the slightest risk of being potentially dangerous.
And when children indulge in wild fantasies or try to explore new things that may be unsafe according to a fraction of a millionth of a degree, Chinese parents turn up the fear factor, put on their best worried faces, and scare away their children's adventurous spirit, crushing their creative desire.
To some extent, this sheltered upbringing hinders China's ambition to evolve into a country of innovation as it cannot rely on the creative energy of its younger generations. We may also trace the answers here to the question raised by British scientist Joseph Needham: "Why has China been overtaken by the West in science and technology, despite its earlier successes?"
New research suggests that more Chinese youth, especially boys, are suffering from hypobulia, a psychiatric condition that essentially reduces an individual's capacity to act or make decisions. An overload of schoolwork and a lack of time for exercise are said to be factors contributing to this disturbing trend.
In an era where most families have only one child to care for, parents and grandparents tend to be soft on their kid, wanting to spoil him or her and save them from any form of hardship. This had also led to the phenomenon that our boys are becoming more girly. In this sense, Eagle Dad who forced his son to learn to fly a plane is helping his boy generate more masculinity than those who send their sons to dance classes.
I'm not advocating that every child be trained in the form practiced by Eagle Dad. But when it comes to education, there is a famous Chinese saying: Children are the feet while the shoes are the education.
In a quest to help children develop into confident-minded beings, courageous characters and free-thinking spirits, perhaps it may be worth considering that it is the child - and not the parent - who knows best when the shoe fits.