‘I got my son into MIT’: Singaporean Mum Shares How ‘Less Is More’ Parenting Works

UGC Contributor
·7-min read

Throughout my career, I often helped companies strategise and market their products and services.

When I became a mother, I wished that my son was born with a customised “playbook,” that contained precise strategies and steps that I could follow so that he would grow up to be successful. Alas, it was wishful thinking on my part—there was no such playbook.

My husband and I, like many parents in Singapore, were kiasu parents. We had high hopes for our son.

less is more parenting
less is more parenting

Shurn Lin believes in the “Less Is More” parenting concept. | Image source: Loh Shurn Lin

Before he was born, we hoped he would be born healthy and happy. Later, when he was born and reached his 1st-month milestone, we hoped he would be healthy, happy and smart. When we celebrated his 2nd birthday, our hopes grew, and we wished he would not just be healthy, happy, and smart, but also musical. And the list went on.

When he was 12 years old, we prayed he would pass the much-dreaded PSLE exams with flying colours; get into a 6-year integrated program of some elite secondary school and later on, get into a top university like Harvard or Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) one day.

Like most parents, our weekends used to pass us by in a blur as we rushed from an enrichment class to another, ever since our son was 18 months old.

  • Right brain training classes – check

  • Music classes – check

  • Swimming classes – check

We hoped by exposing our son to all these different classes; he would be an Einstein, a Yo-Yo Ma, a Joseph Schooling all rolled into one and have an early start in life.

It was much later that an epiphany struck us – that “Less is More” is a concept that not only applies to a way of life, but also in parenting. The sooner you grasp this concept, the earlier your kid can get into MIT, and you can then relax.

Our son got into MIT at a tender age 14. It was not because he was born with a brilliant gene, but he was raised with a parenting concept. This concept would enable you to retire early from your parental teaching duties and soon the days when you rushed like a headless chicken from one class to the next will be gone.

The 3 key principles to “Less is More” parenting concept are:

1. Thou shalt not mix with Kiasu Parents

The less you mix with kiasu parents, the better it would be for you and your kids. It would not only keep you and your kid sane. You will also not fall into the trap of feeling very inadequate.

How do you do this? Stay away from the Whatsapp class-parents chat group. Many parents must have had the experience of receiving 10 notifications in their parent chat group when their kid had just been dismissed from class for the day. On the one hand, the 10 notifications were from well-meaning parents sharing notes on what homework your kid needs to complete for the day. The other, what class tests are coming up in Term III—even when your kid just started Term I. It may put some parents in a lot of pressure, which might then result in them putting pressure on their child.

2. Thou shalt not sign up for endless classes

The less tuition and enrichment classes you sign up for your kid the better. Thou shalt not give your kid a crutch when he doesn’t need one.

Now, do you remember you just rated your kid poor in Maths just because he scored 92 in his midterm exams, all because of the next-door neighbour’s kid who scored 97?

Many of us parents tend to overreact and think our kids need help when they are perfectly capable of doing well on their own.

Do not simply sub-contract every subject to a tutor. Instead, try spending some time with your kid to evaluate if he really requires additional help. Subcontracting to a tutor can be an easy way out, but it might not always be in the best interest for your kid.

3.  Thou shalt not give your kids mobile device usage without a time limit

A study has found compelling evidence that the more screen time teenagers get, the more likely they are to feel depressed and think about, or attempt, suicide.

A TIME Magazine article, citing a study published in the journal Preventive Medicine Reports, also reported that young people who spend seven hours or more a day on screens are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression or anxiety than those who use screens for an hour a day.

The rise of social media and the fear of missing out (FOMO) are contributing factors to kids’ unhappiness and poor sleep patterns. Of course, some detractors do not believe this, but as for me, I believe they do. 

In fact, two of the biggest tech figures in recent history–Bill Gates and Steve Jobs—seldom let their kids play with the very products they helped create. I believe they both know how these devices can be addictive and understand the negative influence these devices have.

Experts say kids need to learn how to manage their time and cope with uncomfortable feelings, such as boredom and impatience. Being glued to the screens does not give them the downtime that they need to de-stress and relax.

My husband and I, therefore, restricted our son’s screen time so that he has time to cultivate hobbies. We did not give him a mobile phone till the end of his Primary Six. I still remembered the day that we handed over our old phone to him. We made him sign a “mobile contract” (not the contract we take up from telecom services but a contract for his mobile use) with us. Even then, we monitored his online activities.

I am glad to say with these limits; he has cultivated good old school hobbies like origami, interest in astronomy and others.

Jack Ma, the founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group once said: “Your children do not need to be in the top three positions in their class. Being in the middle is fine as this kind of middle-of-the-road student has more free time to learn other skills.”

Hence, when my son receives average results in school, I try to chill. I put up my feet, sip my cup of coffee and remember Jack Ma’s words of wisdom.

My son got into MIT when he was 14. Isn’t MIT referring to Massachusetts Institute of Technology – the top American university which has been ranked No. 1 in the world for the last 8 consecutive years?

Image source: Loh Shurn Lin

MIT is the “Most Improved Teen” award which my husband and I conferred to our son when he showed vast improvement in his learning journey back in Yr2018. He was not competing with anyone but himself. Being “Most Improved Teen” was good enough for us.

Written by Loh Shurn Lin. She is a mother of a 16-year old teenager. “One is good enough”, she says and often refers to him as her “favourite son.” As a busy mother running her own business consultancy “Sloth @ Work”, Shurn Lin embraces Less is More in her outlook towards both work and family life.

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