Kids Mums & Babies

Can you raise grounded children in Hong Kong?

So many kids in Hong Kong are incredibly privileged. As parents the challenge is making sure they are aware of this. Dr Quratulain Zaidi of MindNLife shares her thoughts on the tricky matter of parenting in an age of instant gratification.

“When did we stop being parents and forget to say “no”? The first time someone posed this question to me was five years ago, just before I gave a talk to a group about technology and children’s use of it. It’s an important question for parents to ask themselves, especially in what is, for many, a climate of plenty. In a city like Hong Kong, where many people feel more entitled than others, it’s a tough job for parents to bring up children who are grounded.

In my opinion, the best starting point is to go back to the basic notion of determining the values we want to instil in our kids and in the next generation – those values that are important to you as a family. Here’s a list of some of the ones that I think are key.

mindNlife how to raise grounded kids

#1 Value of respect

Respect for children, the family, society and the community: this is one of the most important things you can teach a child; and to teach it you must show it in your everyday behaviour.

#2 Value of money

Most children know that money doesn’t just come out of a hole in the wall, though that’s what my son totally believed when he was four or five years of age! We had to explain the concept that money goes into the bank only after a month of hard work and long hours – which is why we sometimes don’t have more hours to devote to the kids themselves. One good way of giving older children a better understanding of money is to assist them in finding a part-time job. Working helps provide some perspective and a sense of how many hours they need to put in to earn money for basics like transport and lunch for the day.

#3 Value of hard work

People don’t get to have a privileged life without working hard for it. And it’s important that children hear about your day and understand that you do work hard. It’s also important for them to ask you how your day was. As parents, we automatically ask our children as they’re getting off the school bus or walking through the door, “How was your day?” (Admittedly, “good” was the most I ever got out of my little one, whereas the older one would give me minute-by-minute details of what had happened!) But how many of you actually get asked how your day was?

#4 Value of being empathetic and compassionate

Explaining to children that there are plenty of people who are less fortunate than them is important. Even more important is getting them to spend time and meaningful effort with these less fortunate people. Teaching them from a young age a sense of giving back to society in a meaningful way helps to create a sense of higher purpose.

mindNlife how to raise grounded kids
“We as parents should model the behaviour we want to see in our children”

#5 Value of gratitude

It’s most important to cultivate a sense of gratitude. A lot of people do lead a privileged lifestyle in Hong Kong, and, if you’re grateful for what’s good in your life, you can be grateful to some of the sources of that goodness (parents, teachers and helpers, for example). Research shows that families who cultivate a sense of gratitude are less prone – adults and children alike – to being thankless or ungrateful.

I like to prescribe an activity for families where they talk about the positive things in life. This is not just asking children at bedtime to name three good things about their day, but also setting an example and sharing with them what was good about your own day.

#6 Value of self-control

In this culture of instant gratification – and of parents trying to live out the childhood they miss through their own kids – we do tend to give children more than they need, and quickly. How can we teach them delayed gratification?

Keeping up with the Joneses is, unfortunately, a common theme in Hong Kong. As my own were growing up, I heard them say many times “everyone has X, Y and Z, but I don’t”. And it’s something I now hear often from parents in my office – that their seven- or 10-year-old has been complaining, “I’m the only one who doesn’t have the latest model iPhone.”

When faced with this challenge, it’s okay to ask yourself this question: why does someone so young need a phone? They usually get dropped off at school, and picked up, they have their lunch with them, and schools allow access to a phone to make a call if needed.

We should keep in mind that a phone is a communication device – it’s for making a call to get in touch with someone; and for children and parents to contact each other in an emergency. Yet do we adults even use our phones for that purpose anymore?

So, asking the important questions rather than too easily giving in and handing over an expensive piece of technology, even as a hand-me-down, is something parents could pay more attention to.

Modelling the behaviour we want to see in our children With all of this in mind, how can we take charge of being a parent in the instant gratification generation, when everything is so dependent on getting the right number of “likes”? It’s important, first, to go back to the basics of parenting. Being able to say “no” is essential. I’m sure we agree as parents that we want our children to go on to be self-sufficient and functioning adults, and positive contributing members of the society and their community. To put it another way, we want to raise children who are good humans with good fundamental values – and, to do that, we as parents need to model the behaviour we want to see in our children.

Finally, we should remember to enjoy our kids! They grow up so fast; creating those meaningful moments and memories is more important than them having the latest gadget.”

Dr Quratulain Zaidi is a clinical psychologist specialising in individuals, families, couples and teen issues including cybersafety, teen parenting, bullying, eating challenges and self-harm. Her private practice is in Central. 6347 9955 |

See more in our parenting section:

10 coping strategies for new mums

The 5 stages of parenthood

This article first appeared in the December/January 2017/18 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.