I might have a problem that you’d understand

Look who’s in Singapore! Nope, not a pop star (as you were you hoping it to be, I’m sure) BUT two wayward teens from Down Under. Two, out-of-control teens whose parents have absolutely has no hold on.

Basically, The World’s Strictest Parents series is where “unruly” teenagers are sent to live abroad with a strict host family for a week in an attempt to change their behavior. During the week they receive an impact letter from their real parents with a list of issues they should try to fix.

In the latest episode, two kids from Down Under are sent to live with the Chua family. They look like your everyday Singaporean family no? But this family’s matriarch declares that she practices authoritative parenting. If that is the case, the Aussie teens are in a good time. Will they be able to ‘learn’ the Singaporean culture and find a way to make it work and eventually change for the better?

Your everyday Singaporean family?

Here’s what these two kids sent to Singapore for a week are like in a nutshell:

ZAINE – A 16 year old who sleeps all day and has absolutely no love for anyone in his family and refuses to do any work.

MEMPHIS – A 17 year old who parties every night and dropped out of school and hates it.

Kids from Down Under

In all good intents of this series to help ‘unruly’ kids change, who is anyone to judge which country has the strictest parents and on what basis do they come to a consensus that? Sure, it makes for good television to throw two barely of age teenagers in a totally different environment to watch how they struggle and rebel. Isn’t this in the least bit, ethnocentric? Using one’s own culture as a yardstick for judging others is, I dare say, atrocious. It is impossible to compare a Western and Asian family simply because the values we hold close to our hearts are on the opposite end of the spectrum.

Singapore can be classified as a high context cultural society whereby we hold our Asian traditions and values close to our heart. We do not disrespect our parents; we swear by our basic code of ethics that we strictly adhere to even when our parents may seem unreasonable at time. If we have any grievances, we hold it in until we manage to find a suitable way to address them with our parents.

On the other hand, Australia is in fact a low context cultural society. They do not hold their parents in such high esteem as we do. They snap at their parents without thinking twice, they see great importance the spoken language in order to bring their point across. This is in stark contrast to our culture where we take pride in being civilized and gentlemanly or lady-like in our mannerisms and speech.

Moreover, I can confidently say that, the family that was supposedly the Strictest in Singapore was in the least bit overbearing. They were reasonable in all their actions. The matriarch had all her reasons to get angry with the kids because they flouted rules that the family believes in, like smoking. It is an undesirable behavior and there was a need to address the problem. Running away from school? There’s nothing much to say about this. Any other Singaporean parent will blow their top at an instant. I would berate my child for even having the thought of running away form school.

The education system in Singapore is also portrayed in a negative light in this episode. By sending two kids who absolutely loathe studying, sending them to Raffles Junior College isn’t it abit too much? Why couldn’t they have gone to an average JC where they will find it easier to integrate since they most probably not academically inclined and have little interest in studies? It in a way, puts gives Singapore’s education a negative interpretation that we are stressed out, overworked kids who do not have a life outside of studying.

But I must say, in every cloud there is a silver lining. Towards the end of their week’s stay with the Chuas, they received a letter from home, with their parents explaining to them how their behavior has caused much pain and distress in their household. It made them realize how much their actions have affected the family dynamics and now, after being immersed in a different culture and they were able to look at the situation at a whole new perspective. To be able to acknowledge that they in fact have been rude and unbecoming as teenagers in their mannerisms towards their family members.

To find out how the exchange of cultures turned out, check out part 2 of the episode is below.

Well, I guess the one good thing that came out of this series of World’s Strictest is that it teaches all of us to embrace cultural relativism. To be able to understand another’s culture on their own terms instead of passing prejudices and pre-conceived notions without understanding whatsoever is crucial in this ever increasingly connected world that we live in.

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19 thoughts on “I might have a problem that you’d understand

  1. Well, this video has been spreading like a wildfire ever since its posted on facebook! In my opinion, Australian kids are more liberal as compare to Singaporean kids. It all boils down to our cultural differences; they are brought up in a way where challenging the authority is a norm, whereas for us, we are more receptive towards our parents. However so, we should not generalize all Australian kids to be like that too, like how in the video, Singapore being perceived as having the strictest parents. But one thing i need to agree with the video is that Singapore education system is really too stressful. Much emphasis should be on the learning process like how to effectively and accurately grasp the knowledge that the student is interested in and not emphasize on the results.

    1. I was all everyone was talking about when it came out! But I guess it is right to say that comparing a typical Asian country with a Westernized one, it is pretty safe to say that we have high culture context while they have lower one compared to us. But I’m in no way judging who is right and who is wrong here but we just need to understand the different cultures and not judge based on what we see at face value.

      In Singapore, perhaps it is true that our education system is really too stressful but if it weren’t that way, would will our country be where we are today? Although it may not be ideal, i think we owe a great deal to the ideals of our forefather. And since you’re studying in Aussie, do you appreciate what we learnt in school and that its actually helping you now?

  2. wow. this was a really good read for me. i actually took the time to watch both clips as well. truly an eye opener for me. gave me a look into the lives of a kid at RI too. got a very bad feeling that family is a family friend as well though im not 100% sure. but all in all, really was an eye opener for me.

    1. but i mean, they do not seem to me to be the damn strictest parents in Singapore! I’ve seen much worse than them and their children are only barely in primary school! For instance, i saw this 5 year old kid at a food court recently and because she wouldn’t stop crying, her mother wouldn’t stop yelling at her and hitting her with CHOPSTICKS! (!!!) Its barbaric and uncivilized. At least the Chua family were much more civilized and didn’t resort to primitive methods like hitting and all to get their message across and in the end they succeeded right?

  3. infomative read. perhaps they could have been sent to a vocational school to learn baking or craftsmanship. even if they were sent to a lower teor jc it wouldnt make much of a diff in my opinion.

    1. totally agree. maybe they should have gone to your everyday JC that wouldn’t cause them to loathe school so much to the point where they plot how they want to make an escape from school without the one of the sisters knowing.

      The experience they would have in school would definitely be much better if they went to say maybe ITE or something like that

  4. The way the television show causes it’s audience to perceive Singapore Culture disturbs me. The reverse ethnocentric-ism is strong in this one. Are Singaporean parents strict? Or are the parents of these Caucasian children too relaxed?

    The culture in Singapore is to strive for success, and to do so means you have to sacrifice leisure for time to work and drive yourself to improve.
    The culture for the other children… doesn’t seem to have the same drive to succeed. It is quite sad how “The Drive to Succeed” has become a “backward and inferior” value when it comes to this TV show.

    1. thats why i believe we should all take what we perceive about other cultures with a pinch of salt and not take it at face value which most of the times clouds the reality of the different cultures. there is no one perfect culture that we can use as a yardstick to compared all cultures to and we shouldn’t have to compared. what good comes out of comparing?

  5. I think this begs the question – if two lazy, unruly, rowdy, disrespectful Singaporean youths were put in the show instead, would they have acted any differently? Would they not have tried to skip school and break household rules as fervently as the Australian kids did?

    I believe the problem lies with attitudes and upbringing instead of culture. Politeness, humility, kindness, and generosity don’t come about because of culture. The stereotypical American college student is lazy and only interested in parties and fun. Obviously, some people do fit that stereotype, but there are those who prefer to stay in their dorms and study. Asking different Americans about the latter would definitely elicit different responses. Some might call them ‘hardworking and driven.’ Others might label them ‘geeks.’ So, once again, I don’t think it’s a cultural thing.

    But great post! Really gets you thinking!

    1. I think most Singaporeans are generally programmed once they enter what? pre school to obey rules and boundaries set by an authoritative figure. even if they might be unruly and all, there will come a point where they actually will listen and behave and obey rules as well. thats what i think at last.

      but if you think about it, the methods of upbringing a kid is the inevitable result of the culture we live in. for instance, if an asian couple migrates to america and have children there, the way they chose to bring up their children will be pretty much the asian way. since we are brought up in that way, we will want our children to be brought up that way too as it has been tried and tested that it is indeed a good and effective method to churn out a good child. moreover, the preconceived notions that asians have of americans aint really that fantastic and it diminishes the chances of us bringing up our kids in an americanized way don’t your think’?

  6. I guess the Australian media is portraying in their perspective. That’s why we feel that they are undermining the Singapore education system and Singaporean parents look unreasonable. If you switch the perspective, you will see that Australian parents are too liberal with their kids and hence they became brats. this is how our culture has affected us and brought us up.

    1. I guess so, but shouldn’t the media not should other cultures in such a bad light? for me, i think that it is important for people in the media industry to not do something like that. its not right to do so as it does not give whoever or whatever they are portraying in a good light.

  7. i think people misconstrue the meaning of strict.. if people restrict u from doing things, they are called strict.. but parents do that because kids do not make the best decisions for themselves. and it’s true, they’ve been there, done that, and would know better. however, they do give some freedom and mould us to be the best that we can be.. there’s nothing wrong with the Asian Tiger Mum.. she was just bringing up her kids the way she knew how to.. parents also learn from their kids.. looking back, they’ll be like, “was i like that when i was younger to my parents?” and they learn.. it’s a vicious cycle..

    1. agreed. something is only as bad as our society defines it to be. what we singaporeans define as strict might be considered insane in america or and what americans define as strict we might see as lax.

      but what you said makes perfect sense. our parents have been through whatever we are going through and perhaps 10 times worse than the sheltered lives we have today. so who are we to question what our parents do?

      its quite weird that all the attention had been on the aussie side of things but no one actually questioned why this family actually agreed to doing such a show knowing that they will be the yardstick for viewers of what a typical family here is like and i would liked to say that they aint exactly what we all are like.

  8. Hey! Wow this video is so viral now. I absolutely enjoy watching this series, it is always interesting to watch when someone from a low context culture joins the high context culture society!

    When I was watching this episode, I cannot help but to feel sorry for Memphis and Zaine’s parents especially when I saw the exasperated expression on their faces, knowing that they have done everything they could’ve done. One thing that is common in both scenarios is that both Memphis and Zaine are victims of their parent’s separation. This shows somethings just transcend boundaries,regardless of a high-context or low-context culture. I was especially touched during the last scene when Zaine told his mother that he love her, and we went “huh?” with such a wide smile. It was truly heart warming 🙂

    Admittedly, it’s not easy being a parent. But for the 3 sets of parents in this episode, A for effort! And the Chua family’s mother is like some superwoman lol!

    1. i know right! the contact in cultures really made very interesting television and I’m sure the the audience it was meant for, the aussies must be having an excellent time laughing at how we asians are so block headed and boring.

      yea, i mean why most kids turn delinquent is probably due to their family background and most of the time they come from broken families and by them being unruly and want not is simply them just seeking the attention that they never received from their loved ones. but i gotta say that them coming from a lower cultural context definitely played an important role in their difficulty to try to fit in much less attend a top notch junior college.

      hahas! she is indeed some wonder mother that she was able to whip them into some reasonable shape in 1 week!

  9. The paper-chase syndrome and strictness of Singaporean parents have been much debated about. I think we all fail to realize that because we are all too caught up with our own lives that we have grown accustomed to the way it has been for years. A UB student currently in Singapore now told me that she actually likes the way students are so motivated, yet she does see how it only makes one book-smart and not street-smart. so would you want to grow up street-smart or book-smart?

    1. the education system in singapore made her what she is today and i definitely am grateful for what she has given to me but what your said really makes sense. we are programmed in such a way that we are numb to everything else other than chasing a piece of paper that will either make or break us and we forget about the other important things in life. to stop and smell the roses once in a while. it takes an outsider to point out something that we already know but refuse to take action on. like being more street-smart and I’ve meet many people who are smart but yet have absolutely zero EQ and its pretty ironical that people are willing to hire these people over people who have a little lower academic achievements but much higher EQ.

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