What Chinese Parents Do Better than American Ones

Did you know that the average Chinese family spends 30% of their total annual income on their children’s education?  Do you know what the bulk of American spending on children is for?  If you guessed “sports”, you’re right.  A previous Fortune 500 company I worked for actually stated they would not consider moving their education operations to the US simply because Americans spend so much more on sports than on education.  Now, that says a lot.

When I worked in China, families who had the money, spent up to $35,000 a year on their one child’s kindergarten.  And $35,000 is a lot harder to come by in China than it is here.  I had families that would drive over an hour and a half to bring their children to English lessons in what they felt was the best school.  And these were families with both parents working.  How many parents do you know in the US that would make that level of commitment for their children’s education?  Now think how many parents you know that would do that to drive their kid to a game or match?  I bet it’s a much bigger number.

Differing emphasis for Chinese and US students.

Differing emphasis for Chinese and US students.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with sports.  They have great benefits like keeping kids active and encouraging teamwork.  But, you can also do that in numerous other ways.  And it doesn’t require the prioritization of family resources and time.  When I first moved back to the US, I was amazed at how children’s sporting activities came up in almost every conversation.  Even our local newspapers are almost 50% local sports coverage.  You’ve got to ask yourself, “What’s the point of all this?  Is it helping my child?  Is it helping them more than language, computer programming, or science lessons?”  The skills and knowledge learned in subjects like foreign languages, computer programming, and science will last a lifetime and will prepare children for a diverse, technology intensive, and globalized world where many cultures are interconnected.  Can sports do that nearly as well?

And it’s not like we’re just having our kids play sports for fun in America.  That’d certainly bring benefits without huge commitments of family time and financial resources.  But, in America, sports are often the center of the family.  Every other activity children are involved in revolves around their sports schedule.  Families base their housing purchases on school districts where they know children can get on the best team or have the best chance of getting on the team.  I know children of middle school age that literally spend 4 hours a day in swimming practice – 2 hours before school and 2 hours after school.  How can that huge dedication of time possibly be more beneficial than focusing some of it on children’s development in other areas that have long-lasting life benefits?  Would you prefer your child can speak a second language and interact with a completely foreign culture and people, or be able to swim faster that the other students in their school?  It’s a particularly American obsession, and one I’m not clear as to why it’s so prevalent.

What makes Americans commit so much time and energy to sporting activities?  Do you think sports are too prominent in American children’s lives?  Would this time and energy be better spent elsewhere?  Looking forward to a good discussion in the comments.

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