What use is that?

I think one of the problems with us Asian parents, in particular Chinese, is that we often have a fixed opinion on the value of things. I am certainly guilty of it, as was my mom, and I am sure there are many others out there as well.

What use are computer games? What use are sports? What use is in learning literature? What use is in learning music? What use is in being an Arts major?

This is the result of being extremely pragmatic people. If there is no attached $ value to something, we deem it as useless. When we do, we force that opinion down on our kids, often removing a joy of their life. And it is not always a conscious thing either. The opinions we have can be such a second nature to our being that we blurt it out without thinking.

This method of teaching kids is perhaps an inadvertent result of our pressure cooker society, especially in East Asian cities, and increasingly in the Bay Area. The result of…

  1. Lack of time. As working parents, we only have those few hours a day to be with our kids. We want to use this time as constructively as possible.
  2. Stratification of jobs into well paying and not so well paying ones. As parents, we obviously want our kids to have the best life in future. Anything that is perceived to not contribute to them being able to get a well paying job goes by the wayside.

Despite our best intentions, these “decisions” made for our kids may come back to stab us in the foot. Quite simply, there are skills or traits that can be acquired from “non-essential” things, that may be useful in what we are aiming for. Sometimes, it can even end up being a huge benefit.

Consider learning Mandarin. As a Chinese, this can be just a cultural thing. When it is of limited use in a English-dominant society, such as when all other subjects are taught in English, it sometimes goes into the unimportant bin. However, learning a different language as a kid can…

  1. Allow the user to think from a different perspective. This can useful in say, scientific research, where we need to think in different ways to arrive at a solution. It also changes our world-view. Who we are and how we behave can change depending on what language we are using. On top of that, we will never be racist towards another whose language we speak. Yes, it is a well-known fact that some English educated, but racially Chinese people used to look down on other fellow Chinese because they don’t speak English.
  2. Allow the user to become naturally pitch perfect (with limitations). Chinese for example is a tone-based language. If your tone is off, well, the meaning conveyed can go way off.
  3. Makes the user smarter. Physically speaking, the user does end up with more grey matter. And leads to better short-term memory, attention and inhibition. All that routine memorization of Chinese characters have an effect!

Consider playing computer games. Complete waste of time right? I beg to differ, being someone who played games growing up and still is playing today. Anecdotally…

  1. Manage stress of all forms better. Find a game to love and feel yourself unwind. For those used to high stress gaming environments, we also learn to manage it better. Not a trivial skill in our modern society.
  2. Best trigger reactions. Even better than fighter pilots, if it involves clicking a mouse that is…(hah) Now if we design our tools to make use of these reactions, gamers suddenly gets an edge over others.
  3. Acquire knowledge. Face it, I learned more about ancient civilizations from “Civilization” than I did from history textbooks.

Among others, sports teaches teamwork (if in a team) and a healthy lifestyle to participants. Along with music, teaches discipline and mind-body coordination. Gardening and keeping pets can teach responsibility and empathy for plants and animals. And all of them also helps as a stress reliever.

As we focus on getting our kids to excel in modern academic excellence so that they will have a baseline to work from to succeed in life, we should ask ourselves one question in return.

What use is in being successful in life if they end up being miserable?

Depression or even dying from stress is a real problem for one.

Yet it can also be a real problem if they chose a career that would obviously be a monetary problem. How then are we supposed to equip them for a good life in future?

Personally I have no idea. I suppose for starters, we should stop the knee-jerk reaction to dismiss something as useless without research or thinking about it. Practically speaking just about every form of “play” has some benefit to them.

Maybe we should just “lighten up“.


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