Singapore’s Prime Minister Endorses Free-Range Kids (Just Not in Those Words)

Hi Folks! Here’s a hint  that the tide is turning! In Singapore, excess tutoring, helicoptering and micro-managing has long been the name of the game,  says this ersdbbeasy
article in The Economist

Imagine, then, the surprise when the prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, launched an attack on tiger mothers in a speech in late August to mark Singapore’s national day. Most of his remarks celebrated Singapore’s success, as usual. But then he berated parents for coaching their three- or four-year-old children to give them that extra edge over the five-year-old competition. And he added: “Please let your children have their childhood…Instead of growing up balanced and happy, he grows up narrow and neurotic. No homework is not a bad thing. It’s good for young children to play, and to learn through play.”

PLAY? The open-ended, non-goal-oriented, plain-old-fun thing that most kids love to do, given half a chance? THAT’S enriching? Gollllly! It’s as if we need to take our children to the park and leave them there! Or give them an afternoon a week outside with no agenda, class or coach! But how on earth can you convince helicopter parents that this kind of “time wasting” is worthwhile? Well:

For many parents, to follow the prime minister’s indulgent instincts would be to jeopardise the little prodigy’s future. But the anxiety behind the comments is that hard-studying Singaporeans lack creativity and an ability to think laterally. This is now seen as a competitive disadvantage in what are often called “knowledge economies”, where innovation and inventiveness are at a premium. Are the tiger mothers, Mr Lee seems to be wondering, now putting Singapore’s future prosperity at risk?

Yes, that’s the new argument for Free-Range Kids. Children who are micro-managed do not get the chance to think for themselves. Free-Range Kids do — and their future is as bright as Singapore’s skyline. – L

Is the secret to future economic success more freedom in childhood?



20 Responses to Singapore’s Prime Minister Endorses Free-Range Kids (Just Not in Those Words)

  1. the full montessori September 25, 2012 at 3:50 pm #

    Yes, that’s the key! Do you want your child to be an innovator or a working stiff??? If parents understood that play = innovation, they would be shoving their kids out the door and throwing away the video games!

  2. Earth.W September 25, 2012 at 4:04 pm #

    If we have generations of children unable to think for themselves, who will help guide the youth when the elderly can’t think for themselves either?

  3. Warren September 25, 2012 at 4:52 pm #

    The word is spreading, and the ideals are being heard and understood. What makes this even more significant, is it comes from a culture where children are pushed to be superior to the ones that came before them.

    A new voice of common sense a reason emerges, that realizes the need for balance.

  4. Dave September 25, 2012 at 5:09 pm #

    I have been to Singapore and was struck by a culture that is driven by rules, one that is over policed. To read that the prime minister sees over protection and over direction of children as a problem leading to a lack of creativity is so encouraging. If Singapore gets this we should be ashamed of ourselves.

  5. Ali September 25, 2012 at 6:15 pm #


  6. Heath September 25, 2012 at 7:16 pm #

    Lenore, you say that’s the new argument for Free Range Kids. But I thought that always WAS the argument. Ha ha! Besides the obvious benefits of healthier, more well-balanced kids, the whole “freedom” thing is the key to success.

  7. Havva September 25, 2012 at 8:12 pm #

    Hasn’t freedom always been key to a thriving society and economy? Of course that applies to kids too.

    But that article gives quite the way to argue with tiger moms. Our kids aren’t just playing. They are building creativity and lateral thinking skills. We are preparing them for the knowledge economy! And of course we don’t go with them to the park… they would be too tempted to look to us for direction, and we would be too tempted to suggest, and guide, and basically interfere. You don’t build lateral thinking that way!

  8. mollie September 25, 2012 at 9:36 pm #

    What Dave said! Except instead of ashamed, here’s hoping we’re inspired…

  9. This girl loves to talk September 25, 2012 at 10:03 pm #

    we are a homestay family and we had a lovely taiwanese lady live with us the past year. At home she is a cram school teacher (the after school school going from 4pm-8pm ish) she said often the kids are tired, irritable, dont want to be there, little monsters etc 🙂 after living in australia (and even her thoughts before coming here) she stated that if she had kids she doesnt think she would want them to go to cram school but it would be really hard as it is cultural norm and she would be very looked down upon. I said be the change! start a revolution! No cram school!

  10. Janet September 26, 2012 at 4:13 am #

    A friend of mine commented on this phenomenon recently (the lack of ability to innovate and think laterally). His company has just outsourced a lot of its IT (which is his department) to Asia. He was saying that the people he now works with (remotely) are great at identifying where something is going wrong, but hopeless at suggesting another way of doing it so that it doesn’t go wrong!

    So I can see why it scares the Singaporean PM to think that that is going to be the norm in the next generation of adults. But I fear the tiger mums won’t be able to let go. (Heck, I’m free-range and anti-coaching, but even I’m considering it for my eldest, so that she can have a wider choice of public high schools! And then I’m part of the vicious circle of coaching… Hmm, I just talked myself out of it.)

  11. hineata September 26, 2012 at 5:49 pm #

    This is, in some ways, unfair of the prime minister. It is normal in Singaporean/Malaysian Chinese culture for the mother, not the father, to get blame heaped (really, really heaped) upon her if her child doesn’t succeed, and it is only in the last generation that there has been any money put away on a regular basis for people to fund their own retirement (the CPF). Children were very much their parents’ only retirement option. Way to go, Mr Prime Minister, blaming the mums yet again.

    It’s not that I don’t agree with the fact that these kids are overly pushed, because they certainly are, and I agree that as adults most of them are unable to think laterally (my 67 year old, relatively uneducated mother used to have to ring her uni-educated colleagues there and tell them how to do anything that wasn’t straightforward) but really, that lack of lateral thinking has as much to do with thousands of years of a conformist culture as it does to do with cramming. China over the centuries appears to have seldom rewarded lateral thinking by any but its top people.There are huge issues of ‘face’ involved too, and also something called ‘Kiah su’ (phonetic spelling..) which is basically something like a fear of failure, a fear of ‘If I don’t do that, this won’t happen, I might miss out”.

    The only way that things seem to change in Singapore is from the top down, so the PM’s statements are possibly the beginning of help for beleaguered Singaporean kids, but I still feel like kicking him! For a better understanding of the pressure these mums are under, and also for a good laugh, try finding “I No Stupid, Lah!” a great Singlish movie that tries to to make the same point, but in a more gentle fashion.

    The other thing I wonder about is where he thinks all these children are going to go and play creatively? There are excellent green spaces in Singapore – it really is a marvel of good urban design – but it’s still a reality that it is a tiny island with a popultion the size of New Zealand (all crammed into and area equivalent to Lake Taupo). It is also extremely hot, and for much of the day a lot of the playground equipment is too hot to touch. Giving more free time is great, but if it’s just going to result in kids either playing computer games inside their aircon flats, or attending structured swimming or tennis-type lessons, then what, really, is the point?

  12. hineata September 26, 2012 at 5:56 pm #

    Sorry for the rant, but it does make my blood boil! These women are not like Amy (?) who wrote the Tiger Mother book, which in some ways is actually pointing out the harm this type of thing does, but just ordinary women whose social status really is tied more with the achievement/standing of their children than with their own work status etc. The best thing we can do is make sure we don’t replicate their society……

  13. Donna September 27, 2012 at 12:34 am #

    I agree with hineata here. Lack of creative and lateral thinking cannot be boiled down to lack free play and I think it more a reflection of the culture.

    Samoans engage in nothing except free play as children. Heavy education and extracurricular activities are not part of the Samoan culture at all.

    And yet, Samoans have very little creative or lateral thinking. The culture is very group-oriented and conformist. Individuality is viewed as a negative; while group-think is treated positively. Dressing alike is highly practiced by all groups – families, friends, coworkers. Even creative endeavors, like dance and art, are done in a group fashion and within regimented lines. The lack of focus on the individual in favor of the group (team) has been floated as the reason that a Samoan is 56 times more likely to play in the NFL than anyone else in America (well that and their impressive size).

  14. CalliGraphMom September 27, 2012 at 11:13 am #

    Food for thought. I was struggling with this today – noticed how happily my children play with each other a few weeks ago, and I’ve been interacting with them less. And feeling guilty. Perhaps it’s more “free-range” hmm…

  15. Jean Oram September 27, 2012 at 7:48 pm #


    That is so awesome. I agree. Play is so important for so many different skills. Maybe we’re not so crazy, after all, eh? 🙂

  16. counter strike September 29, 2012 at 3:13 am #

    I am really impressed with your writing abilities and also with the layout to your weblog. Is that this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself? Anyway keep up the excellent high quality writing, it’s rare to look a great weblog like this one today..

  17. kc September 29, 2012 at 6:29 am #

    I agree it’s a cultural thing (coming from an Asian background myself).

    But I have to give great kudos to the PM for making this speech. As harsh as it may be on the parents, it’s up to them to be brave enough to “let go” and not make all the decisions for their kids. The speech will hopefully promote debate and change. True, it’s not just about free play but I think kids would benefit from a far less structured conformist lifestyle.

    You don’t need a lot of space for creativity. Put a group of kids together and they’ll come up with something. It could be about encouraging kids to dream, imaging, draw, write, encouraging them to ask questions and listening to what they are interested in.

  18. Paula October 1, 2012 at 12:05 am #

    I can see his view about Tiger mums (and fathers) all this pushing isn’t good for the children. Have a look at the suicide rate of these kids its way higher than other kids.

  19. trade market June 2, 2013 at 9:14 am #

    I am extremely impressed together with your writing talents and also with the structure in your blog.
    Is that this a paid topic or did you customize it yourself?
    Either way stay up the excellent quality writing,
    it’s uncommon to look a nice blog like this one nowadays..

    My page; trade market


  1. Free Range | Priceless Paintings from W7 - September 28, 2012

    […] Singapore’s Prime Minister Endorses Free-Range Kids (Just Not in Those Words) ( […]