It can be tough being a kid in China. On top of going to school and learning about DNA-editing technologies from the age of six, the average 3-15 year old student spends 31 hours a week doing homework and extracurricular classes. And the summer holidays offer no respite, with 58% of children registered in extracurricular classes according to a 2019 study.
Education in China has only become more important as many parents strive for increasingly higher definitions of success and achievements in the competitive world of 1.4 billion people. Although millennial parents are becoming more rounded in their perception of what childhood should look like, much of it feeds into an underlying motivation to score highly in the gruelling gaokao exams, which ultimately determines their university pathway.
Parents place immense pressure on their children and themselves to bolster that gaokao score. It has seen parents do whatever they can to buy an apartment in the right school zones, and force-feed their kids with a diet of homework, tutoring, and after school sports, music and art – a term affectionately known as ‘chicken parenting’. For kids, the constant study results in almost 40% needing glasses by the age of 10, rising to over 80% by the time they finish high school. It is believed to be linked with Chinese kids being 28% more likely to be obese than they were five years ago.
The pressure for academic success has played a part in 25% of Chinese adolescents suffering from depression, versus 13% of their American peers. As the kids grow into young adults, the immense societal expectation to succeed has led to a counter culture of self-professed ‘losers’ or Diaosi. A somewhat related trend has come from youth exhausted by a culture of hard work with seemingly little reward who push for a lifestyle change by “lying flat”.
These numbers and cultures clearly aren’t pleasing the powers in Beijing. This isn’t just because they are looking out for the wellbeing of the populace, but also because this has contributed to over two-thirds of couples reluctant to bring more than one child into the world. Hence we have the well-publicised baby drought that is impacting China’s demographic balance, competitiveness and happiness. The stark reality is that nearly a sixth of China’s children and teenagers will have no brothers, sisters, uncles, or aunts by 2050.
The Government is pulling many levers to increase the attractiveness of parenting. One of the significant initiatives happening at present is a genuine crackdown on China’s extracurricular industry. A new department, new laws and tighter regulations are being aimed at private education companies that offer tutoring services to create more barriers for parents, and ultimately decreasing societal pressure for children to do the tens of hours of extracurricular activities every week. Beijing has also set limits on the amount of homework that can be given, and is exploring solutions for school zone pressures. There are even calls to reward parents with ¥1 million ($155K) for having a bub.
Brands would be wise to take note of the pressure on parents and children in China, and also Beijing’s motivations to find solutions for these pressures. Marketing anything from sports to food to experiences, are likely to sell a lot better if they connect emotionally to the societal challenges and if parents think that they will improve their kids chance of success. The challenges are unlikely to go away any time soon, so plan for the long run.
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