Dear parents: Don't let superstar syndrome set kids up to fail

Dear parents: Don't let superstar syndrome set kids up to fail
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British tennis star Emma Raducanu has won the U.S. Open at 18 years-old, and the media has started gushing. 

She also has an A plus in Math and A in Economics. Wow, this is why immigrants rock! Canadian born British teen with Romanian and Chinese heritage — what a combination! 

Still, others praise how she has silenced grumpy old John McEnroe, who had snarky comments about her mental resilience a couple of months back due to her withdrawal from Wimbledon. 


For parents around the world hastily reading about Raducanu’s progress and background, pondering new plans for their own kids to ace sports, music, chess, math, horse-riding, school classes and the sundry, here is a cautionary reminder.  

Raducanu's emergence is a rare event. The law of averages clearly shows that all kids don't become a Raducanu, and that should be okay. In fact, she would herself acknowledge that to be where she has been she has had to work hard, deal with mental wellness issues and, let's not forget, spend a lot of money. Let's also not forget that she has a long way ahead. One hopes the world will be gentle with her.  

The pandemic, meanwhile, is going to (if not already has) tighten the household purse strings of many parents globally. It's already pressurizing curriculum recovery challenges for primary, elementary and secondary education all around the world, particularly so in low- and middle-income countries. A report from Annual Status of Education Report in India documents deep learning losses with kids doing virtual education, especially those in rural India (meanwhile, governments worldwide tout progress in digitizing education without appreciating these nuances). Eric Hanushek and coauthors have also documented in a 2020 OECD report the negative effects of learning losses for long-term global GDP.

All of this, meanwhile, happens as the gap between demand and supply for education and life skills are being potentially exploited by digital sharks — stylized education technology providers barking down parents’ necks, promising to create the next math or science Olympiads. In places like India, this is happening with seed money pouring in from the venture capital ecosystem, with little regard for monitoring of quality or the challenges being created in households that are on the margins, aspiring to afford the technologies. For parents who have grown up with the fangs of shadow education and private coaching houses in places like India, Japan or South Korea around them, this advent of edutech is just a digital reminiscence of those brick-and-mortar days. 

This apart, our kids are suffering from excessive device exposure, potential issues with childhood obesity due to a more sedentary lifestyle sparked by global lockdowns and ophthalmological issues, given exposure to screens. Many are also going through mental health challenges and may face an increased risk of suicide. 

Finally, many parents are not able to push their children to be the next Raducanu at all, given the lack of quality and equal educational opportunities. Even in rich economies like the U.S. there is a phenomenon of “lost Einsteins,” documented by careful empirical work by economists like Raj Chetty and colleagues. 

In this world of preponderance of challenges, let's be easy with our kids. Let us work with them to be good human beings while we slowly recuperate from the pandemic. Let them enjoy sunrises, sunsets and nature, and understand the suffering of the human condition as the world recovers from the pandemic while grappling with climate disasters from Lake Tahoe to Bangladesh.  

Our kids may or may not become the next Raducanu, but that is absolutely fine. 

Chirantan Chatterjee is a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He is also a tenured faculty (Reader in Economics of Innovation) at University of Sussex in the United Kingdom and Visiting Faculty at Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. He tweets @chiruchat