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APR 4, 2014

Confessions of a Tiger Dad: Preparing Your Kids for Today’s World

By Yoshito Hori
© olga_gl - Fotolia.com

Automation, artificial intelligence, and outsourcing are leading to the rapid disappearance of many traditional jobs. Middle-aged people are worrying if their own jobs will last to retirement, and if there will be any jobs left at all by the time their kids join the labor market.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks 2014 listed “structurally high unemployment/underemployment” as No. 2 on a list of ten global risks of highest concern this year. No wonder parents everywhere are asking the same question:

How can we prepare our children for this hyper-competitive, globalized world?

Since my wife and I have five sons, we have every reason to take this issue seriously. After much reading and discussion, we came to the conclusion that the best thing for us to do is equip our boys with a high level of seimeiryokyu (“vitality” or “resilience” in Japanese). We believe that a good stock of seimeiryoku should make them resistant to failure, flexible in the face of change, and positive in their overall approach.

But how does one provide children with something as abstract as “vitality” or “resilience”?

We broke it down into three key components:

1. Ability to play sports
2. Ability to play Go (Chinese chess) competitively
3. Ability to speak English and live abroad

Let me explain these in order.

1. SPORTS
This is a simple one. Doing sports familiarizes kids with concepts like leadership, teamwork, self-discipline, and competitiveness, while helping raise their baseline energy and positivity. In primary school, we got all our kids to focus on swimming. From junior high, they’re free to choose whatever sport they like best. As a family, we also go skiing/snowboarding for ten days every winter. Being in good physical condition boosts a person’s life chances in the most straightforward way.

2. PLAYING GO
Unlike many other games, luck plays no part in Go. If you lose, you lose because you are worse than your opponent. If you want to win, you simply have to practice more.

And that’s what all our five boys do, taking Go lessons or playing against the computer (constructive early exposure to IT), sometimes for several hours a day, to hone their technique. But practicing by itself isn’t enough; you need more pressure. That’s why our kids represented their primary school, competing at the regional and national level. Over six consecutive years, their school was No. 1 in Tokyo and in the top eight nationally, finishing as Japan-wide champion three times.

From Go, kids learn valuable life lessons: how to bounce back from failure, how to focus on a long-term goal, and how to concentrate (a single go game can last up to three hours!). It also builds a zest for winning that’s a source of strength in later life.

Plenty of successful people in Japan have been go enthusiasts, from the three great Tokugawa warlords who unified the nation to baseball star Ichiro and Hiroshi Yamauchi, the revolutionary third president of Nintendo who took the company from playing cards into video games.

3. SPEAKING ENGLISH & LIVING ABROAD
Mastery of the global language of English opens up a window to the wider world. Nonetheless, my wife and I hesitated to send our kids to an international school and, in the end, opted for a Japanese school. Why? Two reasons: First, we wanted the boys to have a solid Japanese identity before becoming citizens of the world. Second, we felt that Japanese schools did a better job inculcating values of teamwork, discipline, and so forth.

Both my wife and I lived for a while in Australia as kids—she as a primary schooler, me as a high schooler—and we both went to grad school in the U.S. Going to school abroad doesn’t just improve your English. It enables you to get on with people from different cultures and be less insular in your outlook.

We’ve made it a family rule that all our boys must spend at least one year of high school overseas—our eldest son is currently in Canada—and that either their undergraduate or graduate school studies must be done at a foreign university.

***

Since none of the next generation of Horis are yet old enough for the job market, I can’t report definitively if the “Hori three-point vitality method” actually works or not. Still, my wife and I are confident that we’ve done our best to equip our boys with a robust foundation for living their lives in a bold, creative, and positive way in a world that’s changing at internet speed.