Do we need to “create hunger” in our children for them to succeed?

Do we need to “create hunger” in our children for them to succeed?

Sep 11, 2013

On September 8 my husband and I attended the Foundation Day of Tulong Dunong, founded in the 70s by the late Fr. O’Brien, S.J., who shared the same birthday with Mama Mary. Tulong Dunong (TD) is an endeavor of the Ateneo High School to add a social dimension to its education. In 4th year the subjects CLE (Christian Life Education) and AP (Araling Panlipunan) are combined and Tulong Dunong is the added feature wherein the boys get to apply what they’ve learned and share what they know with others. Once a week they go to their assigned public school to teach Math and English to Grade 6 students, complete with lesson plans, quizzes and recitations. Furthermore, the brightest among their students are recruited and given high school scholarships to private schools like Ateneo, Miriam, St. Scholastica. A few years ago it was formally incorporated as a foundation wherein my husband is the treasurer.

One of the favorite Ateneo Grade 8 teachers, Meng De Guia, shared her personal experiences as a TD scholar herself who was sent to Maryknoll High School (the former name of Miriam). She recounted her heartwarming moments with Fr. O’Brien – how he gave her money to buy dress and shoes so she could go to her graduation ball, how he would bring her and the other scholars to “culturally enriching events” like German concerts so they could appreciate Bach, the happy meriendas at Magnolia House so they know that there are various ways of preparing ice cream, etc. She narrated all these in a funny way, but there is a real challenge in growing up side by side with your more affluent classmates especially when you’re in your teens.

However, it is the same realization that can fire up the hunger in a child to aspire for more and have a more focused ambition to succeed.

In the same event, Ricky Tantoco, president of the Energy Development Corp. (EDC), shared that his journey to success was also fired up by a childhood experience. Despite belonging to a privileged clan, the untimely death of his father when he was still in grade school left him with a potent memory of an uncle arriving in their home and getting their properties like cars, paintings, kaha de yero, etc., leaving his mom to fend for the family.

Sometimes poverty and life dramas give a competitive advantage. They give the necessary inconvenience in a person to seek a better state of life. And looking at the TD scholars last Sunday made me realize that these kids most probably value their high school education that they’re currently getting from Ateneo, Miriam, St. Scholastica out of the TD scholarship grants, compared to their classmates who are being sent to the same schools by their more affluent parents.

The late Steve Jobs, during a commencement speech, advised the graduates to “stay hungry” because he knew that success is achieved by those who are hungry.

So the questions of the more affluent parents are, “Will our children become less successful because they live a comfortable life? Is this the price of privilege? How do we give them that success ingredient called hunger?”

How do you create hunger in your children if you’ve already worked your way off to a comfortable life? Didn’t you work hard so your children will not go through the same childhood difficulties you went through? Isn’t it crazy to deprive your children of a comfortable life if you can afford it? Besides, how else can you enjoy the fruits of your earned wealth if not with your own family? Where does giving opportunities to our children end and raising entitled kids begin?

It’s not an easy task. Things are not in black and white. And parents will just have to look closely at their own circumstances to spot and eliminate the factors of their comfortable life that may hinder in raising their children to become successful adults. Here are some thoughts I wish to share with you:

1. Allow them to fight their own battles. When they were infants and helpless, we worried about each mosquito bite and mild fever. We saw to it that they were well nourished and protected. But when they’re not infants anymore, we should stop the urge to call the teacher or the parent of the classmate at the slightest sign of conflict. Allow them to fight their own battles. In cases where I want to call the teacher’s attention to something, I always consult with my sons if I should, or if they will resolve the issues themselves. They always choose the latter. So far, I have not called any parent to resolve any conflicts with my sons. But I must have received a couple of text messages from a parent during their younger years.

2. Forbid “I’m bored!” This is what we always hear from privileged kids. They’re bored with their teachers, they’re bored with school but they’re also bored if there’s a long break. Early in their lives my sons have known that they’ll be in trouble if they say this line at home. (Click link for previous article Boredom: The Forbidden Word). But this was after we’ve explained to them that their boredom is their own doing. They now understand and believe that boredom is one’s inability to make use of one’s precious time. They also try to use their creativity to fight boredom when challenged with uninteresting teachers, subjects and other must-do activities.

3. Allow them to experience some inconveniences in life. Even if you can provide them with car and driver to all their activities, teach them how to take public transportation and make them take it once in a while. This would make them appreciate their blessings more. Avoid short-cuts like when they get their driver’s license. After my sons spent a day to get their license, they had a taste of bureaucracy and the effort somehow added value to the privilege and responsibility of holding a driver’s license.

4. Don’t give them everything they want. Everybody knows this but it’s not always easy to implement. On a case-to-case basis, see if what they’re asking for will add to their creativity or will just add to their accumulated stuff.

5. Delay gratification. Even if you’ve decided to give in, just make them wait a little longer. Make them earn it without making it look like a bribe.

6. Challenge them. This is an important substitute to the natural hunger that their less privileged counterparts naturally possess. This is why it’s important to be involved in your children’s studies early on instead of delegating everything to the tutor. Once you’ve established what their academic capabilities are, demand only the best performance from them. This is the same in the field of sports and other interests. By being involved, you know when to push more and when to hold back.

7. Give them household chores even if you have helpers. Most of the time privileged children are not lacking in motivation to perform well in school. However, this is oftentimes coupled with the absence of other responsibilities given to them outside of schoolwork, which are just as important in forming their character.

8. Cut their financial umbilical cord as soon as they graduate from college. I am assuming here that you have taught your children about money such that by this time, they have accumulated a decent sum from their regular savings and investments, derived from their allowance and cash gifts. This way they have something to spend while looking for a job. If they have not accumulated anything because you failed to teach them FQ while growing up, agree on a certain amount of “finite allowance” with a cut-off date while they look for a job. I see a lot of graduates from affluent families who don’t have the motivation to get a job and earn a living simply because dad’s allowance is a lot higher than the starting salary being offered.

9. Only give what you can afford without sacrificing your retirement nest egg. This would make them appreciate their rightful place under the sun. When we over-give to our children they might grow up feeling that they’re the center of the universe and it’s okay for others to sacrifice just so they can have what they want.

10. Let them experience the consequences of their actions. Parents would always want to soften the blow for their children’s wrong actions, but doing so results in undisciplined loser adults. I got this insight from a parent who always had a reason why her child was no longer in the honor roll. It was always the teacher’s or somebody else’s fault. By passing on the blame to someone else, or not allowing your children to acknowledge their fault, they will never do anything to improve the situation.

11. Make goal setting and assessment a habit. If the less privileged kids have their hunger to aspire for a better life, which leads them to succeed, then habitual goal-setting will provide the needed targets for your children to work hard and succeed.

12. Make them feel that you truly believe in their capabilities. When I had my birthday retreat last week, the priest asked me, “What is your image of God?” My answer was, “He is happy with what He sees in me and even as I question myself right now if I am using my God-given gifts to their maximum potential, He is constant in His love and will love me just the same whether I maximize those gifts or not.” After I said those words, I teared up because I realized that that’s exactly how I should parent my children. I was also thankful to realize that despite our usual mother and son challenges, I can honestly say at this point, “I believe they will all be alright; in fact, much more than alright.”

13. If you belong to the ultra rich class, consider not bequeathing everything to your children. A rich man once said, “I will give to my children enough that they can do what they want to do, but not too much that they won’t have anything to do.”

14. Get to know your children early on and continue to know them as they evolve into young adults.  It is only through this that you will know their deepest desires and aspirations, their greatest fears and insecurities, their biggest dreams and motivations. Only then can you help them succeed.

In the end, we realize that this hunger that should be present in our children for them to strive hard and succeed does not always have to be in the form of material want. Inasmuch as this is the most concrete form and has the most tangible effect in motivating a person to work hard and succeed, there are other forms of hunger that can help our children. It’s the hunger for a better world, a hunger for a better version of oneself. For it is in the pursuit and achievement of a better self to create a better world that one becomes truly successful.


The Tulong Dunong (TD) Foundation, Inc. is a worthwhile cause and you will truly appreciate it when you see the improvement in the lives of the TD scholars. Good education has a significant multiplier effect as each recipient is not only able to have a better life but is now able to help his family and others. TD has among its scholars numerous successful doctors, lawyers, teachers, showbiz celebrities, entrepreneurs, corporate executives, etc. To donate or know more about TD, please go to