I have many [regrets]. I wish I hadn’t been so harsh. I wish I hadn’t lost my temper so much. I wish I’d paid more attention earlier to the individual personalities of my daughters. Maybe given them a little more choice. If I’d had to do it all over again, I would basically do the same thing with some adjustments. Looking at my daughters now, I am incredibly proud of them. It’s not just that they’re good students. It’s that they’re really kind, generous, confident, happy girls with lots of friends and huge personalities. They’re always putting me in my place. They’re the opposite of robots. (Amy Chua, Author, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother in a Globe and Mail interview.)
It’s all about priorities. At least this is the impression you might receive after reading Yale Law Professor Amy Chua’s confessions about her parenting style. In a recently released book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Chua talks about the habits and perspectives of Chinese parents and her experiences living in a Eurasian household. Since Ms. Chua is a Chinese-American who was raised in the United States, we have to understand the term “Chinese parents” loosely. She could be talking about parents in China, recent immigrants to North America, or first or second generation Chinese-North Americans who favour the parenting ideology found in the typical Chinese families.
In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Ms. Chua explains that she has taken a hands-on and in your face approach to raising her children. One really cannot get the full flavor of the author’s perspective without reading her new book; however, it does seem that she is describing her approach with a touch of satire and full on conviction. She also contrasts her own approach with values and perspectives favoured by “western parents”. Presumably this term refers to anyone who lives in the United States,is not a Chinese parent or does not identify as a recent immigrant. A little bit of controversy never hurts an author when her book is being launched. It’s no surprise then that the article sports an eye popping title. Why Chinese Mothers are Superior. Can a regimen of no playdates, no TV, no computer games and hours of music practice create happy kids? An what happens when they fight back? Wowsers. That’s a title guaranteed to attract a few “click throughs”. The author has since stated that she did not choose the title for this article. If she could have chosen a tamer and less attention grabbing title ,would she have approved a more conservative option?
The reader learns that in the pre-teen years Ms. Chua’s children were not permitted the following*:
• attending a sleepover
• having a playdate
• being in a school play
• complaining about not being in a school play
• watching TV or playing computer games
• choosing their own extracurricular activities
• getting any grade less than an A
• not being the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
• playing any instrument other than the piano or violin
• not playing the piano or violin.
* The author admits that as the girls entered their teens one of her daughters rebelled and she had to change her approach. They are allowed sleep overs now and go to concerts.
It seems that common childhood social activities were seen as distractions and time wasters. The author also set her priorities about what the children should be doing and achieving: an A in all academic subjects and mastery of two instruments. Most parents will be shocked by this list. They will be even more alarmed when they read that the author routinely berated her children and even called her daughter garbage on one occasion. Apparently Chua was treated the same way by her parents and claims that this is not an uncommon practice in Chinese households. She further argues that over the top compliments and praise that are not a realistic assessment of the child’s abilities can sometimes make a child feel more diminished than if he or she had received harsh critiques. In contrast, she explains that if the child excels in her chosen subjects and hobbies, much praise is lavished on the child in private. Additionally, the child is more prepared for the harsh environment of the world at large.
Even though Chua’s book is a memoir, her ideas raise questions about whether her own approach is reasonable and worthy of replication in other households.
- What kind of world would we live in if all parents treated their children this way? Would we be happier? Would we be more successful and grateful? Would we be more self-fulfilled?
- Would most children excel in school if parents took the approach of Ms. Chua?
- Do children in these types of households grow up to appreciate or resent their parents for micro-programming and directing their lives?
- How do these children learn to develop their own initiatives, take chances and feel a sense of accomplishment independent of the viewpoints of others?
- What would happen to children who have learning difficulties or are interested in non-academic subjects?
- Ms. Chua and her children are female. Do boys respond equally as well to harsh words from parents?
- What happens if the child is particularly sensitive?
- The author called her daughter an “uncultured savage” for not trying caviar in Russia. The daughter called her mother selfish and terrible and added that she hated her and the violin. The author concludes that she would not change how she raised her daughters, but would make a few adjustments including less anger outbursts, respecting her daughters individual personalities and providing a bit more choice. Could she implement these changes and maintain the approach that she took in the early, intensive learning years? Would just a few changes have avoided this repressed outburst from her daughter?
- Should a parent force a child to practice repetitively for hours on end? Shouldn’t the child have an internal drive and motivation to want to continue to learn a skill?
- Are there other teaching methods that could have helped the author’s girls master a skill (eg a piano song) rather than the harsh approach mentioned in the article?
- Are “western parents” really as soft and lenient as the author believes? How does the author account for widely reported cases of helicopter parenting? Very few parents want to admit that they are “helicopter parents”. Couldn’t it be argued that the latter have a similar approach to parenting? They monitor their child’s progress carefully. They love their children and want them to achieve their full potential. They believe in their children’s abilities and carefully monitor their weekly activities.
- Is there another way that the author could accept that is somewhere between too lenient and the methods mentioned by the author?
- Do children really need to study and practice every waking moment outside of school hours in order to excel? Were three hours of music practice per day and double sessions on weekends necessary?
- Why couldn’t the author let her children attend a sleep over play date from time to time when they were young? Was the girls’ week so tightly scheduled?
- How did this non participation in common childhood social opportunities affect the social development of the author’s daughters?
- Couldn’t it be argued that children need to develop pride in their work on their own rather than relying on praise lavished by adults? What do psychologist know about how children develop a sense of satisfaction in their own efforts? Is a feeling of pride and self satisfaction connected to internal or external input? Why do children feel motivated to pursue an interest or make an effort?
- How do new generations of Chinese-North American parents combine traditional beliefs about child rearing with new perspectives?
- Why have some adult Chinese- North Americans reacted so strongly against the author’s description of her parenting style when her daughters were in elementary school?
- Since both of the author’s children are not mature adults over age 24, it seems a bit early for the author to be reminiscing about her child rearing abilities. Even though the author showed drafts of the book chapters to her children for approval, how can her girls develop their own internal stories and understanding about the progress of their childhood when the whole world has already been told the story by the mother?
According to the US Census Bureau, Asian Americans of East, South and South East Asia heritage have the highest educational attainment level and median household income of any ethnic group. They also make up less than 5% of the total population. Chinese Americans would be an even smaller sub category of this larger group. Here in British Columbia, and in the Lower Mainland in particular, there are numerous families who have Chinese and East Asian heritage. Undoubtedly the ideas presented in this book will be a hot topic of conversation amongst local parents of young and school-aged children.
Tiger Baby Strikes Back (Debunking the commonly held beliefs about “tiger parents” and their children)
Path analyses showed that the supportive parenting profile, which was the most common [amongst Chinese-American parents], was associated with the best developmental outcomes, followed by easygoing parenting, tiger parenting, and harsh parenting. Compared with the supportive parenting profile, a tiger parenting profile was associated with lower GPA and educational attainment, as well as less of a sense of family obligation; it was also associated with more academic pressure, more depressive symptoms, and a greater sense of alienation. The current study suggests that, contrary to the common perception, tiger parenting is not the most typical parenting profile in Chinese American families, nor does it lead to optimal adjustment among Chinese American adolescents.
Tiger Mothers: Raising Children the Chinese Way (Listen on NPR)
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