Tiger Mom Reconsidered

There’s been quite a buzz about Amy Chua’s new book “Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mom.” While most critics have been quick to pounce on Chua for her heavy-handed approach to parenting, David Brooks sees things from a different perspective.

“I have the opposite problem with Chua. I believe she’s coddling her children. She’s protecting them from the most intellectually demanding activities because she doesn’t understand what’s cognitively difficult and what isn’t.

Practicing a piece of music for four hours requires focused attention, but it is nowhere near as cognitively demanding as a sleepover with 14-year-old girls. Managing status rivalries, negotiating group dynamics, understanding social norms, navigating the distinction between self and group — these and other social tests impose cognitive demands that blow away any intense tutoring session or a class at Yale.”

What do you think? Is Chua just being honest about a reality (most of us coddle our already indulged children) we’d rather not think about? Or is she too narrow in her definition of success? Or is there something else in the air that has sparked this reaction?


8 thoughts on “Tiger Mom Reconsidered

  1. Let me share with you some of my own experiences as a Chinese woman from Amy Chua’s generation. First of all, Amy Chua’s parenting style is not the “Chinese” style of parenting. I have seen both the “strict” and the “laissez-faire” types of parenting from Chinese families. Two friends (both Chinese) that I have known since grade 9 were raised in these two different ways. Is one more successful than the other? Is one happier than the other? Is one more socially adept than the other?

    I would say that on the first two points, they are equal. On the third point, however, I would say, surprisingly, that the one who was pushed more is actually better socially than the one who was allowed more freedom. Why is that, I wonder? Perhaps because there was something that parenting style could not control – the personality that one is born with.

    It seems to me, therefore, that ultimately, you are who you are and who you were meant to be. Yes, your experiences along the way will help to shape you, but we are all unique. Two people going through the same experiences can turn out very different in the end.

    I am not condoning Amy Chua’s parenting style. I do not parent the way she does. I believe, however, that children will thrive in a loving environment. At no time, did I ever get the impression that Amy Chua’s daughters were not raised by loving parents.

    Amy Chua’s parenting style is extreme, no doubt. Are her daughters unhappy and socially awkward as a result? All I’m saying is that I don’t think anyone can comment on that until they’ve met them. Maybe they will surprise you.

  2. I have little doubt that children brought up in this manner will be sucessful, by most current standards. I’m not convinced that this equates to happiness.

    Part of me does wonder if the obsession with parenting/schooling is reflective of reality. I do not feel that I am the simple sum of my education and my parent’s influence. Quit frankly, in retrospect, I wish my parents had forced me to stick with the piano etc. But perhaps I only feel this way precisely because they gave 14 year-old me the freedom to make (I don’t know a better way to phrase this) mistakes? It’s hard to think through, and in many ways I think our obsession (and individual philosophies) with parenting reflects the serious misgivings we all have about our own education/childhood. A chance to rectify perceived errors. Just musing, but I think parents who look to their own parents as models are much less common than one would expect. This is not to say that we do not love, and respect them.

    Regardless – it is never to late to learn piano, and I’m not convinced that I’m happy.

  3. Jim, I agree with David Brooks to a point. The question at the end of the day is what is better in the long run – the 10,000 hours of study/practice to become world class or the intellectual, social and emotional freedom that helps drive the development of social interaction and other life skills.To declare my bias upfront, we have practiced non-aggressive, “let our kids find their own path” and work ethic, lead by example parenting (probably the anti-thesis of Chua). I think it makes for happier and better-socially adjusted and adaptable kids, whom we will have better long-term family relationships with, but I am not sure that it has optimized their potential to be the best they can be in either school, sporting or specific extracurricular activities. For example, Biff is tone perfect, had a great grandmother who was an opera singer, lots of relatives that had their own bands, played instruments, wrote music, etc, but we never pushed it and while he did briefly take music at the prep, was never that interested in it and we did not push it on him at all).As much as I would like to think that kids will develop their own world class work habits and skills, if left to their own devices completely, by the time they “figure it out” it is often too late for them in life to become world class at something. So it is very unlikely they would become “world class” at something if they are not pushed by their parents at a young age (i.e. before they have the intellectual capacity or scope of experience to make their own choices that would lead to ultimate success in a particular activity as measured on some broader societal scale). The degree and form of “pushing” that each child would “require” is a really interesting question – from merely providing opportunity to actively pushing). My parents were old school and we were told what activities we were going to be doing, whether it was music lessons, ski lessons, etc. I remember hating a lot of it at the time and to a certain age (early teens), but developed great joy and passion for a lot of it later in life and I am very thankful that they “forced me” to do most of the various activities. There is an interesting inflection point where the “pushed” child often takes ownership of and starts to love the activity. Certainly this is often after a certain amount of mastery has been achieved and success tasted. The reality of the world is that to become world class at an activity you have to start earlier than almost any child would start on their own, and with a degree of engagement that they would not choose on their own. Is the child better off for having been pushed down the path? Is the world better off for having great sports stars, musicians, business leaders, politicians, etc? Are there really actually more of such individuals or do they just become President at a younger age than they otherwise would have? I don’t know. If the playing field was truly level, and there wasn’t recruiting, scholarships, beauty contests, etc. and the requirement to show excellence and great potential at a very young age then I would say let all the water find its own level (aka let kids find their own path as we are doing). It is the rules of the game and its competitiveness itself that drives a lot of parents to act like Chua, which is unfortunate.Just look at what is happening on the PGA Tour, for example. The Koreans have dominated on the LPGA Tour and are doing so at younger and younger ages. The degree of pushing from Korean parents is absolutely unbelievable. One recent Korean winner on the tour described how her father made her hit balls out in the middle of a snowstorm for hours shivering and near hypothermic because it would make her stronger! I know this is not a good thing, but there is virtually no way a kid who is not pushed would be winning tour events by age 16.

  4. Hello Mr. Power,

    We are the Grade 4 class from Ridley College in St. Catharines and we have just looked at “The Tiger Mom” as part of our Class Reporter program. We were directed to your blog and we would like to respond to the questions you have asked.

    We think that Chua should be gentler and more sensitive with her children’s self-esteem because she could wreak their hopes and dreams. We feel that the children should not have to be perfect because if you never make a mistake how can you learn from them. When her daughter talked about getting one A-, we think that parents should be proud of their children no matter what mark they get, as long as they know that their child is trying their best. They should be able to have fun too.

    Many of the students in our class play instruments because we enjoy it and we practice a little bit each day because we want to improve. We think that parents who force their child to practice for extreme amounts of time each day will take the fun out of learning to play an instrument and they won’t enjoy it. It is important that kids have balance in their life and not focus on just learning one thing. Kids can be successful at many things, not just one!

    We think that good parents should:
    – Let their children watch t.v., do their homework, and play video games within certain time restrictions based on each child.
    – Give children a variety of experiences so that they are exposed to many things and have a chance to develop a wide variety of talents.
    – Understand your child’s feelings and boundaries and push kids appropriately.

    From the Grade 4 Class!

  5. I”ve gone back and forth on this, between admiration and disgust. I’ve always adhered to my interpretation of “sophrosyne,” from my Greek tragedy class in grad school, for parenting. My notion of it is the idea one has control over some things, through self-discipline and determination, but that ultimately there’s a fate, or a boundary, beyond one’s control, so one does the best one can within that framework.

    We’ve set up reasonable expectations and guidelines for our kids – you get a summer job at 14, you can’t quit something you start before it’s over, we encourage a lot of reading – but after that it’s up to them to make of it what they will.

    As smart and accomplished as Chua apparently is, what she doesn’t realize is that how all this plays out is ultimately out of her hands. You and I know that from being parents and working in schools and with kids all our lives – we have that unique perspective.

    The Chinese are unabashedly ambitious right now – they’re like Americans in the 50’s. I admire that – I tell people all the time that if you think American kids are overstressed, there are several million Chinese kids right now who’d gladly step on your neck to get a shot at an American college. I also kind of admire the notion of “eating your bitterness,” or setting aside personal comfort to honor your family and overcome adversity. Finally, though, that seems an awfully grim way to go through life – I can’t personally condone it.

    The reaction is so strong b/c she’s foreign in some ways, yet is mirroring many people’s own anxieties about the same issues. Because she’s different enough culturally and racially, though, she’s a safe target to take out our own negativity and self-doubt on.

    Well, that blew 15 minutes I was supposed to be using for reading.

  6. I agree absolutely with Brooks. I haven’t read Chua’s new book, but everything I’ve heard about it distresses me.

    These parents are not doing their children any favours in terms of social or cognitive development, and I expect that many of these kids will grow up to be deeply resentful of mum and dad for the way they were treated (although I know that Amy claims to be deeply devoted to her “Tiger Mom”).

    The worst thing about this approach to child-rearing in my opinion is that it has nothing to do with the genuine welfare of children, but is entirely focused on gaining prestige for the parents through the next generation’s ‘accomplishments’. And even those achievements are defined in narrow and rigid terms that are based on what society purports to value, rather than what is truly of worth to the individual.

  7. I think she is crazy – not letting her kids participate in social activities and the regular things kids do growing up makes no sense. It seems to me she is not letting them be kids and finding out what there strengths and interests are. She may end up with her definition of “perfect kids” but trust me, at some time in their life they will rebel and look for what they missed – we all do.

    I think incorporating discipline in studies or an area of interest with routine and practice is great – wish I had done more of that with my kids. Maybe that is what is hitting a nerve – as parents of adult children, when talking to friends in the same boat – we all say we should have been a little tougher on our kids. I think our generation growing up (especially if your parents sacrificed a lot to immigrate to NA) had huge parental expectations to meet and we knew it. We were not coddled or praised much for accomplishments, they were expected and we knew it. As a result I was softer on my kids than my parents were and my expectations were less exact – I wanted them to find something they loved doing and still do. Maybe some more discipline would have been helpful? WHo knows – they will probably raise their kids stricter than we raised them:)

  8. I saw Chua on television last night and boy, do we agree Mr. Power! In fact, there are several friends in my neighborhood who err on the Chua- strategy of being over-protective of their kids in controlling and unhelpful ways.

    One family with whom we are close, doesn’t allow television, sugar, birthday parties, etc. Their kids are really exceptional students
    and accomplished musicians with the oldest getting into a major ivy league college this fall, early acceptance. But those kids are all disconnected from their peers in unhealthy ways. They haven’t yet gone through the true adolescent experience of rebelling against their parents and becoming independent-minded. It scares me that the parents have not allowed these girls to try new things. As a result,
    I am their favorite “auntie” and when they come to my home, I am utterly subversive with them — allowing Hannah Montana, chocolate and nail painting!

    At the end of the day, I believe that controlling kids in this manner, only
    produces very intelligent lemmings who cannot survive easily without one another. I predict that the oldest will have a very hard time socially at the ivy league college, next year. My own daughter, perhaps, is cursed by parents who believe that she needs to become herself and find her own way without alot of heavy handed pushing from us. Still — I would argue that my daughter’s EQ is pretty high and that will serve her well, throughout life.

    Given this discussion, one wonders about standardized testing and its future? If testing agencies were to build tests that also highlight EQ intelligence, would that change the Chuas of the world, and have them focus on other attributes of “success” in life?

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