Nothing could be more complicated and yet everyone, even some parents, seem to think it’s simple.
Enter Amy Chua, a Yale law professor and the author of the sensational “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” her first-person account of the dramatic differences between Western and Chinese parenting styles as illustrated by her experiences with her daughters, now teenagers.
The Wall Street Journal ran an excerpt of the book on Jan. 8 and it now has more than 7,000 comments online, nevermind the growing media firestorm.
Her excerpt details parenting techniques you might call pragmatic, strict or, perhaps, extreme. She also rails against the supposed softness of Western parents.
What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America.
Chua details the great lengths she’s gone to in pushing her daughters toward excellence, including one of her daughters at age 7 having trouble with a difficult piano piece:
Then I hauled Lulu’s dollhouse to the car and told her I’d donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn’t have “The Little White Donkey” perfect by the next day. When Lulu said, “I thought you were going to the Salvation Army, why are you still here?” I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn’t do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.
Protecting a child’s psyche from harshness is counterproductive, Chua argues.
I’ve noticed that Western parents are extremely anxious about their children’s self-esteem. They worry about how their children will feel if they fail at something, and they constantly try to reassure their children about how good they are notwithstanding a mediocre performance on a test or at a recital. In other words, Western parents are concerned about their children’s psyches. Chinese parents aren’t. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.
It’s interesting to be sure, right?
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