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Amy Chua’s new book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, has generated a lot of noise on TV and the blogosphere as well as sales (high on the New York Times Best Sellers list).
This is the old strict vs. permissive parenting battle with an east-west twist.
I get individual questions from all over the world on this website. US readers are my biggest cohort but second largest group are from China. Though there are vast cultural differences in child-rearing, to my surprise the questions I get from different parts of the world are remarkably similar. ALL parents want to do a good job of parenting. ALL parents live in a rapidly changing world so old ways of thinking are bring questioned. NONE of us yet know what the effects of the internet and social networking and globalization will be on children.
Asian parents are dedicated to training their children to succeed. Mothers are likened to coaches who demand unflagging hard work and top performances. A child’s failure to excel reflects badly on the entire family especially the mother. Chinese parents feel success is the result of hard work and that is what they expect from their children at all times.
According to those who have commented on Chua’s book she forbids TV, demands long hours of piano practice, does not allow play dates or sleepovers. But what has outraged some critics is what they see as cruelty: not allowing her child to eat or go to the bathroom until a piece of music is learned to perfection.
US mothers run a more democratic parenting establishment and are less authoritarian. In my view this derived from the American emphasis on individual freedom. But it has morphed into a strange worship of the idol called self-esteem.
Parents are scared they will do something that interferes with their child’s self-esteem and they further think that this can do irrevocable harm.
As I have said many times before, self-esteem is not only overrated in importance but it is not something a parent can bestow. It develops from the blending of UNCONDITIONAL LOVE given to the child and COMPETENCY developed by the child. It does not come about through incessant parental praise, parental indulgence, or parental reluctance to discipline the child. Susan Venker in the New York Post, writes, “The self-esteem movement of the last several decades is parenting malpractice.” I agree. Further when done by teachers it is educational malpractice.
My parents said, “We expect all A’s.” Today’s message is often, “Do the best you can.” But if a child’s room is filled with gadgets and toys and if parents don’t voice high expectations, the best that kid does that day can be playing games on the computer.
Learning, acquiring the skills needed to be a competitive part of the new global economy, and reaching your full potential is not optional. It is not a game. It is HARD WORK.
I believe there are too many US parents out there who never tell tell their kids that they expect them to do that hard work.
When I was a child, my father had a unique way of voicing high expectations in a manner that made me WANT to excel. He would say on the day after my sixth birthday, for example, “A big girl like you, almost seven years old! Of course you can do it!”
If you are a mom who is all cuddles and apt to wimp out when the time calls for demands, think about your parenting. Do you really want to give your child the message that mediocrity is OK?
Let me share my take on the book. Chua is not the maternal monster some have made her out to be. She devoted incredible amounts of time to her children while working at a busy job, writing the book, and dealing with very ill relatives.
Chua never commits that horrible parental sin of indifference. Parents must above all let their children know they care. Care enough to expect the best in school and behavior. It is sad that US adolescents report their parents give them fewer rules than the kids think are reasonable.
The book points out that every child is different. One daughter did what her mother wanted, the other rebelled.
The techniques Chua use sometimes included screaming and the liberal use of insults. Not necessary: you can both demand and criticize with respect for the child’s feelings. But you should not praise when praise is not warranted.
My advice to all parents, east and west:
· VOICE HIGH EXPECTATIONS.
· Spend time and do all you can to help your child ACHIEVE EXCELLENCE.
· Be sure your children know you CARE enough to demand both good grades and good behavior.
· RESPECT your children so they grow up respectful and kind.
· Because every child is different you have to figure out what works best for each. Some children respond to the “carrot” better than the “stick.” Your techniques might differ but your high demands should not.
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