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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Is the Tiger Mother a good way to parent?

The other day, a friend  of mine lamented, "I'm no tiger mom." I hadn't heard of the tiger mom and all the hype about her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, before that. But I always find parenting fads interesting.

There are over 10,000 books that offer parenting advice.
Most repeat the same ideas through different stories.
These ideas of parenting are often not supported by
research which means that they will not apply to
most children.

What the book is about and what the media says the book is about 
are two different things - almost entirely.  

It seems that it is becoming more common for our media outlets to take non-serious information, like the Tiger Mom book, and construe it to be sensational or important. The Time magazine review of Chua's book is a great example of media embellishment.

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With regards to the Tiger Mom, it seems like people are trying to sell this book as though it is a self-help parenting book instead of a memoir about parenting. The review by Publisher Weekly gives you the impression that if you raise your kids like Chua, then they'll be Yale grads, too!

Chua's parenting style is referred to as the "Chinese" style of parenting, and the "American" style of parenting is often called, "permissive." The Time review and other reviews seem to perpetuate myths about parenting and about China that are grossly inaccurate. For example, there is no "American" style of parenting. The "Chinese" style of parenting that Chua writes about is not responsible for "Chinese success." In fact, their rigid parenting style may be one reason China stopped progressing as a nation 500 years ago. Rigid parenting styles are associated with inflexible thinking, low creativity, less sociability, poor initiative and low imagination - traits that Americans value.

Time claims that China's financial success is due to Chinese style parenting. However, Financial success is a very complicated phenomenon. It's a combination of many factors and on many different levels, personal, cultural, social, political, and economic. Some factors have more weight than others, for example, some people make up for their personal short comings because they are well-connected to other people of power or wealth.

America's immigration policy favors wealthy and educated Chinese over poor and "dumb" Chinese. Also, the Chinese education system favors "gifted" children over "average" and below average children. Gifted children get to continue their education, while average children are left to work, or if they are lucky enough to have middle class parents, they are pushed to work harder in school and their parents are able to pay for continued schooling. This is why cross-cultural educational comparisons are non-sense, because in America, everyone has to attend school through age 15. In China, only smart kids continue their education.

Chua's parenting style could be described as Authoritarian. There are four general parenting types:
1. Authoritarian
2. Authoritative
3. Permissive-supportive
4. Permissive-neglectful

Number 2 above, Authoritative parenting, is the most effective form of parenting in that studies show that children who are raised by Authoritative parents have the best outcomes, socially and economically. Authoritarian parents can raise kids who are financially successful, but they tend to be lacking in other areas, such as creativity, sociability, initiative, and industry.

Authoritative parenting is a combination of parenting with relatively high demands but also a supportive relationship. Whereas Authoritarians have high demands, often developmentally unrealistic or unnecessary, and they do not provide support (emotional or material). Permissive parents are in the minority in America, and permissive parenting leads to adults with problems. Being permissive and neglectful is the worst type of parenting style and may lead to criminal behavior in adulthood.

I recall when I was in 7th grade, a Japanese business man visited our school. He was curious about why American children are "so creative" and why Japanese children are not. Japan and China both adhere to Authoritarian parenting styles which quash creativity. The answer is clear to me - children need to feel safe expressing themselves, to a point, so that they nurture their imagination, creativity, spontaneity, and cognitive flexibility.

Human progress and survival is dependent upon a strong imagination. All human progress begins with imagination. Children need to have their imagination stimulated by their parents. Authoritarian parents tend not to stimulate imagination. They're too busy sticking to the routines and the rules. Children of authoritarian parents may grow up to be good managers, but probably not good leaders, inventors, artists or entrepreneurs.

I first read the Time magazine review of the book. I found Time magazine's review to be full of myths and misconceptions, primarily that Chinese financial progress ("success") has to do with their parenting style and that America's decline has to do with parenting problems. These ideas are so erroneous as to be egregious. If you want to read more about why, check The Ethnic Myth.  China's economic growth owes itself almost entirely to American investment and giving China Most-Favored-Nation-Trading-Status (MFNTS) for the last 20 years, as well as other trade policies which undermine American labor and promote investment in China (and India). It has nothing to do with parenting!

Here are two other reviews of Chua's book:
Publisher Weekly's review:
Chua (Day of Empire) imparts the secret behind the stereotypical Asian child's phenomenal success: the Chinese mother. Chua promotes what has traditionally worked very well in raising children: strict, Old World, uncompromising values--and the parents don't have to be Chinese. What they are, however, are different from what she sees as indulgent and permissive Western parents: stressing academic performance above all, never accepting a mediocre grade, insisting on drilling and practice, and instilling respect for authority. Chua and her Jewish husband (both are professors at Yale Law) raised two girls, and her account of their formative years achieving amazing success in school and music performance proves both a model and a cautionary tale. Sophia, the eldest, was dutiful and diligent, leapfrogging over her peers in academics and as a Suzuki piano student; Lulu was also gifted, but defiant, who excelled at the violin but eventually balked at her mother's pushing. Chua's efforts "not to raise a soft, entitled child" will strike American readers as a little scary--removing her children from school for extra practice, public shaming and insults, equating Western parenting with failure--but the results, she claims somewhat glibly in this frank, unapologetic report card, "were hard to quarrel with." (Jan.)
Booklist's review:
Chua’s stated intent is to present the differences between Western and Chinese parenting styles by sharing experiences with her own children (now teenagers). As the daughter of Chinese immigrants, she is poised to contrast the two disparate styles, even as she points out that being a “Chinese Mother” can cross ethnic lines: it is more a state of mind than a genetic trait. Yet this is a deeply personal story about her two daughters and how their lives are shaped by such demands as Chua’s relentless insistence on straight A’s and daily hours of mandatory music practice, even while vacationing with grandparents. Readers may be stunned by Chua’s explanations of her hard-line style, and her meant-to-be humorous depictions of screaming matches intended to force greatness from her girls. She insists that Western children are no happier than Chinese ones, and that her daughters are the envy of neighbors and friends, because of their poise and musical, athletic, and academic accomplishments. Ironically, this may be read as a cautionary tale that asks just what price should be paid for achievement. --Colleen Mondor 

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