Amy Chua’s book “Battle Hymn Of The Tiger Mom” that propounded the Chinese style of raising children has set ablaze a trail of controversy and caused astounded parents reactions. Her book details some Nazi parenting methods this tiger mom uses to push her children to succeed.
The results are there for the world to see. Her daughters Sophia and Louisa have been soloists on piano and violin with international orchestras, performed at Carnegie Hall, and boasted incredible academic achievements.
Is Amy Chua’s parenting style toxic or healthy? If we adopt her style of giving importance to a child’s achievements will our children grow up more successful? What would be the long-range impact of such parenting on her children? I asked a few parents.
Zia Marshall, e-learning professional and mother to two teenagers says “As parents we need to guide our children to achieve their potential in life not push them relentlessly. The Amy Chua model of parenting brings in the concept of conditional love and reward: approval is doled out proportionate to the child’s achievements. Children brought up this way are going to measure their worth based on what they have achieved in life.”
Reena Suri, a media professional and mother to an 11 year old says “Honestly, the title itself is all wrong. Even a tigress, after giving a tough lesson to her cubs, showers them with love. It doesn’t matter how they have performed. Some are fast learners, some take time. In fact the weaker ones are protected and nurtured and not condemned for faltering. She patiently trains them and treats them equally. Amy Chua has a lot to learn from a tiger before she calls herself a tiger mom.”
When I first read excerpts from Amy Chua’s book I reacted much like the moms above, with horror and outrage, “How can she do this to her children??? She’s a monster. No wonder Asian children have such high rates of suicide!”
Later I began to analyse her methods, and researched what her critics had to say. Here’s something interesting from an article by New York Times Columnist David Brooks.
“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. Participating in a well-functioning group is really hard. It requires the ability to trust people outside your kinship circle, read intonations and moods, understand how the psychological pieces each person brings to the room can and cannot fit together.
Chua would do better to see the classroom as a cognitive break from the truly arduous tests of childhood. Where do they learn how to manage people? Where do they learn to construct and manipulate metaphors? Where do they learn to perceive details of a scene the way a hunter reads a landscape? Where do they learn how to detect their own shortcomings? Where do they learn how to put themselves in others’ minds and anticipate others’ reactions?”
I am in partial if not complete agreement with David Brooks. I don’t quite believe Chua is “coddling her children” – such undue pressure does have its psychological impact much later in life.
But yes, if Amy Chua’s goal is to raise successful, brilliant kids then she’s going about it the completely wrong way. By focusing solely on academic achievement as a measure of intelligence and success, Chua – and probably a lot of parents – lead their children to develop only a limited portion of their brainpower.
It takes more intellectual potential to make friends in the playground than to write an exam paper. A school bus is a far better learning ground than travelling by a private vehicle.
Also, raising smart children requires a good balance of both love and discipline. Amy’s style teeters towards harsh discipline forgetting that children thrive on praise. As Zia says:
“I have a box full of cards my daughter has drawn for me from the time she learned to hold a crayon in her hand and each card has a precious memory associated with it. Sometimes the two of us go through those cards and recall happy times. These are life’s precious and priceless moments – how can Amy make her children stand out in the snow because the card they made didn’t measure up?”
What, if any, are merits of Chua’s approach?
Probably the biggest merit is that her by-now famous book has raised parents’ awareness of the right and wrong way to raise children. A lot of Indian parents tend to stress too much on Academic success rather than all round development. They may not adopt Chua’s crazy disciplinary tactics but their goal is the same as hers… Good marks – be on top of the class -score 90%. Maybe Chua’s book can be an eye-opener to them to adopt better and more balanced styles.
Also, Amy does bring to light the fact that children need constant coaching and attention to fulfil their potential. As Priya Florence Shah, publisher of lovingyourchild.com and mother to a 10-year-old says “What I admired about her is her belief in inculcating discipline (which is necessary for mastery of any subject) and a belief in one’s abilities to succeed through hard work and sheer determination. Helping your child trust in their ability to succeed and overcome obstacles is a very important skill.”
We as an Asian culture, following a patriarchal society which firmly believes in unquestioning obedience and hard work, need to pick up important lessons from Chua’s book. We can adopt her beliefs – that children need coaching and guidance to excel – but definitely use better and more balanced methods to reach there!
Finally, I don’t think the “western” way is ideal either. Parents in the west are too focused on children’s happiness and so scared of doing the wrong thing that their kids land up in trouble anyway from lack of guidance.
As a psychologist and mother I firmly believe that a child raised with the right balance of love and limits is going to do well… Chinese, Japanese, Indian, American, African or not.
This post originally appeared in the RobinAge.