Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

One controversial topic that has flooded the media lately is a nonfiction memoir by Amy Chua, who has become known as the “Tiger Mother.”

This mother will not let her 2 children:

  • attend a sleepover
  • have a playdate
  • be in a school play
  • complain about not being in a school play
  • watch TV or play computer games
  • choose their own extracurricular activities
  • get any grade less than an A
  • not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
  • play any instrument other than the piano or violin
  • not play the piano or violin.

Below is a fantastic article she wrote that was published in the Wall Street Journal.

“Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior”

While I do not agree with Amy Chua’s parenting method, I have to say (perhaps unfortunately) that pieces from this article are true to the core. I have parents with a similar parenting style (though nowhere as extreme…the last six bullets on the list above don’t apply in my household at all)

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. Once a child starts to excel at something—whether it’s math, piano, pitching or ballet—he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction…

I will admit (and you’ll probably agree): doing something one is good at = a lot of fun. How many times have I fallen in love with Calculus because I could actually solve the seemingly complicated equations? How many times has a beginner at softball complained about it, only to gush about it once the player turns into an expert?

…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…

Again, true to the core. My parents tend to be coldly straightforward. The number of times I have been yelled or scolded at for doing poorly on a test! But that brings me to my next point in the article:

…If the child comes home with a B on the test, some Western parents will still praise the child. Other Western parents will sit their child down and express disapproval, but they will be careful not to make their child feel inadequate or insecure, and they will not call their child “stupid,” “worthless” or “a disgrace.” Privately, the Western parents may worry that their child does not test well or have aptitude in the subject or that there is something wrong with the curriculum and possibly the whole school. If the child’s grades do not improve, they may eventually schedule a meeting with the school principal to challenge the way the subject is being taught or to call into question the teacher’s credentials…

I personally know an American friend whose mother does the last part quite a bit. Last year, when my friend began to get Cs on her Pre-Calculus tests, the mother called and set up meetings with the teacher. Both the friend and her mother’s view was that the entire fault stood within the teacher, predominately teaching style. By the end of the semester, my friend barely pulled through with a B minus, and after intense conversations with the principal, her mother successfully transferred my friend to another Pre-Calculus class with a different teacher.

Did she improve? No, unless you count going from an 83 to an 85 a notable improvement. Pre-Calculus was just not my friend’s forte. No teacher could change that.

I also want to ridicule my friend’s mother for doing what she did. Complaining to the principal about her daughter’s math teacher simply because her daughter did poorly in that class? If something was truly flawed with the teacher, then how come half the class received an A that semester? I had the same teacher, and she was not into favoritism or any controversial ways of teaching. (And believe me, I’ve had encounters with favoritism…ugh.)

And finally:

Third, Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children’s own desires and preferences. That’s why Chinese daughters can’t have boyfriends in high school and why Chinese kids can’t go to sleepaway camp.

Well, luckily I have attended sleepaway camps before–this past summer, in fact. The subject of a boyfriend…well, my father is still pretty strict and uptight about it. (This probably explains my social life from a previous post)

So. Are “Tiger Parents” bad? Like Amy Chua said, “It’s just an entirely different parenting model.”


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