Looking Into the Future: Amy Chua’s Parenting Style

By Zahira

Bring together all the stereotypes you know about Asian-American families: hard driving, 1970s immigrants, two highly educated parents with professional careers, free from praise, and full of expectations. Take them all to the extreme, and what do you get? Amy Chua’s parenting techniques. Her recent piece in the WSJ entitled “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior” sent ripples through Twitter and threatens to get her kicked out of Wikipedia.

Her approach is shocking and brutal, but effective.  Read an excerpt from the article — and my thoughts — after the jump.

I once did the same thing to Sophia, calling her garbage in English when she acted extremely disrespectfully toward me… I had done this at a dinner party.

the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child. The Chinese parent believes that their child will be strong enough to take the shaming and to improve from it.

When her daughter Lulu couldn’t play a piano piece, Chua responded by:

threaten[ing] 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.

Lulu finally succeeds, probably out of a human survival instinct. Chua sums up her approach by saying:

“Western parents try to respect their children’s individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they’re capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.”

I want to ask her — so where is that inner confidence? And what is it based on? Personally, I think that type of confidence is a lie and parenting this way does more harm than good. Even in China and India, my country of origin, this type of hard-driving toughness and pressure are beginning to diminish. Perhaps Chua’s clinging to the past is partly rooted in cultural fossilization.

Furthermore, Chua’s work is incomplete; she may have written a book (Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother) on parenting, but her eldest is only 15, making it incredibly premature. How will how her girls fare as adults? Numerous studies found a link between being American-born of Asian descent and depression and other mental health issues, including suicidality. The major domains explored in the research literature are acculturation, perfectionism, and intergenerational conflict.

Perhaps Chua could stand to learn from her husband, Jed. He says of the “Western” model:

“Children don’t choose their parents,” he once said to me. “They don’t even choose to be born.  It’s parents who foist life on their kids, so it’s the parents’ responsibility to provide for them. Kids don’t owe their parents anything. Their duty will be to their own kids.”

Now I want to hear from you: This type of parenting is extreme, but having acknowledged that, to what extent does this reflect how you were brought up? What was its effect? Do you feel it was beneficial, harmful, or neither? For the parents reading, how are you bringing up your children, and do you believe in parts of Chua’s approach?

ABOUT ZAHIRA: Indian-American (or, on my bad days, American Born Confused Desi). Bibliophile. Coffee addict. Traveler, runner, and health nut. Inadvertent techie (I swear I got typecast). Card-carrying feminist and nerd. Gluttonous media consumer.

(Flickr photo credit: Liane Chan)

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