Sunday, January 23, 2011

Battle Hymm of the Mother Tiger?

I'm sure most of you have heard of Yale Law School Professor Amy Chua's controversial new book, Battle Hymm of the Mother Tiger, and her article on the Wall Street Journal on Why Chinese Mothers are Superior. Here is an excerpt of her book on the New York Times.

Basically, she talks about her own pretty extreme parenting techniques, that include not allowing her daughters to attend sleepovers, not permitting anything below an A in school, not allowing them to watch TV, not worrying about their self-esteem, etc. She then criticizes what she sees as the soft American way of parenting and blames this for the reason why Chinese children are more high-achieving than American children.

She claims 3 differences between Chinese and Western parenting. One is that Americans care too much about the self-esteem of their children. Second, Chinese parents believe their children owe them everything. Third, Chinese parents know what is best for the children and therefore can override their preferences.

There have been many editorials written in response to Chua, calling her parenting abusive and harmful in the long term. Readers have written thousands of comments, some of them Asian Americans who believe they were emotionally damaged by their childhood treatment. Others thought the article was written in an ironic tone and meant to criticize the parenting techniques of the Chinese. Chua has even received death threats - which I believe is ridiculous but probably expected considering how much of an attack her article is to their private home realm.

Personally, I take issue with the fact that not all Chinese mothers act this way. There may be some truth to the stereotype, but Chua takes it to the extreme. For example, I do play violin and piano, but this did not result from coercion from my parents. They never dictated my practice routine or criticized my efforts. I did watch TV, albeit with certain limits, but I think limiting TV time is a fairly common practice. I did not really attend sleepovers, but this was due to the overprotective nature of my parents rather than a restriction on playtime or social activity.

Many Chinese and Chinese American parents that I know also deviate from this strict model of parenthood. In fact, many mothers in China overly coddle their one child, leading to somewhat spoiled and egoistical offspring. Most are demanding only in regards to academic achievement; the child can have anything he or she wants as long was he performs well in school. Many mothers bend over backwards to make sure the child does not have to do chores, is always content, and always has the best to eat so he can focus well on schoolwork.

Also, why is it Chinese mothers? In just as many families it is the father who pressures the child more than the mother does. Chua has an interesting dynamic within her family because her husband is American and therefore is stereotypically the "nicer" parent.

Therefore, without even commenting on the legitimacy of Chua's parenting technique, which many experts have already dissected, I can tell you that there are obvious misconceptions in her statement. Regarding her actual practices, I believe that they may be effective for certain children but devastating for others. It is a thin line, and Chua is lucky that her daughters turned out the way they did.

What do you think about Chua's argument?