Sunday, January 09, 2011

On Chinese Parenting

Amy Chua has a very provocative article today in the WSJ posting that Chinese parents are superior to Western parents. To me, there are some good parts...
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.
... and some not-so-good parts.
A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it's like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I've done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:
  • 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
My daughter is just now starting to turn the corner in soccer. When we work out, she understands why she needs to work on a particular part of her game and she works harder and wants to stay at it longer than I do. She's showing the attitude and tenacity she needs to reach her goal which is to play on a high school team. However, she chose soccer, not me. I let her choose her passion, but I'm not letting her be mediocre at it and not letting her quit. I'm particularly happy that she chose something that helps her have a better social life - one where she does something as a group with other girls her own age.

Pushing her to do well in soccer has been difficult enough. I've had to drive home the concept that Amy Chua makes above about success leading to fun, but I tried to do it so she would get to the point where she chose to practice. I can't imagine how hard this task would be if I had forced her into something she didn't want to do or didn't have the talent to do.

Screw this. I'm going to Vegas with my daughter's soccer team to watch them in the Silver State Tournament. Party on!

In the end, I want her to know how to make her own choices, do what she loves, but not accept mediocrity. I'm not sure I can get there with Amy Chua's techniques.


LossOfGravity said...

Regrettably, Ms. Chua's exaggerated remarks are an embarrassment to her wonderful family (nice photos), Chinese culture, the Wall Street Journal, my alma mater (Yale) as well as to her. It is as if she was never served a slice of Americana despite her success here in America. Is the Wall Street Journal a proponent of material success at any cost? Perhaps the idea that there can be no real commitment without choice should be rewritten - there can be no real commitment without coercion. I will not be reading any of Ms. Chua's books anytime soon.

Anonymous said...

couldn't believe my eyes when I read this story yesterday. Amy Chua is disturbed woman, she proudly recounts an incident where she bullies her 7 year old daughter mercilessly, refusing to let her eat or go to the bathroom while she is forced to sit at the piano for hours until she plays a difficult piece perfectly. A 7 year old!
Her kids are not allowed to play with other kids or participate in the drama club... nice mom ...
That's nothing to brag about.
Straight A's are not good enough her kids must be #1 in every class.
I didn't know they ranked kids in grade but they probably do in Amy Chua's ubercompetetive circle,
Children who are raised this way may be good piano players but they won't look back on their childhood as a happy time.
Instead of remembering Mom's warm and tender love they will develop nervous tics and twitches that act up when her name is mentioned.
There is a lot to be said for strict parenting applied in a reasonable fashion with equal parts of love and time allowed for kids to be kids. Amy Chua is over the top and it's really more about her ego than anything else.

Jedi Knight Ivyan said...

One of my friends linked this on facebook yesterday. I think there are some good things that can be gleaned from the article. The most important point, imo, is to be involved. Do what has to be done to show your child they can succeed. Help them learn to work with or around their weaknesses. That's too much work for a lot of parents. But I don't at all agree with her methods.

For me, the battle over the piano piece would have been counter-productive. At some point, I would have given up no matter what threats were made and never touched the piano again. Given a couple of days off from the piece instead, I'd have gotten it just fine. My coordination sucks, but my brain would have worked out the problem during that break.

And I don't think I'd wish prodigy status on my children. Too often they have problems functioning as adults.

K T Cat said...

Anon, I'm with you. Amy Chua comes off as a nut trying to justify her actions.

tim eisele said...

Amy Chua's methods are reminding me of this passage from "The First Men in the Moon":

"The making of these various sorts of operative must be a very curious and interesting process. I am very much in the dark about it, but quite recently I came upon a number of young Selenites confined in jars from which only the fore-limbs protruded, who were being compressed to become machine-minders of a special sort. The extended 'hand' in this highly developed system of technical education is stimulated by irritants and nourished by injection, while the rest of the body is starved. Phi-oo, unless I misunderstood him, explained that in the earlier stages these queer little creatures are apt to display signs of suffering in their various cramped situations, but they easily become indurated to their lot; and he took me on to where a number of flexible-minded messengers were being drawn out and broken in. It is quite unreasonable, I know, but such glimpses of the educational methods of these beings affect me disagreeably. I hope, however, that may pass off, and I may be able to see more of this aspect of their wonderful social order. That wretched-looking hand-tentacle sticking out of its jar seemed to have a sort of limp appeal for lost possibilities; it haunts me still, although, of course it is really in the end a far more humane proceeding than our earthly method of leaving children to grow into human beings, and then making machines of them."

I suppose that, if what you want is an adult who is primarily a piano-playing machine, then Amy Chua's recommendations make sense, but not otherwise.