January 12, 2011

The impact of "Tiger mother"

Amy Chua at the 2007 Texas Book Festival, Aust...Image via Wikipedia

The article in WSJ "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior?" seems to have some attention the author wanted, and it looks like that the publication of the book by the same author "Battle Hymn of Tiger Mother" will be inevitably successful too.

Even though personally I intensely dislike (even pity) the author's so call "superior" way of parenting, I have to admit, that the publication of her article and book will have some positive outcomes to American people and American Chinese community.

First of all, her book uncovers a fact that once was a stereotype - the child abuse that widely existed in Chinese families. Like Amy Chua, the author of book, many Chinese parents have been conducting severe child abuse under the slogan "for children's good", though mostly of them did it UNCONSCIOUSLY. Even without physical abuse (which I believe is still ongoing in many families), the consequence of this abuse is serious - the overwhelming lack of self-esteem within Chinese people.

The so call "superior" mothering or parenting, does not only exist in China, but also in any other countries that were influenced by Confucianism: Japan, South Korea, Singapore (where Chua come from) and many other southeast Asian countries, such as Vietnam, Malaysia, etc. The core philosophy of this "superior parenting" is "obedience", generated by "strict" discipline that is conducted since the beginning of children's cognitive development. This traditional parenting has successfully implanted "obedience", or "servile" personality in Chinese people's blood all the way through Chinese history.

This exposure of the dark side of Chinese families may actually do good for Chinese people, because it will draw severe criticizes from outside of Chinese community and I believe this would help many Chinese people drop their outdated belief, make many Chinese elites re-think their "superior" parenting.

Chinese people have been so obsessed with their tradition, so proud of their "thousands years of glory" that they think if not follow what their ancestors doctrine, Chinese will not be Chinese anymore. That's why during modern history of China, almost every step of progress was made by the force from outside of country.

Secondly, I personally think Chua's book will bring some positive influence to American society. It is my observation that the American way of parenting - "over protection" - if spoke exaggeratedly - has gone to another extreme and led many problems on children: lack of self-control; incapability of hard working; extremely self-centered, etc. I even believe that this way of "parenting" was partially responsible for the country's current downside situation, and would be an obstacle for the country's recovery as well.

It is also my impression that most American people seem to over-trust our innate capability. This probably is one of reasons that some (if not many) "American mothers" do not want to push their kids in any circumstances. This over-belief may also made many American believe that many Chinese "prodigies" are born with those talents. The publications of Chua will reveal the truth behind Chinese "prodigies" - not at all all of them are geniuses, but ordinary kids raised by "tiger mothers". Of course, I don't think most American mothers will adopt Chua's "never allowed" list but, the "success" of her daughters, or many other Chinese/Asian "prodigies" would prove a fact that the Chinese way of parenting does do some good on stretching children's competitive strength, at least skill wise.

This is an article on NYT magazine yesterday: No More Mrs. Nice Mom by Judith Warner, which reflects the stir that "tiger mother" just made.

I think, beside these positive outcomes, personal wise, Chua's publication will continue damage her daughters' lives, more than she could imagine. Her daughters will be put under spotlight and live under a more stressful condition. It is not fair to them. They may think like their mother did (actually one of them already said, just like their mother said about her own parents), "without her effort, I would not be me today.." but, they may never know about another kind of life, a life that is stress free, that is sufficient without support of high academic degree and high social status.

However, I am still optimistic about two lovely daughters. I believe the diverse cultural environment in this country would nourish their later life, possibly prevent them from repeating her mother's tragedy (even though she may take it as a huge success).

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  1. "Tiger Mother" seems a very inappropriate name for this lady. Tigers let their cubs be cubs; play and run free. She should let her children be children.

  2. exactly. there is a chinese saying which Lu Xun once quoted in his article to criticize "chinese way" of raising kids: even tiger know how to protect their cubs...

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  4. It is sad! The problem with the "Tiger Mother" technique, especially in a society where people are more free to make individual choices without the same kind of social pressure to prevent family dishonor, these children may have discipline as children, but what happens when they grow up and live on their own, and their parents are no longer there to force them to do things? Children need to develop a will and desire to live responsibly and successfully on their own! This is not preparing a child to succeed, but setting them up for failure in some ways - if they feel they were forced into a particular path without being allowed to choose, they will have no satisfaction in their success and some day abandon the skills they learned as a child, or worse, rebel and make dangerous choices that might ruin their lives. I feel that children need to have ownership of their lives and futures if they will be truly successful and feel satisfied with the careers they will have one day. I almost cried when I read about Chua's daughter and how she made her stay at the piano all night to master a difficult piano piece. What good is that kind of victory when purchased at so great a price? The daughter likely only felt a sense of satisfaction that she was finally able to please her mother, and not out of any satisfaction that she had accomplished something. I do agree there are times that a child should not be allowed to give up, but Chua's actions were very extreme!

  5. "if they feel they were forced into a particular path without being allowed to choose, they will have no satisfaction in their success and some day abandon the skills they learned as a child, or worse, rebel and make dangerous choices that might ruin their lives"
    --- very well said! that's actually my experience. that's how I quit my job and later had to miserably struggle for survive.

  6. Yun yi..felt very good to read this article. I hold the same line of thinking, that children have often been abused by parents in the name of discipline. Only thing I wondered about was why so few people seem to realize this as being abuse. Once when I followed this thought I also came to realize this...the same abuse also comes forth in the education system, where it is more widely nurtured. I have always wondered about this...out of all the compulsory subjects that children are made to learn why isn't philosophy compulsory ? Do we really not want them to think ? Do we really want them to just accept morals and traditions unquestionably ?

  7. @Sarath Unnithan,
    Thanks for the comment!
    I actually believe most this kind of "tiger mothers"'s controlling behavior is driven by selfish motive: they feel good on controlling their kids. They do really care about how their kids feel. And they feel good about controlling because their "selfs" were deprived by their own parents, so they feel balanced when they do the same to their kids. Thus history can be miserably repeated!

  8. correction: I mean "they do NOT care how their kids feel".

  9. Yes I agree it is a selfish motive, just that in most cases they do not understand this to be selfish. Most Tiger mothers perform this as the natural course of action, like performing a duty, always denying openly the pleasure received by being in control of someone elss life.

    Perhaps the only way out would be to interfere with either the mother's or the child's thinking.

  10. @Sarath Unnithan
    "Perhaps the only way out would be to interfere with either the mother's or the child's thinking."
    ---I agree. That's why the influence of society is so important.

  11. I'm not impressed with the so-called Tiger mother. IMO there are tiger mothers and tiger fathers in North American society too. I have met them in schools, children's' clubs and I have met them in sports arenas as well. They are obsessed with power and control and are living vicariously through their children. I also note that the behaviors of these tiger parents are very common among 1st generation immigrants to North America regardless of whether they are Asians or not.

    IMO tiger parents are unhealthy people who are robbing their kids of a normal childhood and the ability to develop their own individual talents, as opposed, to becoming accomplished automatons in specific fields chosen by their parents for them. The two imperatives every parent ought to remain focused on are teaching their kids to be responsible for their own actions and to be resilient in the face of change. Sadly tiger parents selfishly enforce competitiveness in their kids as they are focused on creating high income earners, who will presumably take care of them in their old age -- Ha!

    Without doubt these self centered and obsessive tiger parents are verbally and psychologically abusive. Without doubt role modeling does get handed down from generation to generation. However, in North America we do see that each successive generation of children who come from 1st generation immigrant families are inclined to depart from the old ways, and to become more inclined to raise their children by encouraging them to be the best they can be, without abusing them.

  12. I have difficulty with the tough approach that is portrayed. I can understand some of the motivation - just not sure that I agree with the methodology. I would think that most children would not thrive in an environment such as this. Perhaps the real measure will be how her children feel when they look back as adults.

  13. I saw the story about this woman on NBC Nightly News yesterday and was absolutely appalled. The scene that drew my attention was a daughter playing the piano with her mother standing over her. I wondered (of the mother) what she thought was the purpose of her daughter learning to play the piano. To be better than everyone else? To attract kudos for having such a 'talented' child? I think this woman is intrinsically very selfish, and it came over in her demeanour when interviewed.

    I paid for my sons to have piano lessons, but I wasn't bothered how good they were. I just thought it was a good idea for them to have some musical skills. Certainly no pressure to excel.

    I predict that neither daughter will continue to play the piano into adulthood, because they've been introduced to music in a way that poisons the very idea of music.

  14. thanks everybody for commenting. I am glad that we all disprove this so call "tiger mother"'s approach.