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Amy Chua on Chinese Mothers: Parenting Genius or Dictatorship?

Amy Chua and Chinese mothers

Chinese mothers superior?

If you’ve ever thought you were too strict, too hard on your kids — maybe you sent someone to their room, raised your voice, overdid a time out — take a read through Amy Chua’s essay “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.” Surely (hopefully) you look like a softy in comparison.

But then again, is your child a piano prodigy with straight A’s in “everything but gym and drama?”

Chua, a Yale professor, is bold and confident, even mocking of western parents in her Wall Street Journal article — excerpted from her book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.”

Chinese moms are demanding, bribing, ridiculing, unrelenting, and slave-driving (see her account of berating her own daughter for a whole night, calling her names because she couldn’t get a piano song right). And that, says Chua, is the secret to why Chinese children are successful math whizzes and music prodigies.

Western moms: permissive, insecure, wish-washy, all caught up in their kids’ self-esteem. Good luck with that, she says.

“Chinese parents can get away with things that Western parents can’t,” writes Chua. “…Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight As. Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best…Chinese mothers can say to their daughters, ‘Hey fatty—lose some weight.’ By contrast, Western parents have to tiptoe around the issue.”

Is it smart parenting or emotional abuse to drive your kids that hard — does the end justify the means? Here’s why the article has over 1,800 comments so far:

She’s describing an authoritarian household: parents have ultimate authority, no respect for the kid as an individual, and fear is pervasive. It may produce obedience and success (at least on the outside), but studies show this isn’t the way to raise healthy, well-adjusted kids.

On the flip side, permissive households have their downsides too — not enough structure and kids don’t know what to expect, can push the boundaries too far, and parents are unsure of themselves.

In our house, I’m going for the balance — an authoritative style. And that’s what most of us do. Authoritative means giving our kids rules, expectations, limits, and not changing our game too much. But at the same time respecting them as people, actively caring about and attending to their feelings, needs, wants, thoughts (cue Chua’s eye roll).

What I can’t stop thinking about is how Chua seems to see childhood as a means to an end — a sacrifice in the moment for long term goals and success. Only when you master and achieve is life worth it.

I think I’ll take the opposite view on this for my family. Childhood is about exploring and enjoying. Yes, I’ll make my son stick to his plans and follow through, but I’ll try to make sure he’s the one in the driver’s seat, and that he’s having fun along the way.

Image: flickr

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