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The Problems With Amy Chua's "Tiger Mother" Hypothesis

By Katie Allison Granju |

Amy Chua's just-released "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother"

By now you’ve probably read or at least heard about Yale Law School Professor Amy Chua’s hyperbolic WSJ essay of a few days ago in which she asserted that the way she is raising her two daughters – via an extreme, rigid and authoritarian approach she claims to be iconically Chinese – is far superior to the way western parents like you and I are doing the job. Chua wrote the essay in support of a book she has coming out this week titled  “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” in which she makes the case that children raised by overbearing and exceptionally strict Chinese mothers are superior (yes, she uses that word) to other children.

In Chua’s essay, which certainly has gotten people talking about her book, she names all the things she would never let her two daughters do (playdates, sleepovers, participate in school plays, etc, etc, etc), as well as explaining which activities she not only allows, but insists upon (math drills, marathon music lessons, etc).  Critics of Chua’s essay have focused on her recommended parenting methods – such as denying her daughter water or bathroom breaks until she managed to perform a musical selection properly, or calling her child “garbage” when her academic performance fails to satisfy – as cruel and abusive, and as potentially damaging to kids’ psychological health. I agree with these critics that the parenting practices Chua espouses (and which I suspect she exaggerates more than a little to make her point and sell books) could rise to the level of abuse.  At the very least, living with Chua as a mother sounds like hell, even if you did end up playing Carnegie Hall and graduating from Stanford with a quantum physics degree.

However, my criticism of Chua’s “Tiger Mother” hypothesis –  her assertion that this style of extreme Chinese parenting produces individuals who are “superior” to others who are not raised this way – is not focused on the methods she recommends, but on the outcomes.  I reject Chua’s assertion that her children are necessarily “superior” to their classmates being raised in a more relaxed, western fashion.  That’s because Chua’s definition of success for her daughters is extremely narrow, focusing as it does on music (classical only, and only on acceptable instruments), academics (specifically math and science) and complete acceptance of parental domination.  The only way Chua’s hypothesis of superior parenting producing superior children is if you accept this very limited definition of success.  Furthermore, she doesn’t suggest that her extreme methods could also create superiority in other areas of interest or activity, such as the arts, public service or athletics. No, she basically says that Chinese mothers are better mothers because they insist that their kids attain high achievement in three or four specific areas. And frankly, this makes her whole argument fall apart.

If Chua’s suggested parenting  methods really work to create superior abilities in the children raised in this way, then the methods should be applicable to any area of activity or initiative. And while Chua smugly points to “tons” of studies in which Chinese kids are shown to make better math grades, I am going to have to checkmate her by noting the fact that there aren’t any Chinese kids playing in the NFL.  Does the fact that such a high percentage of highly paid, very successful professional atheletes are African American mean that African American mothering is “superior” to Chua-style parenting? Obviously, I am engaging in a bit of pretzel logic here, but so is Chua, and she’s trying to use it to belittle and demean other cultures, stereotype her own culture,  and of course, to sell books.

I also want to point out that Chua’s assertion that Chinese-style mothering produces “superior” outcomes really only works if you view it within the context of American (or other western) culture.  In China, Chua’s hypothesis that Chinese mothering is more successful falls flat, that is, unless you define success as a totalitarian state in which basic human rights are denied, women are second class citizens, the arts and religion are brutally suppressed, and freedom of thought and speech are punishable by death.

Mothering is about more than raising one’s own child, it’s about creating an individual who becomes part of a generation of citizens.  So while it’s fantastic that Chua’s daughters play violin and piano so well, and while it’s definitely impressive that they make such stellar math grades, wouldn’t it mean more if Chua’s self-defined Chinese, “Tiger” mothering – which she undertakes from the luxury and freedom of her totally American lifestyle – produced young adults with a passion to return to China and work to create a more just, equitable and free society for the billions of Chinese mothers and daughters who never get to take a music lesson, much less attend school at all? It’s easy to feel superior and successful when you are chauffeuring your healthy, American-born daughters around in your Volvo, taking them from pediatrician appointment to private tutoring to music lessons.  But that’s not the experience that most truly Chinese mothers have – those mothers actually living in China – not for themselves or the single child per woman that the Chinese government decrees as permissable.

Every parent’s definition of success for her children will be different. Amy Chua has shared hers with us (classical music virtuosity, high math SAT score, submission to parental dominance), and now I’ll share mine with you; I’d rather turn out the woman who manages to create freedom for other women through her politics, activism, art, spiritual practice or community service than produce the next National Merit Scholar.  Of course the two are not mutually exclusive by any means, but if parents only focus on test scores and recital performances, they may fail to see the other talents and gifts their child may possess – talents and gifts that could change the world.

So what did you think of Chua’s essay? How do you define success for your kids, and for your kids’ generation? Talk about “Tiger Mothering” in the comments below.

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About Katie Allison Granju

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Katie Allison Granju

Katie Allison Granju is the married mother of five children, ranging in age from toddler to teenager. In addition to blogging for Babble Voices, she also publishes her own blog, Big Good Thing. Katie also enjoys working in her flower garden, riding her bike, and feeding the chickens she keeps in the backyard of her family's large Victorian house. Read bio and latest posts → Read Katie Allison's latest posts →

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80 thoughts on “The Problems With Amy Chua's "Tiger Mother" Hypothesis

  1. [...] claims that Chinese mothers are superior parents who produce superior children? Well, I did, and here’s what I have to say about Chua’s “Tiger Mother” hypothesis. Share and [...]

  2. Jeanne says:

    Here is another viewpoint that differs from Chua, but for some different reasons than you point out: http://shanghaiist.com/2011/01/10/tales_of_a_chinese_daughter_on_the.php

    I’d also wonder about the Lake Woebegone effect. If all the children raised by Chinese mothers are above average, then….?

    And finally, I recently e-spoke with a U.S. school principal who had visited China with a delegation from America. She was amazed that the Chinese were very concerned about their children not doing real critical thinking or creative expression, and wanted to learn from the Americans how to foster this.

    Hmmm…

  3. Jill says:

    I feel sorry for her daughters (and her poor Western husband).

  4. miriam says:

    I find it interesting that Chua married an American man. So, there must be something that appeals to her about people raised in the permissive Western way.

  5. The Real Loo says:

    Chua’s definition of success is raising a child who then has an elite or high paying career. All other outcomes are wrong, in her mind.

    The goal of parenting is to teach our children how to be adults and navigate the adult world. How they use that knowledge is up to them.

  6. Ashley says:

    I read that Chua is one of 4 sisters, one of whom has Down’s Syndrome…I wonder who she thinks is to blame for that?

  7. liz says:

    You need to read the book. The book is actually pretty funny and a good read. I found her and her family to be very likable. The essay is actually an excerpt from the beginning of the book and she does change her parenting style as her daughters get older. I think her parenting style is more from her over-the-top personality rather than being Chinese, although being Chinese justified her methods to herself.

  8. Nadiya says:

    While I do agree with a lot of your rebuttal (of Chua’s thesis), someone should point out that Chua uses the term ” Chinese” parenting with the caveat that it’s not only the Chinese who practice it. In her interview with the Today show, she makes it even clearer–she uses quote marks when she uses the term and explains that what she means is a tough immigrant approach to parenting.

  9. Anna says:

    I read her article and there are some points, in which I agree with her. I too find that American parents (I am generalizing, of course) are not concerned enough with their kids’ academic performance. “Do your best” is an excellent approach if the child actually did their best, but doing one’s best requires lots and lots of practice. Since children don’t like practicing, a parent must insist upon it to achieve improvement. That’s when I stop agreeing with her. Not all methods of achieving perfection are acceptable. Calling a girl, who has been practicing for hours “pathetic” because she couldn’t get the piece right is despicable. Ends don’t justify the means. And of course you are absolutely right – her definition of success is very narrow. I would loathe to be her child.

  10. Anna says:

    I also agree with Ashley. I was wondering similar things. What if one of her daughters had been diagnosed with ADHD, sensory issues or some other learning disability? How would she raise them? Still call the dyslexic child lazy and stubborn for misspelling?

  11. heatherw says:

    I think she has found a big American hot button, and she has decided to push it to see how much money will come falling down around her from book sales. I also think she is full of crap, and she is just trying to sell books.

  12. Melissa says:

    I read this article and watched her in an interview and was left feeling a little ill. I absolutely cannot stand that she openly uses the word ‘superior’ when it comes to comparing children and their achievements. It’s exactly the opposite of how I raise my children – it’s known in our home that no one is superior to another – child or adult alike – for any reason. We all are different with various, unique talents and all have individual circumstance. I will feel like I have succeeded in raising my children if they grow up to be open, loving, kind, accepting, independant individuals who follow their passions regardless if they chose something that is not so main stream, or lucrative.

  13. paula says:

    So, how do these children learn how to make decisions for themselves? and become independent thinkers? Or function as a member of society without the mother controlling their every move? My kids have their own personalities, and I can’t imagine the cruelty of squashing them in the name of “success.” Parents need to give a little, and recognize that there are negotiables. I want my kids to remember their childhood as happy and relatively carefree, as part of a familiy that is fair and takes all members into consideration…not living miserably under a controlling parent.

  14. Zone says:

    Isn’t she already a poor mother by the standards of Chinese culture? After all she has failed to produce a son.

  15. Claire R says:

    Oy. I can honestly say that what helped my daughters become the strong, independent, polite, caring, giving, loving, smart, inclusive young women that they are today (at 22 and 18)was probably more due to my guidelines and support than any arbitrary rules. Plus, what? No sleepovers? Cannot imagine my house when my kids were little without the sounds and sights of kids piled up all over the place playing games and having fun. The background music of their childhood was feet stamping on the stairs and hide-and-seek in the closets. Not only are the children missing out, but also the mother cannot be having nearly as much fun with her kids as I did with mine. Keep your strict routines, Amy. I prefer some relaxed fun. Both of my daughters make me proud, every single day, and are wonderful contributors to society. Plus they are really happy. What more could I hope for?

  16. Melissa says:

    Nice comment, Claire R! I agree.

  17. Michelle Chung says:

    As the Chinese daughter of a mother who used this “Chinese” method of parenting in a Western country (Australia), I can tell you that it is no picnic to be on the receiving end.

    While some kids do respond to this kind if extreme pressure, many kids do not. In Singapore, many school aged children attempt suicide due to the pressure placed on them by their parents. What Chua conveniently omits is that many Chinese parents resort to using a wooden spoon (or the Chinese equivalent) in order to enforce their will. It is also no picnic for the parent, as they experience the deep-seated shame if their child fails.

    For myself, I often found the pressure suffocating, and it definitely had a negative effect on my self esteem. However, I do think it embedded a determination in me, and I am grateful for that.

    I am no expert, but I do think there is a happy medium to be found. While Chua has exaggerated her point shamelessly for publicity, if you tone it down, there may be something to be said for not accepting failure in your children so easily. There is also something to be said for teaching kids the value of hard work. But these are not “Chinese” values, I believe they are universal.

    I try to find this happy medium every day with my kids, as I think we all do.

  18. Michelle Chung says:

    As for Chua’s definition of success – I think this may just be a product of different cultural values, reflective of vastly different histories. I guarantee you that if basketball had a significant presence in China for a longer period, there would be a million Yao Ming’s in the world. While Chinese people do value education highly, I think it’s a misconception that Chinese people value academics over sport – Chinese people just value different kinds of sport, for example, ping pong and martial arts. Chinese culture also has a deeply embedded history of public service. In fact, the English copied the concept of the public service exam from the Chinese.

    Just one final point – there are many, many Chinese people, living in China, raised by Chinese parents, who are fighting to achieve a more just and equitable China.

  19. Ivy says:

    I’m Chinese and my mother was fairly strict. Funny enough, I rebelled and studied literature in college. My brother rebelled in a different fashion in that he never did any of his English homework (or did just enough to pass). While, he became an electrical engineer, I became a web designer.

    On the other hand, my aunt was atypically lenient as an immigrant Chinese mother and her daughter became a pharmacist. In high school, her daughter often came home with B’s and C’s with very little repercussion. To resolve some of these issues, my aunt did spend extra tutoring time with my cousin. Bit by bit, she did better and improved in school.

    I don’t think an authoritarian strategy necessarily guarantees success. However, I do believe that a consistent message that one shouldn’t give up easily is a good one for all children. If your child is poor at math or science, you might need to spend a bit more time tutoring him/her or finding tutors for him/her. If your child only scores a B in a certain subject matter, challenge them to bring home an A.

    Oftentimes, academic failure is the result of parents and adults forming a preconceived notion that if a child brings home a poor grade then it is because that child lacks innate talent. Everyone subconsciously gives up on the child by sympathizing with that child’s lack of expertise instead of teaching the child how to overcome failure. So, I completely concur with Amy Chua’s message in that a child should always aim for the stars and develop a tenacity to achieve.

    Inasmuch as I want to disagree with Ms. Chua, I cannot give a full critique of her message as I have not read her book.

    However, I don’t believe there is one strategy for academic success or success in life. As you can see, my mother had the same approach, but I didn’t turn into a neurosurgeon or a math genius. Perhaps, I had too many bathroom breaks during piano practice, but life doesn’t end at the keyboard, and there should be time for creativity and social development as well. Thumbs up to those moms who encourage that as well, which I admit would have to include my own mother, that tough cookie.

  20. Laure68 says:

    The more I think about this article, the more I come up with a certain idea. (Which could be right or wrong.) Like others have said, this is not only a “Chinese” thing, but generally an “immigrant” thing. (After all, she does mention how Chinese immigrants are strict with their kids, and then the next generation is more lenient, so she is trying to break that pattern and stay strict.) My parents are immigrants, and they were not as harsh as Chua is, but much more strict than typical “American” parents. Good grades were very important, as was choosing a career that would result in a comfortable living. I think a big reason immigrant parents are like this (in addition to their culture) is that they came to this country to have more success, which includes financial success. They often do not have a ton of money, so cannot support their kids throughout their entire lives. On the other hand, I have seen “American” kids have very lenient parents, and choose certain majors just so they can party in college. And you know what? It doesn’t really matter because often these kids can continue to be supported by their parents after college.

    I’m not saying Chua’s way is the only or best way, but there may be a certain desperation in these parents to have their kids succeed. Also, as I mentioned in an earlier post, there is the nice idea that their kids really can do anything, which goes against what I see in a lot of American parents. Plus I know people who were raised like this who ended up just fine, so I do think all this talk of them ending up angry and miserable is just to make us feel better about ourselves.

    Of course, I am a big wuss so I am really talking out of my butt, as I could never raise my son like Chua is raising her daughters, but I can see why some parents can be like this.

  21. Patty Chang Anker says:

    I grew up with a strict Chinese mother, and chose a different approach for my kids – am so blessed that my mother has come around to our way of doing things! My story “Why This Chinese Mother Chose to Evolve” at Huffington Post here:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/patty-chang-anker/chinese-mother-evolve_b_807332.html

    Patty Chang Anker, Facing Forty Upside Down http://www.upside-down-patty.blogspot.com

  22. jzzy55 says:

    Oh my gosh. She should be paying us for all the free PR we’re giving her stupid book.

  23. Carol S. says:

    Right on Katie, I’m with you.

  24. BarbaraHu says:

    As a product of this type of “Chinese Tiger” mothering, I can personally attest that this method of child rearing is quite emotionally harmful and may not be as successful in the long-run. I grew up as a Chinese girl taking piano lessons, Kumon math classes, and enduring hours of “lecturing” from my mother for below-par performance. “You’re having too much fun,” was actually a common phrase used by my parents immediately prior to sending me to my room to go study something. I grew up hating Chinese culture and other Chinese people because I was told that this was just the Chinese way.
    Yes, I did score a 1500 out of 1600 on my SATs, my high school GPA was a 4.2, and I graduated from UCLA with a bioengineering degree. But, I was not a happy person. I carried through my life a feeling of never being good enough, and I have struggled with depression my entire life.
    It was only until I was able to break free from the chains forged by this type of Chinese Tiger mothering technique that I have been able to find my own happiness. Today, my academic achievements serve me no purpose. I am happy and content being a homemaker and giving private computer tutoring lessons to elderly individuals in the neighborhood.
    Our jobs as mothers are to raise thinking, intelligent, and dynamic individuals, not the type of one-dimensional stilted children that Chua’s method inevitably produces.

  25. IG31 says:

    I’m Asian and my mom is as overbearing as can be. But not as bad as Chua. Thank God. Nevertheless, mom’s word is the law. No exceptions. No negotiations. I love her dearly and it took years for me to truly understand her. However, I loathe her methods.

    She gets so angry so often that her smiles look fake in photographs. When I was young, she would spank, pinch and pull my hair out of sheer frustration in making me do things her way. To this day she berates me in public and I’m 31. Last year she reprimanded me for something I did, gnashing her teeth and spewing expletives without pause or mercy. I had to retreat to my car, sobbing and heaving uncontrollably for two hours. Over what? Meat delivery.

    But she would show so much concern and affection when she sees me up all night studying or doing projects. She takes pride in seeing me work and push so hard. For moms like her, the ultimate affirmation of parenting is going up on stage and shaking the principal’s hand as her child accepts an award. Or a report card filled with As. Or getting into a top university.

    This phenomenon is commonplace especially where I’m from because these mothers want tangible tokens of success for their child. They experienced tremendous hardship either as an immigrant or as a person who grew up in poverty that they would apply all means necessary to ensure their child would have a better and more financially stable future even if it sucks all they joy out of them.

    I seriously think my mom believes that a bad to average grade and poor to passable performance will lead to drugs, delinquency or worse, teen pregnancy. She is sure it would kill all my chances of success, stability and yes, happiness. Slaving away on papers and projects with little to no sleep for days at a time; plum positions in the student council, science club and school paper; being top of class, my college diploma, my total obedience, my absolute fear and respect–they all help her sleep well at night. Society rewards hard work, tenacity and excellence. In her book, I’ll be ok.

    She has an amazing power over me that remains unsurpassed even by my fiance. Her harsh methods are bathed in good intentions. I know that now. But I wish she knew a more reasonable way.

    ***It shocks me to no end how Western kids talk back to their parents or casually say “I hate you” to their faces even if it was just in the heat of the moment. I can never do that and I hope I and my future kids never will.

  26. Linda, the original one says:

    I think she’s got a product to sell and I’m not buying,

  27. tao9 says:

    I am Chinese person and I want to tell you a secret of Chinese ‘s success, discipline and hard work.  Please don’t tell me that I am smart and successful, because I am Chinese. Do you want to know what I think when you said that. I think you give me an excuse for your own failure to achieve the good life, because your mom didn’t teach you the values of discipline and hard work. If someone tell you that Chinese are superior human beings and smarter human beings, that person doesn’t know anything about Chinese world view. Chinese believe that human nature are genius and creative like fish’ nature born to swim. It ‘s say in Chinese, it ‘s up to you to find these genius, creativity, and culture it. I don’t argue against success, I learn from it and support it. I will buy her book.

  28. Cee says:

    So you have made the issue entirely political. I don’t entirely I agree with her parenting style, (I am not Chinese) but, have you ever been to China, lived with Chinese families, and is that how you formed your opinions on what the Chinese are like? Sounds to me like you’re reciting word for word what gets reported in the US media (massively biased) about China, and you’re implying that Chinese parenting is what’s wrong with China. Just as you’re implying that US parenting is what makes the US such a pure country. Last I looked, the US has failed it’s citizens and the world in more ways than should be possible. Yes, China has human rights issues, but which one country has been involved in more deadly conflict than any other? The US. Which country has the largest percentage of its population in jail? The US. Which country is viewed by the majority of the world as a bully? The US. I don’t see that many American kids peeling their eyes away from their PS3′s long enough to even think about the rest of the world, much less do much of anything to save their own country from the downward spiral it’s on.
    How many US kids are denied a decent education? Worse yet, how many of them are gaily passed through a failing education system, that gives them passing grades and bends every standard possible just to churn the kids through and deposit them on the doorstep of life, freshly graduated yet barely able to read or know how to find China on a map?? Add that to the mega amounts of medication those kids take every day just to keep them sane and happy, right along with their medicated parents, and you really wonder how some people can honestly think Asian, (or Chinese) kids have it that much worse. Having access to an endless stream of McDonalds and a million worthless cable channels is not a human right. It’s a farce, and so is the US way of raising their kids.

  29. Charles says:

    Ask a psychotherapist at any major university about the effects of this kind of parenting.

  30. Dr. K says:

    Katie: Please check your facts before you make blanket assumptions. There is one Chinese NFL player:

    http://www.nfl.com/news/story?id=09000d5d8180669e&template=with-video-with-comments&confirm=true

  31. Ed says:

    Well, she’s obviously wrong from the get-go. It’s the Anglosphere that runs the planet, not the middle kingdom. And no, that’s not going to change in the next 30 years, because Anglospheric India is standing in the way. The number of people in China who are studying English is larger than the US population. So, by reasoning backward from basic facts, Anglospheric parenting and cultural norms are the most effective. Have you ever noticed how Asians outscore other ethnic groups on IQ tests and at school but don’t really end up running things?

  32. give it a break says:

    Your logic is certainly pretzel. Athletic ability isn’t passed over. Have you not consider what these parents actually do? I’ve seen many enroll them in martial arts, baseball, soccer, or basketball. Football isn’t on the priority list because their body size is typically smaller. Since girls are mainly the issue, how many try out for football? Don’t make me answer the stupid question. How is the arts neglected? Music is the arts. Many also paint or draw. Your logic is getting worse.

  33. MS says:

    After reading her WSJ article, I’d have to agree with the majority of the commenters that Chua seems extreme in her methods and cruel at times. That being said, I also agree with her that Western parenting, especially in the upper, middle-class, mostly white suburbs where I live, has started to subscribe to her exact view of “Western parenting.”

    My opinion, somewhere in the middle lies the “best practice” for parenting. Challenge children, hold them to a high standard, raise their expectations of themselves…but in a loving, kind way and including things they actually like to do.

  34. shghwsigfhwyyg says:

    I don’t understand why so many bloggers feel the need to help this woman sell books.

    When I was in school, twenty years ago or so, there were some asian students, they were fine students but they were not the super geniuses that I am reading about today. I don’t know what has changed in that time.

    I also know one of these tiger mothers who worked at the same place I did. After her kids were on their own she wanted to get back into the work force. Her upbringing may have made her an academic success but she was not a success. in the real world. She was hard working and meticulous which was her biggest problem. She would take too long to do perfectly what was needed to be done quickly. She also had no conception of this as a fault, she constantly demanded increased responsibilities commensurate with her conception of her abilities when she couldn’t do the simplest things in a useful manner.

    My opinion is that there is some good in the asian mother philosophy but the author of this book carries it too far for my taste. On the other hand I think a lot of people would benefit from a bit more of that philosophy in their own child rearing methods. So I’d say there is some truth in her methods but there is also a need for balance. Some folks might carry it too far and others might benefit from adopting some of her ideas.

    In my own family my parents were not very strict but we children were quite successful at school. My family, parents and extended family, respected education and valued scholarship and provided an environment where the children could do homework in a quiet atmosphere. They taught us that doing well in school was good and something to be proud of. For us children, this was all that was needed. So in my opinion the parental attitudes affect the children in explicit and implicit ways and that is sufficient to motivate children to do well in school.

    Maybe asian children are inferior and need parental pressure to get them to work hard, but I doubt it. I also know there are some subcultures in the west that think scholarship is not something to be proud of and you find that members of these subcultures are rarely successful in later life.

    Personally I don’t care if people want to be successes or not. I do feel sorry for the children who are raised with the disadvantage that they don’t respect learning because it limits their intellectual development. Additionally I think it is dangerous for society because those who are unsuccessful often vote to raise their standard of living through political policies where wealth is transferred from those who studied hard as children to those who didn’t. I would prefer to live in a society where everyone has the opportunity to be successful and that job should fall on our schools.

    I think we definately could use a bit more of the asian tiger philosophy in some of our failing public schools. Not to the extent of the author of that book takes it but some of that philosophy would be very valuable.

  35. Bruce Russell says:

    Mom’s don’t prepare sons for the NFL, brothers, friends, dads, and coaches do. Mom’s can force children to perform the daily drudgery that provides the foundation for valuable life skills. Most American Moms don’t.

  36. Rosana says:

    Jus the fact that Chua has more than one child, makes me believe that she is not a typical Chinese mother.

  37. GLR says:

    I have been so warped by Face Book–I just scrolled down looking for the “like” button! May I just say AMEN? You articulated exactly my thoughts when I read this piece.

  38. marta says:

    Chua’s valued and praised distinct Chinese values and parenting methods are mirrored in centuries of totalitarian societies in China and other parts of Eastern Asia… Reminds me of a (twisted) version of the famous Orson Welles quote: “The Swiss, in a thousand years of democracy, created the cuckoo clock. The Italians, in a thousand years of debauchery, glutony and treason, created Leonardo da Vinci and the opera” or something like that… “Perfect” parenting equals totalitarian mindsets…

    Marta from Lisbon, Portugal

  39. Alex says:

    “I also want to point out that Chua’s assertion that Chinese-style mothering produces “superior” outcomes really only works if you view it within the context of American (or other western) culture. In China, Chua’s hypothesis that Chinese mothering is more successful falls flat, that is, unless you define success as a totalitarian state in which basic human rights are denied, women are second class citizens, the arts and religion are brutally suppressed, and freedom of thought and speech are punishable by death.”

    One might ask whether the Chinese upbringing Chua suggests actually leads to that type of authoritarian culture.

    As for the horrible way US kids are being raised, I think we have problems, but just let me know when the Chinese actually start leading the world in developing new medicines and new technologies, etc., etc. The US for the last 100 years has led the world in innovation and although other countries may be approaching us I doubt any will be able to overtake us. And I seriously doubt it will be the Chinese whose authoritarian worldview actually inhibits the type of creativity needed to create instead of copy.

  40. adam says:

    NFL? This must be a regional thing, but if I said at a dinner party in Brooklyn that my kid was playing football, I would be shown the door. Okay, not really but kinda.

    I guess everyone has their own ideas about where to draw lines in parenting

  41. richard40 says:

    Chau is mostly wrong, and far too authoritian, but even mostly wrong theories can contain a grain of truth. I think non-asian parents dont expect and demand enough from their kids academically, especially in harder subjects, like math and science. And while its true that non-asians, expecially blacks, produce lots of sports stars, I wish they would also produce more good physicians, accountants, statisticians, scientists, engineers, programmers, etc. And the odds of being a sports star or entertainer are very long, producing mostly failures in those that try for those occupations, but there is still plenty of demand for accountants. In non-asian culture it should be just as cool to want to be a great mathemetician, as it is to be a great football player. The key is striving for excellence, and also keeping expectations realistic, so they strive for excellence in a field where there is a realistic chance for succcess, given their ability. If a kid is a natural born athelete or entertainer, with ability far above average, then it is good to encourage them there, but if they are only average, or slightly above average in those areas, it is far better to push hard for academics, where even slightly above average ability can still lead to success.

  42. willyrob says:

    My thought about Chua’s book is that if this reflects, in any way, the intellectual output of a professor at what is supposed to be one of the country’s top law schools, then maybe my economist friends are right when they say that law school really is a bunch of hooey functioning primarily as a barrier to entry into the legal profession.

  43. GunstonH says:

    Professor Chua is a mere reincarnation of Bull Meechum, the authoritarian Marine Corps fighter pilot and family patriarch forever remembered in the 1979 film The Great Santini. This style of parenting is simple bullying – the exertion of unchecked authority and unpredictable moods to control and dominate powerless and dependent humans. Despite Professor Chua justifying such behavior on cultural, ethnic, or utilitarian grounds, it remains a form of terrorism.

    Unfortunately, Professor Chua’s public display of parenting behaviors also reinforces a Yale Law School reputation. Over several decades of encounters with Yale Law School faculty and alumni — either as public figures or private attorneys — I have never run across an odder group of ducks. Yes, they are talented and intellectually gifted. But when it comes to personal behaviors and interpersonal relationships, they are, to put it mildly, ill-adjusted. Mammas don’t let your babies grow up to be Yale Law School faculty or students.

  44. Girls Remain Dumb in Science? says:

    “That’s because Chua’s definition of success for her daughters is extremely narrow, focusing as it does … academics (specifically math and science)”

    You would think this should be praised. Are women less represented in math and science field? How about fixing it?

  45. Stefanie says:

    Thank you, Katie, for writing about this most sensitive issue. Once again, I agree with you.

  46. michelle says:

    That NFL bit was poorly argued and offensive. Look at average outcomes (kids growing up to become college-educated professionals), not exceptional outcomes (something like 0.0000001% of kids will ever make the NFL). I also took exception to the ignorant generalizations about China and Chinese culture. Sheesh, lady, you have no credibility.

  47. Gretchen Powers says:

    Chua’s on NPR/Diane Rehm. If you’re interested, listen to the show. It makes Chua seem much more sane than alot of the stuff floating around online. It’s almost as if the bloggers and commenters didn’t really dig deep enough…or even read the 4-sentence subtext in the cover graphic, for heaven’s sake. Although I am not really clear how Chua is reconciling what she’s speaking with what she wrote in the WSJ. I just think there’s alot of subtlety with what she’s up to. Yeah, and the NFL comparison here is completely off base. People need to allow that there are MANY ways to raise kids. I’d be careful to criticize someone who is more involved when so many are not involved enough. At least this woman is hands on…and limited herself to two kids!!!!!! At least she give a XXXX.

  48. Cathy Smith says:

    I know a Chinese man raised in this way. He is going to law school after completing an MD and PhD. He plays the piano like a maestro. And I saw him sobbing at his desk,, without fail at least three times a week. He considers himself a failure. He is so psychologically tortured that his parents, though they are half a world away, have his entire sense of self tied in a self-hating knot.

  49. Rosana says:

    I just listened to that show Gretchen references above and it was very interesting. I would actually give the book a mother to be. The book shows clearly that there is not an absolute way to parent, there is many ways but that the final goal should be the well being of the kids. And also that no matter how hard we can try, we cannot control everything.
    I think the article was writen to create the controversy it has caused, so the book would sell well.
    My take from the interview is that maybe Chua had a fear of disappointing her parents by raising kids below the standards that they so much believed in while raising her and her sisters as poor Chinese immigrants. However, the book is actually a journey from the mother she thought she had to be to the mother she actually was after her youngest daughter rebeled against the strict parenting she was practicing, when she was 13 years old.
    I will definetely read it.

  50. Marissa says:

    Maybe this article could act as a good catalyst to get parents to examine their own particular parenting style. It really irks me that when people are going to be come parents, they spend more time buying things and picking a color scheme than they do thinking about the actual parenting of the child.

    I’m not saying I agree or disagree with any thing Chua says – but, it got us talking and thinking about parenting styles, which I think is a good thing.

  51. James says:

    That’s because Chua’s definition of success for her daughters is extremely narrow, focusing as it does on music (classical only, and only on acceptable instruments), academics (specifically math and science) and complete acceptance of parental domination. The only way Chua’s hypothesis of superior parenting producing superior children is if you accept this very limited definition of success.

    [I don't think it is "very limited" -- or at least, plenty of people would be willing to accept such "limitations" as a child who achieved excellence in music and academics.]

    Furthermore, she doesn’t suggest that her extreme methods could also create superiority in other areas of interest or activity, such as the arts, public service or athletics.

    [There is no reason to believe you could not apply the same methods in other realms -- and in fact, plenty of people do so, most notably with respect to sports. For example, Tiger Woods' dad made him practice his ass off from an early age. And isn't music an "art"? If it is, then Chua has already shown that her methods enable a child to excel at the arts! As for "public service", WTF is that, anyway? How do you excel at volunteering for stuff? You just go do it. And why couldn't a parent make her kid go do a lot of that, and thus use the Chua method to achieve "superiority" at public service, if the parent thought that was important?]

    If Chua’s suggested parenting methods really work to create superior abilities in the children raised in this way, then the methods should be applicable to any area of activity or initiative. And while Chua smugly points to “tons” of studies in which Chinese kids are shown to make better math grades, I am going to have to checkmate her by noting the fact that there aren’t any Chinese kids playing in the NFL.

    [Neither Chua nor this author are willing to admit that genetics plays a role. You cannot apply Chua's methods to a stupid kid and expect to succeed. You cannot apply her methods to a weedy kid and expect them to play football. OTOH if you applied her method to, say, a big black kid, you would get one hell of a football player.]

    In China, Chua’s hypothesis that Chinese mothering is more successful falls flat, that is, unless you define success as a totalitarian state in which basic human rights are denied, women are second class citizens, the arts and religion are brutally suppressed, and freedom of thought and speech are punishable by death.

    [Uh, whut? There are plenty of successful mothers in China. The success of the Chinese economy speaks for itself, and it is not a coincidence that lots of them excel at science and engineering. If the Chinese do not accept US ideas of human rights, and freedom of thought and speech, that in no way means that China is not successful.]

    wouldn’t it mean more if Chua’s self-defined Chinese, “Tiger” mothering – which she undertakes from the luxury and freedom of her totally American lifestyle – produced young adults with a passion to return to China and work to create a more just, equitable and free society for the billions of Chinese mothers and daughters who never get to take a music lesson, much less attend school at all?

    [So her mothering style is not "successful" unless it produces kids who seek the political goals you have defined as desirable? Fsck that! You might as well say my kid is not a "success" unless he or she is a knee-jerk liberal, and that idea should be rejected out of hand.]

    Amy Chua has shared hers with us (classical music virtuosity, high math SAT score, submission to parental dominance), and now I’ll share mine with you; I’d rather turn out the woman who manages to create freedom for other women through her politics, activism, art, spiritual practice or community service than produce the next National Merit Scholar.

    [Ugh, how utterly revolting! You want to create another useless nuisance who contributes nothing to society. Thanks a lot!]

  52. RG says:

    “I’d rather turn out the woman who manages to create freedom for other women through her politics, activism, art, spiritual practice or community service…”

    You seem to assume women have no or less freedom, presumably in comparison to men, world-wide, which is quite an assumption, not to mention worldview. Thus, I am not sure your alternative is any preferable or that you have successfully refuted Ms. Chua since what you seem to aspire to produce a western-type feminist – out to change the world and the men in it to better cater to their needs and desires. At least the Chinese-raised girls will likely not feel entitled to change the world.

  53. Gretchen Powers says:

    Sorry for my decline into illiteracy at the end of my last post. Clearly my mother was not tough enough with me : )

  54. KMarx says:

    Create freedom for other women? What kind of drivel is that? Is your daughter going to end Islam? Overthrow communist China? Give me a break.

  55. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by JZ School and Stephan Fassmann, Celebrity Trollop. Celebrity Trollop said: shares http://tinyurl.com/4dj6dw9 (On tiger-mother parenting) http://plurk.com/p/a4orij [...]

  56. George B says:

    “It’s easy to feel superior and successful when you are chauffeuring your healthy, American-born daughters around in your Volvo,…”

    You’re mixed up your stereotypes. It sometimes appears that all ethnically Chinese families in America own at least one Toyota Camry except if they drive luxury cars. If a Chinese family owns a luxury car, it will most likely be a Lexus model. The few exceptions to the Chinese Toyota/Lexus rule will be Honda/Acura or Nissan/Infiniti.

  57. Nate Whilk says:

    I’ll stipulate I disagree with the extremes of Chua’s mothering. The rest, however, is undeniable. You have to WORK to get really good at things. ALL the most accomplished people do. Do you seriously think that, say, Hillary Clinton took it easy in school?

    Hard work does not guarantee success. But success rarely comes without it. And whatever you accomplish, you will accomplish more with hard work than without it.

    “Chua’s hypothesis that Chinese mothering is more successful falls flat, that is, unless you define success as a totalitarian state in which basic human rights are denied, women are second class citizens, the arts and religion are brutally suppressed, and freedom of thought and speech are punishable by death.”

    Oh, for heaven’s sake. Now hard work = totalitarianism?

    Drivel is right. The whole column is utter drivel.

    Perhaps this overreaction has some basis in Ganju’s personal life.

  58. ProudMary says:

    My children are still little, and it’s conveniently easy to speak in hypothesis, but my goals as a parent are for them to be: independent thinking, educated, motivated, kind and compassionate people. I believe that the best way to teach them these things is to show them by example. Insulting them will first harm their character, and second show them that such behavior is fine to unleash upon others. I still recall each and every time my Mother called me a name or insulted me. It hurt, deeply. There was nothing helpful or motivational about it. All it did was make me feel like I didn’t understand or relate to her, and as an adult, give me the impulse to lash out at others.

    I do agree with Amy Chua that you have to push kids to do their best before they will see that they can achieve great things, and that many parents are too busy or disinterested to be involved in their children’s academics. I do plan to force my children to do well in school, and I will endure long nights to make that happen. But it won’t be based on hatred or insults. I admit I do have a soft Western heart, I love my children with all my heart and I can’t hide it.

  59. Heather says:

    You hit it on the head. If your idea of a successful child is one who attains great achievement in a few specific areas, then fine, Chua’s ideas might work. However, if you are hoping to raise a well-rounded, happy child whith whom you are able to have an affectionate (or at the least, functional) relationship with as an adult, then no dice. Joy Luck Club, anyone? As quick as she is to point out examples of children of “Chinese mothers” with successful children, she fails to mention the many, many exampls of horribly dysfunctional relationships and gravely unahappy children. I’d rather have my kid grow up to be a happy garbage collector, than a “successful” adult who thinks he isn’t worth anything in his own mother’s eyes.

  60. judith walker-riggs says:

    My argument with the tiger mother thesis is, whatever it is, it isn’t “Chinese mothering” per se. At least my Chinese sister-in-law doesn’t think so. According to her, she has raised her children the real Chinese way (and I’ve watched this, and had some problems when our families were together with it) which is — no discipline at all until age 5 (ie if you want to stay up until midnight you do, if you want to eat only cheese crackers you do, (one of her sons lost all his baby teeth very early, they turned black, no doubt because he would only go to bed with a bag of hard candies every night!); then you tell them how you want them to behave and shape them into it … even then, it was way looser than we were, and we thought we were relaxed … She howled with laughter and anger at the idea that this tiger mommy craziness was Chinese! So that’s one other opinion!

  61. Jamie says:

    OK, look. It’s important to teach kids persistence in the face of disappointment and weariness, toughness in the face of criticism, and the importance of doing the best dang job you can at whatever it is you’re doing. All these traits are quintessentially American – the country was founded on them, on “Yankee ingenuity,” on the “pioneer spirit,” on “stick-to-it-iveness.” “Try, try again” – remember that? Edison’s thousand light bulb filaments, or however many it was? Chua (perhaps inadvertantly) rouses the sleeping giant (in those American parents who will read or hear about her) with her inflammatory essay; how many of the commenters here said, “It’s more important to bolster a child’s fragile self-esteem” versus “We already do this to the extent necessary to teach a kid how to succeed, or at least *I* do, and in addition, my children have the ability to step outside the box I built for them”? (I saw one such “self-esteem” commenter, the woman above whose children are taught, falsely, that no one is superior to anyone else. At least she did back up from that statement by pointing out that everyone is unique – but for heaven’s sake, of COURSE there are people who are superior, pretty much across the board, to others. Not ethnicities, nations, or what-have-you – but individuals? Of course.)

    My knee-jerk reaction was, “Playing violin like a virtuoso is a far cry from composing a concerto, lady. And in any case, how many virtuoso violinists do we need? How many digits have your daughters memorized pi to? Where do you think that’s going to get them, huh?” But in fact, she’s not worth answering; she’s the stereotypical villain of the piece, serving the purpose in the plot of pointing up the hero’s essential goodness, bravery, and intelligence. Or at least, that’s how I believe she’s most useful: to make those of us who don’t believe her method is a good idea examine what WE say we do, what we say we believe, that’s as or more effective, and then to examine whether we ACTUALLY do and believe those things.

  62. Chantel says:

    Sounds like this woman is the Ike Turner of mothers.

    All the success in the world means WHAT at the end of the day? You can have piles of money, a mansion and a wall filled with degrees, but if you go to bed and feel like a profound failure – those *things* mean nothing.

    Her parenting style of forced perfection is nothing short of abuse.

  63. Cath Young says:

    She may have a good argument. I’ve known a number of kids raised that way and they do tend to be the type of kids most parents would like to have. They tend to stay out of trouble, be healthy, are self sufficient, and happy.

    In order to truly evaluate the validity of her claims, some large samples and controls need to be taken. I ‘ll bet that kids raised the way she describes by far have fewer serious problems than peers who did not use those methods. I don’t know any such kids who are high school drop outs, committed suicide, have gone to jail, drug addicts, psychologically damaged. There are some I’m sure, but they are far fewer in number. My guess is that group of kids have achieved a higher degree of supporting themselves, good relationships, happiness, and achievement of things that we consider success. They may be under represented in the NFL but they are also underrepresented int the group of kids who cause true heartaches for the parents.

    I think the percentage of great adults that come out of that upbringing exceeds peer groups.

  64. Alesa says:

    I read the WSJ essay by complete chance and was particularly struck by one paragraph: “Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight As. Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best. Chinese parents can say, “You’re lazy. All your classmates are getting ahead of you.” By contrast, ***** Western parents have to struggle with their own conflicted feelings about achievement, and try to persuade themselves that they’re not disappointed about how their kids turned out.” ******

    I’m not a parent and would never wish to be, but from what I’ve generally observed, Western parents whose kids don’t achieve academically ARE by and large compartmentalizing. Would they REALLY rather their kid be working in fast food for mimimum wage and living at home at the age of 25, or supporting themselves and moving up in the world, however you define that (yes, that could include public service, athletics, the arts, whatever)? I do think that rather than crack the whip, which is parenting the hard way, Western parents are content to have average or below-average kids and to continue to baby their kids well into their 20s and beyond (then complain about it).

    I wholeheartedly agree with Chua that academic achievement and even musical proficiency are tied to general achievement and maturation in life. The article that accompanies the Chua essay ranked U.S. 15-year-olds as 17th globally in reading, 31st in math and 23rd in science. Face if folks – we are raising a generation of generally underachieving kids with low self esteem despite the fact that many parents are going to great pains not to bruise their fragile egos and not to require much of them. I think Chua’s article is just as much about widespread Western parental underachievement as it is about Chinese parenting success. She says it in a straightforward and unapologetic way that is likely to offend the offenders.

    My dad ruled with an iron fist. He’s deceased now, but I think him every day that he stressed the fundamentals of academic achievement and personal accountability as a pathway to success. However you define success, I don’t see how you can achieve it without being able to read, write, do basic math and have the self-discipline to support yourself.

  65. Laura says:

    Loved Katie Granju’s insights, particularly about social justice – I haven’t noticed any other commentators talking about that, but I feel strongly that those of us with privilege have an obligation to contribute towards the general good.

    It’s emerged that the Wall Street Journal egregiously misrepresented Chua in its presentation of the book excerpt: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2011/01/13/apop011311.DTL

    Here is part of what Jeff Yang found out in his interview with Chua:

    “I was very surprised,” she says. “The Journal basically strung together the most controversial sections of the book. And I had no idea they’d put that kind of a title on it. But the worst thing was, they didn’t even hint that the book is about a journey, and that the person at beginning of the book is different from the person at the end — that I get my comeuppance and retreat from this very strict Chinese parenting model.”

    While the Journal article was unquestionably good for sales and awareness of the book, which has already hit #7 on Amazon and is only headed upward, it has been painful for Chua. “I’ve gotten scary messages. Death threats. All from people who haven’t yet read the book,” she says. “And while it’s ultimately my responsibility — my strict Chinese mom told me ‘never blame other people for your problems!’ — the one-sided nature of the excerpt has really led to some major misconceptions about what the book says, and about what I really believe.”

  66. Lori says:

    I say we interview the daughters.

  67. Olga says:

    Hi:

    My definition of success for my children would be happy well adjusted adults, who manage to find a career (any career) which they love and look forward to everyday. They should have respect for others and infinate tolerance and understanding, and the world will be a better place because they existed. I hope they grow into people who I would like to know.

  68. anniet says:

    Ashley – What are you inferring?

  69. Danny says:

    not gonna say anythign else, but yes there is a full-chinese NFL player……just saying

  70. Jane says:

    I actually understand and agree with most of Chua’s points. I used to be another Barbie-obsessed American girl living in a “children-please-do-as-you-wish-and learn-what-you-want-society,” until I had the opportunity to study abroad. Only when I lived overseas, did I see the bubble we Americans live in. I wasn’t ready for the culture shock or the very competitive academic environment. I wanted to come home, back to my comfort zone, but my parents encouraged me to “grow up”, to see the world from outside the bubble, through the eyes of other cultures. Fifteen years later, I am still very grateful to them.

    When I was overseas I met my now husband (who’s a very educated man and doesn’t have a clue about American football or Budweiser). Today, my children know who the parents are and the discipline standards we have at home; even my 4-year-old knows we have non-negotiable rules at home, and needless to say we have very high academic expectations. Rule number one: no TV without parental consent (never in the morning). Rule number two: mandatory reading (school or non-school related) every day after supper (at least 30 mins). Rule number three: never (absolutely never) open the door of mommy and daddy’s bedroom ;o)

    Think about what sports mean to Americans, that’s what Education means to some cultures.

    – An American mom who learned to be a mom overseas

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