Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Daughter of the Tiger Mom

Given the frenzy that has erupted around Amy Chua’s new book: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, it seems only too fitting that one of her children would want to have a say in the matter.

This morning the New York Post published an open letter by Chua’s daughter, Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld, that offers some much-needed perspective about Confucian child-rearing practices. Link here.

The proof of the effectiveness of Chua’s method lies in the results, and, if I may say so, her daughter Sophia does not sound like an automaton whose social skills and creativity have been stunted.

It seems that just about everyone has some kind of grievance with Chua. After all, we live in a culture of grievance. If you take the book as an opportunity to use those critical skills you learned in your Ivy League college, you will find much that is wrong in her approach.

You can even become a master at the art of the cheap shot, expressing with glee your discovery that if her daughters could only play the piano or violin, then, Chinese orchestras would not have any bassoon players.

A nation that counts that as a brilliant insight has some serious work to do.

Among those who have been more sensible, Nicholas Kristof explained that the children who do best in international achievement tests invariably come from Confucian cultures, cultures that value Tiger Moms.

And he also adds that many the children who are brought up under this kind of strict discipline do not very much like it. They would prefer to be free to exercise their creative impulses, much as American high school students do.

Again, how much weight should a parent give to the choices of a fourteen year old? And how well are our American high school students being prepared to take their place in the world?

This morning David Brooks was trying to be witty when he explained that Chua would have set even more rigorous standards for her children if she had allowed them to learn how to socialize.

How, pray tell, does Brooks know that they do not know how socialize? Chua’s daughter’s letter does not give me the impression of a young woman who does not have friends, does not know how to play, and does not know how to get along with people.

Keep in mind that the young Americans who have luxuriated in the advanced socializing called “play dates” grow up to become college students who literally do not know how to date. They hookup instead.

Perhaps, Brooks would prefer that children be out exercising their creativity in the world of social media. Yet, as Eric Felton reports this morning, Sherry Turkle’s new book: Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, paints rather a more dispiriting view of the social lives of American teenagers. Link here.

In his words: “Teens may embrace the peculiar sociability that the wireless computer makes possible, Ms. Turkle says, but they do so with unease and ambivalence. To put it in theater terms, they are ‘on‘ all the time, expected to respond immediately to every text, every IM, every scribble on their Facebook walls. There is no escape from the pestering, nudging, hectoring, chattering demands of being connected. Many high-schoolers are more exhausted than exhilarated by their virtual lives. ‘I can't imagine doing this when I get older,’ says one student about the hours he devotes to meeting the demands of his online social life. ‘How long do I have to continue doing this?’"

Before we get more caught up in criticizing Chua, we should think more critically about the social media mania that her daughters seem to have missed.


Jim said...

I have mixed feelings about "Tiger Mom". I was raised by an Italian-American mom who was in many ways tougher than Amy Chua. But it was a different era and while my more disciplined upbringing may have made me a better man, my relationship with my mother these days is not so great. I'm into "free range" parenting with my three sons and one is 30 years old while the other two are still at home. Most other parents consider my wife and I to be tougher than most but nothing compared to Amy Chua. My boys may not be Nobel laureates but they are socially functioning, independant, happy and manage to perform well. One of my boys is academically gifted and that has a lot to do with his genes. Amy's daughters are also gifted and a good part of their accomplishment is due to their genes as well as their mother's "encouragement". But the girls are still very young and the rest of Amy's parenting story has yet to be written. I read that Asian teenage girls also have a high rate of suicide. What will Amy do when boyfriends come into the picture? Will she say, "no dating until you get your get your PhD's"? Yeah right! How will her girls function when they finally leave home? And what about this silent Jewish father? Does he get to say anything? Would Amy get away with such bossing around if she married to a Chinese man? I suspect that poor Amy would not have it as easy if she had sons. Will Amy Chua's next book about the girls' progress be as triumphant when it comes out 15 years from now? I think not.

Anonymous said...

Amy Chua is preparing her kids for The World That Was; fighting the last war; kids perfectly suited to fit as cogs in a processed, Sanitized for Your Protection world that has gone broke.

Those kids are insects trapped in amber.

I have no idea what the world is going to look like: Plumbing will probably be more valuable than playing the piano.

I'm no expert in child-rearing, but I'll tell you this: My kid will build the world those little darlings, those little hot-house flowers, will live in; 'cuz somebody has to....

I mean, it's not like they, or 'Tiger' Chua are going to do fuck-all but try and collect awards that used to be important. They are a Cargo Cult, not innovators.

I'm sure my Little Guy, when he is a Big Guy, will enjoy their little concerts very much.


Jim said...

It looks like Amy Chua will attempt to control her girls' lives for a long time. No doubt she will choose their college. Will they go away from home for college? That will lead to a total loss of control. How will Mom handle that? Will she select dates and eventually husbands for her daughters and plan their weddings? What kind of men will she pick? Will they be Jewish, Chinese or something else? What man would want Amy Chua as a mother-in-law? Would anyone want their son marrying into this kind of family?

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