Thursday, January 20, 2011

Tiger Mom Continues to Provoke Furious Debate

It doesn‘t happen very often that people on both sides of the political divide find common ground. Today, they have. They are joined by their rage against Prof. Amy Chua, aka, the Tiger Mom.

In attacking Chua, they are defending the American way of parenting, a technique that values love over toughness, fun over discipline. They don’t mention that this technique was invented and taught by experts. By the elites.

We do not want to contradict the experts, do we? It’s easier to assault Amy Chua and anyone else who parents differently.

As someone mentioned in the comments section, American parenting has undergone a sea change recently. In the old days American parents were strict and tough. They imposed discipline on their unruly charges. They expected high levels of achievement and were ill disposed to accept excuses.

The new way emphasizes high self-esteem and good feelings about self, regardless of whether or not these feelings have any correlation to real achievement.

As has often been noted, America is now producing a crop of mediocre students who are convinced that they are the very, very best.

And God forbid that you should be the one to tell them otherwise. You will feel like the boy who announces that the Emperor has no clothes. Or like Amy Chua.

Consider the question from a different angle. How many times have you heard that women are supposed to be strong and confident, even fierce? You hear it all the time. It is a staple for modern women, especially if they are feminists.

So, now we have a Tiger Mom who is nothing if not fierce and strong and confident. And Amy Chua also has a very successful career as a much-esteemed law professor.

To Janet Maslin this makes her a self-centered witch. Link here.

Granted that Tiger Mom often seems gratuitously rigid, even mean, but still how is it possible that all the talk about strong women has created a generation of mothers that is horrified at the prospect of disciplining their children?

Where will children are going to learn discipline if not from parents who impose it on them? Do you think that children are naturally disciplined? Do you imagine that they will  learn it from parents who allow them to do as they please?

So women been reacting to Tiger Mom with a defensive virulence, a dismissiveness that one rarely sees. Many commenters have declared that she must have ruined her daughters. They are happy to assert the point without knowing anything about her daughters. I promise you, if her daughters become exemplary adults, these critics will still believe that these girls have been ruined.

Others have dismissed Chua as an abusive mother, a narcissistic bitch, an alien horror, someone who must be shunned from polite and impolite society.  

So much for civility. How many mothers who refuse to discipline their children are more than willing to take Amy Chua out to the woodshed for a thrashing? Don’t ever say that they are not fierce and strong and tough.

But, what if we did not just rely on elite opinion, but went out and did a poll about the real issue in the debate. Do Americans feel that they are putting too much or too little pressure on their children?

The Pew Research Center did just such a poll, and they discovered, mirabile dictu, that a goodly majority of Americans feel that they put too little pressure on their children, that they do not push them toward academic achievement or excellence. Link here.

The results are consistent when adjusted for gender, race, education, income, and locale.

The study also polled parents in China, India, and Japan. Unsurprisingly, the majority of parents in those countries feel that their children are being subjected to too much pressure. They feel that their children work too hard and are too focused on success.

It’s a fair point, though it is not really our American business. If people who have responded to Amy Chua had remained rational, they might have drawn the conclusion that the poll offers. Whatever the experts think, the American way of parenting is too lax, too lenient, and too indulgent.

The truth hurts, they used to say, and I am persuaded that we would not be hearing so many screams of pain if Chua had not touched a very sore spot.

Chua may well have sometimes gone too far. Which parent can say that he or she has never gone too far, in one or the other direction? This does not prevent us from trying to draw a constructive lesson from her book.

Some articles on Tiger Moms did not condemn Chua. Among them Bill Powell’s article in Time Magazine stands out. Link here.

Powell is married to a Chinese woman who is a Tiger Mom to their daughter. But Powell and his wife live in Shanghai, so Tiger Mom does not have the problem that Chua and her husband face: she does not have to shield her daughter from the permissiveness that has overtaken American parenting.

Thus, Powell’s wife, as a Tiger Mom, is more easy-going than Chua. She allows play dates.

Still and all, Powell is more than happy with the way the Tiger Mom is bringing up their daughter.

And isn’t the daughter’s best interest what is really in question here. Why is it that we Americans seem to be more focused on parental self-esteem than on what is best for children?

12 comments:

David said...

One of the "tiger mother" tactics that was mentioned is calling children "garbage" when they don't meet expectations. Isn't it likely that someone raised this way will use similar terminology should (s)he ever reach a supervisory position? Isn't such behavior likely to lead to failure? (Outside perhaps certain GM plants, given that yelling at employees has apparently long been a part of that company's culture)

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I don't want to condone (or condemn) specific tactics.

This tactic falls within the general category of shaming. It feels a bit extreme, but all parents use shaming all the time.

When a parent tells a child that he is not acting his age, that involves shaming. When a parent tells a child that he is disappointed in a child's behavior, he is shaming the child. When he tells the child that he is not working up to his level, he is shaming the child. When a child is sent off for a time out, he is being shamed.

These techniques are notably effective, like them or not.

The question is: what are the alternatives? One can either not discipline the child at all or institute different kinds of physical punishment coupled with bribes. As in, you get spanked for getting it wrong or you get a treat for getting it right.

David said...

It may be tactical, but there's a big difference in my mind between telling someone "This isn't very good" or even "This is lousy!" on the one hand, and telling someone "You are garbage" on the other. I'm pretty hard-nosed, but would be disinclined to tolerate any manager working for me who regularly talked to subordinates in the latter way.

A good example of handling a problem well was provided by former Navy captain Neptunus Lex on his blog. Chastising someone who had made an obnoxious comment, Lex mentioned that the guys previous comments had been insightful, and went on to say something like "This is not worthy of you."

Anonymous said...

All I have to say is:

Todd Marinovich

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Todd_Marinovich

--Gray

Anonymous said...

Oh, Boomers don't like how the kids they abandoned are raising their own kids?

Really, as an engineer, I have had to deal with these Chinese Wunderkind: They were great students, hopeless as employees and insufferable as bosses.

"East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet"

--Gray

Anonymous said...

TO: Anonymous, a.k.a., Grey
RE: Abandonment

Oh, Boomers don't like how the kids they abandoned are raising their own kids? -- Grey

For your information I did not 'abandon' my children.

Rather, they were RIPPED from my arms by the 'Family [dissolution] Court' system.

GOT IT!!!!

Regards,

Chuck
[Make it idiot proof and someone will make a better idiot.]

P.S. Look at the children of 'today'.....destroyed....all in the name of 'progress'.....

Anonymous said...

TO: Dr. Schneiderman
RE: [OT] BLOGGER??!?!?!

Now even my 'anonymous' posts are becoming part of the 'disappeared'.

I had something to say about Chua vis-a-vis the attacks on her. I mentioned a correlation with a certain woman of a conservative persuasion who was once on a national-level election ticket.

THAT POST DIDN'T 'TAKE'. But the follow-on to Grey DID.

I HIGHLY RECOMMEND YOU CHANGE YOUR VENUE!!!

This venue can no longer be trusted.

Regards,

Chuck(le)
[The best way to beat the 'competition' is to 'silence' them.]

Anonymous said...

TO: All
RE: Let's Try 'Again'

The 'disappeared' comment related to how college students don't seem to 'learn' very much in their first two years in acadamia-land.

Article is HERE!!!!

My observation was that the way some of the women who oppose Chua are behaving, it resembles the same sort of vicious attack we've seen performed against a certain female of the conservative persuasion who ran on a national-level ticket in 2008. And continues TODAY.

And, it is all a validation of the third option of the famous Lawyers' Rule....

[1] If the Law is against you, argue the facts.
[2] If the facts are against you, argue the Law.
[3] If the Law and the facts are against you, call the other side names.
-- The Official Rules: A Compendium of Truths and Laws for Living

Enjoy,

Chuck(le)
[The Truth comes out....in some interesting forms....]

Jim said...

As a father I am considered to be a strict parent. I make my boys walk to the bus stop and to the store in bad weather, bait their own hooks, clean their own guns and even pay for their amunition (or at least some of it). I expect good performance at school and try to set a good example. But what Amy Chua does to her daughters is really a form of child abuse. She is teaching her daughters that her approval is based on their performance. That may be OK for employer-worker relationships but not mother-child ones. Family is a place where you are loved regardless of how well you "perform". Most of the examples I read about here are Chinese women married to highly paid western professionals and have daughters. The jury is still out on this form of "extreme" parenting. I once lived in an Asian neighborhood in California. True, many of the kids did get straight As. But many of them smoked and were reckless drivers. Mrs. Chua's girls are still in the pre-dating stage of life. She is in for some tough times as her girls turn into women and she struggles to maintain a control she cannot keep. Nobody seems to want to speculate how the Tiger Moms will handle the adult years. Here's what most are missing in this discussion -- you never stop being a parent. My oldest is 30 and covets my advice and guidance more than ever. Parenting requires different approaches at different ages. My sons know that that their mother will always love them. She continually teaches important things to her kids that only good moms can - things like compassion, tenderness, patience. Can a Tiger Mom do that??

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Well, I don't really think it may have success.