Monday, February 20, 2012

"Is Chinese Parenting Superior?" By: Amanda Borlin

Amanda Borlin

            One of the first Asian girls I befriended was when I was in 5th grade, at Orchard Middle school. Lillian was a beautiful girl, shoulder length black silky hair, inviting eyes, shining olive skin, and a very petite figure. I remember her always doing well on projects in every class, standing out as a student even in 5th grade--I would always ask her for answers when I could. I would ask Lillian if we could hangout outside of school, such as having a sleepover like normal kids do, and she would kindly tell me she couldn’t, because of her parents. She most likely had to practice the violin or go over schoolwork with her mother. I was concerned, and I confided in my other friends who were close with Lillian as well, and they told me that her parents were extremely strict, and would often beat her. 5th grade was probably the last time I talked to Lillian, we went to the same high school, and she proceeded to dominate in academics as well as playing the violin. She is now a freshman at Duke University. This may be one story of success resulting from strict, overbearing parents, but does this parenting always lead to success? Are there downfalls of this tactic? One very intelligent Chinese mother, Amy Chua, believes this type of parenting can, and will lead to success.

Amy Chua, picture from Time Magazine
            Yale law professor, and known “tiger mom,” Amy Chua sets herself apart as a Chinese mother. Chua wrote the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, proudly describing the authoritarian way she raised her children. Chua states that many people wonder how Chinese parents raise such successful kids, and she simply knows how it works, because she has put her children through it. An excerpt from her book, and featured in The Wall Street Journal, "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior," Chua states that, “Even when western parents think they’re being strict, they usually don’t come close to being Chinese mothers.” Chua uses the terms “Western” and “Chinese mother very loosely, and claims that western parents have a tendency to be easier on their children, and won’t push them as hard as a Chinese mother would. Chua has two daughters, Sophia who is now 19, and Lulu who is a few years younger. Chua would go so far disciplining them, such has making them practice violin and piano on end, getting nothing but A’s, calling them garbage if they disrespected her, and even threatening to donate one's possessions if one wasn’t able to play an intricate piano piece by the end of the week. According to Chua, “there are three big differences between the Chinese and western parental mindsets.” The first being that western parents care too much about their child’s self-esteem, while Chinese parents  do not sugar coat towards their children, not caring as closely about their child’s self-esteem. Second, Chinese parents believe their kids owe them everything, such as respect, outstanding grades, hard work, and so forth. Third, Chinese parents believe they know what is best for their children, and will control what activities their children participate in. These claims sound familiar, coming from a large high school, it was and still is very diverse, and all of the kids with Chinese parents we're likely in the orchestra, on the debate team, and were very involved in academics. So maybe this type of parenting allows the child to succeed academically, but does this mean that this type of parenting is best for the child?

            Gwen Dewar, an author who wrote, “Authoritarian parenting: How does it affect the kids?” explains what exactly authoritarianism in parenting is, in which, “The authoritarian parenting style is about being strict and stern,” and set to extreme standards, as well as enforcing limits on their children. In a comparative study about child temperament and parenting in Beijing, they found that, “Chinese mothers and fathers in this study were found to be more authoritarian than their US counterparts”(Hulei 549). The study also explained recent conceptualizations of an authoritarian parenting style. There are three distinct style dimensions of parenting, including connection, the degree of warmth and acceptance displayed with children, second being regulation, or how the parent controls the child, and if they’re consistent with their limits on the child. Third is how much the child is allowed to express his or herself. Within authoritarian parenting, there are two harsh disciplinary segments. The first segment is that a parent is using physical and verbal punishment. The second segment is that the parent would be punishing without reason. Authoritarian parenting is seen a lot in Chinese homes, mostly used by Chinese mothers. Also, in the study, they “anticipated that high activity level would be met by Chinese parents with more restrictive and harsh parenting, given the cultural expectations for modest and reserved children” (Hulei 549). It is clear that this parenting method is used because of Chinese tradition and culture, but what do Chinese mothers do differently within the authoritarian parenting to stand out so much?

Picture from
            Kathy Seal, the author of “Do Asian-American parents push their kids?” explained that while most Chinese parents are perceived as overbearing and controlling, most Chinese parents do have a soft spot, and try to combine love and firmness in order to have their children succeed. Seal noted, “While the Chinese describe their parental role as guan- which literally means “to govern” or “control”-that word also means “to care for” and even “to love.” Amy Chua is seen to control her daughters in everything they do, and push them over the limit, but she rewards them with love when they succeed. For example, when Chua’s daughter Lulu was giving up on playing an intricate piece on the piano, at age 7, Chua said that if Lulu didn’t sit there and be able to play “The Little White Donkey,” Lulu would be sitting at that piano bench all night. Although Lulu cried and threw a fit and said she couldn’t do it, with time she was able to play that cute little song, and her mother did nothing but reward her with love after forcing her to play the song. Chua noted how her and her daughter felt closer after that experience, and, “that night, she came to sleep in my bed, and we snuggled and hugged, cracking each other up.” Chua added on this incident that, “one of the worst things you can do for your child’s self-esteem is to let them give up.” Although Amy and other Chinese mothers and fathers are harsh at times, they are still able to give out love, after the rough moments of firm parenting. In a study titled, “Discipline Behaviors of Chinese American and European American Mothers,” the author states that, “enduring patterns seen in Chinese parenting practices include strong parental control, expectations of child obedience, discipline, filial piety, family duty and obligation, and a maintenance of harmony” (Jin 460). So with all the restrictions and limitations that Chinese parents put on their children, there are positives, that they learn after being scolded and accept love, which is harmonious to the family. Obviously with everyone that agrees that maybe there is a chance that Chinese parenting does have positives, there are people who are completely against the authoritarian ways of Chinese parents.

Amy Chua's book, from
            After Amy Chua came out with her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, as well as an article from The Wall Street Journal, many were outraged, including myself actually. After reading Chua’s excerpt from her book about how Chinese mothers simply do it better, I knew I had read enough, and I knew my mother and father did a fantastic job of raising me, letting me fail in order to learn for myself, as well as choosing how I want my life to be in the future, not letting them do it for me. I didn’t need to know how to play 5 different instruments by the age of 10 in order to consider myself successful. Many people, including parents and other Asian-Americans, disagreed with Chua in anger. Betty Ming Liu, an Asian-American, happened to blog about her thoughts on Chua’s tiger mother methods. Liu wrote a blog called, “Parents like Amy Chua are the reason why Asian-Americans like me are in therapy.” Liu stands her ground, stating that, “Chua is a narrow-minded, joyless bigot.” Liu also presents her thought that Chua is perpetuating dangerous ideas while advertising her tiger mother book. One idea being that Chua is holding her daughters as an example of success, when in reality, they have not been on this earth long enough to even drive a car for more than a year. Also, another idea being that Chua, in a way, is defining what “real” Chinese is, such as stating that all Chinese mothers are superior, with their harsh tiger tactics towards their kids, and Liu is greatly offended by Chua’s ways. Also, another woman who is the daughter of a Chinese mother, and disagrees with claims that Chua has made about her own parenting style. Nina Rastogi, a blogger from, expressed her feelings about Chua, and that people shouldn’t believe that all Chinese mothers are near the same. I like when Rastogi states, “Not all Chinese mothers –even ones who have academically excellent, successful children- operate like Amy Chua.” I was glad to see someone say that, especially someone who comes from a Chinese mother. Another opinion that is against the ways of Chua is one that I find very interesting, is from David Brooks, from The New York Times. In Brooks’ opinion article titled, “Amy Chua is a Wimp,” Brooks describes his feelings towards the tiger mother herself, and that her style of parenting, and stated that, “I have the opposite problem with Chua. I believe she’s coddling her children.” Brooks then explains his theory about the way Chua chooses her children’s extra -curricular activities. Brooks noted that, “She’s protecting them from the most intellectually demanding activities because she doesn’t understand what’s cognitively difficult and what isn’t.” For example, while Chua only believes in allowing her children to play the violin or do school work, sleepover and hanging out with other teenage girls is just as intellectually demanding as it is to play the violin for more than 4 hours. As a teenager you need to watch yourself and how you act around others, learn social norms, and kind of get a feel of who you are as a person. I agree with Brooks when he compares the two activities. It does help you grow as a person when you learn how to act around new friends, and how to participate in activities with them. More over Brooks agrees with Chua’s ability to push her daughters, that it is good for them to reach over their goals. Most agree, including me, that there are long term problems that come about with the authoritarian style of parenting. How does this type of parenting affect the children involved in it?

            According to Dr. Robyn Silverman, who wrote the article “Is the “Chinese Mother” Superior? Are the Western parents missing the boat?” she stated that, “Suicide is the second leading cause of death among Asian-American women, ages 15-24. Asian-American women, ages 15-24 and over 65 have the highest suicide rate across all racial/ethnic groups…and family pressures are often cited as factors.” As unfortunate as that statistic is, along with pressure, another cause of depression and suicides of Asian-Americans is the verbal abuse, a tactic that is often use in authoritarian homes. Also, stated by Wendy Grolnick, from, “In the long run, harsh pressure harms both achievement and psychological well-being.” Also, research has shown that kids can do better and achieve higher when their parents are there too support and encourage them, rather than to force and subdue their children. Furthermore, relating to emotions, the comparative study of child temperament and parenting noted that, “One of the more striking findings demonstrated that authoritarian parenting was positively linked to children’s negative emotionality across each parent-child dyad from both Chinese and American Samples” (Jin 549). In which when Chinese or American parents are using the authoritarian ways of parenting; their kids are likely to respond negatively than positively. Also, another negative affect is that their children may be less social, for example, a statistic from Gwen Dewar, “One study of 2nd graders in Beijing found that kids from authoritarian families were rated less socially competent by their teachers.” Although many children who are raised by the “Chinese” way or Chua’s way are affected negatively in some way, but on the other side, many do succeed, like one of Chua’s daughters, Sophia.

Amy and her daughter Sophia, picture from
            In the New York Post, right around when Sophia’s mother’s book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was released, Chua was getting slammed for her racy book, and Sophia decided to share her part of the story about her mother, called, “Why I love my strict Chinese Mom.” Sophia, who was 18 at the time, expresses that no one understands her mother, or her mother’s humor, and maybe that’s why people are getting so upset, because they don’t understand her mother’s prerogative of her book. Sophia also states that although her mother is harsh, and has put her and her sister through hell, there is a side to her mom that no one really sees besides their family. Sophia also notes, “Tiger mom, you taught me that even creativity takes effort.” Sophia is a very successful young lady, has played the piano at Carnegie Hall, and is doing her own things these days. Sophia’s side of the story allows people to see the tiger mom without her claws out, to see her as a loving, supporting, and helpful mother.

Sophia, Amy, and Lulu, picture from The Wall Street Journal
            When I first read, “Why Chinese Mothers are superior,” I wanted to write about how Amy is completely wrong, and doesn’t deserve the right to be a mother, or even have children. That was the only side I saw of Chua, the dark side of her authoritarian parenting methods. I thought nothing was going to change my mind about her until I read an interview with Chua, and The Wall Street Journal, titled, “The tiger mother responds to the readers.” In the interview, Chua seems like a whole different person, she doesn’t seem like she’d be the type of mom to call her children garbage if they disrespected her. The first question Chua was asked if the “eastern” parenting allows children to lead happy lives, and she replied that of course, if the parenting method is working well, the child should become confident and happy later on in life. She also stated that, “I also know people raised with “tough love” who are not happy and who resent their parents.” Chua also continued to explain that, “there is no easy formula for parenting,” and how love and compassion towards your child is a key to success in any culture. Chua reassures many that her book is not a how-to guide; it is just a story of her family’s journey. Statements that Chua made in this interview really did make me feel better towards her, and that she does have good points in her method…she is not some evil mother who chains her daughters up to the piano and forces them to practice days on end. In the video, Amy Chua is being interviewed by News Channel 4, where she discusses the differences between eastern and western parenting, and how some methods that she has used with her daughters in her tiger mom parenting.

            This style of strict parenting, one that I did disagree with when first researching, has allowed me to open up my angle of vision and see where this authoritarian method comes from. Yes when reading Amy Chua’s book many believe that she is a devil mother, and people can’t believe that parents are actually using these methods on their children. It is clear the Chinese parents use this authoritarian method because of their cultural, and their tradition of parenting. Maybe western parents would benefit from using some methods from the “Chinese” way of parenting, like really pushing their children to succeed, even if sometimes they have to force them to do something they don't want to do. Also, eastern parents could use some western tactics for a change, and that could allow their children to be more social, interact better with people and have a happier outlook on life without being scolded so harshly. Although many people disagree with Chua forcing her daughter to play the piano till the end of the night, the daughter could not be more proud of herself after, and I do agree when Chua expressed how important it is to not let your child give up, that will only teach them to give up when things get difficult. People disagree with Chua’s approach to raising children, but maybe they should look more into Amy, what she really is about, and how this type of parenting isn’t just about teaching your children how to play the violin for hours. I look back now when I was in 5th grade, and how Lillian was controlled by her parents, with school and the violin, and her parents used authoritarian parenting. Although Lillian wasn’t able to come over my house and enjoy time with friends, and although she was a victim of child abuse, Lillian has allowed herself to grow as a person and into an amazing young lady. I don’t know how Lillian feels, I don’t know if she is depressed or angry towards her parents, but she is going to an Ivy league school, has an incredible ability to play the violin, and there is no doubt in my mind that she will continue the “Chinese” way of parenting with kids of her own in the future, and allow them to be just as successful as she is now.

Works Cited 

Hulei, Elaine, Andrea A. Zevenbergen, and Sue C. Jacobs. "Discipline Behaviors Of Chinese American And European American Mothers." Journal Of Psychology 140.5 (2006): 459-475. Academic Search Complete. Web. 20 Feb. 2012. 

Jin Shenghua, et al. "A Comparative Study Of Child Temperament And Parenting In Beijing, China And The Western United States." International Journal Of Behavioral Development 29.6 (2005): 541-551. Academic Search Complete. Web. 20 Feb. 2012.