Tuesday, January 18, 2011

How to Parent

Did anyone see the article, Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior, last week? Mona Charen over at NRO has a response to the article that you can find here. As you might imagine, the original article is pretty harsh in its tone, the parenting style very brash and demanding. Let me give you some excerpts:
What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a child starts to excel at something—whether it's math, piano, pitching or ballet—he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more...

The fact is that Chinese parents can do things that would seem unimaginable—even legally actionable—to Westerners. Chinese mothers can say to their daughters, "Hey fatty—lose some weight." By contrast, Western parents have to tiptoe around the issue, talking in terms of "health" and never ever mentioning the f-word, and their kids still end up in therapy for eating disorders and negative self-image. (I also once heard a Western father toast his adult daughter by calling her "beautiful and incredibly competent." She later told me that made her feel like garbage.)

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've noticed that Western parents are extremely anxious about their children's self-esteem. They worry about how their children will feel if they fail at something, and they constantly try to reassure their children about how good they are notwithstanding a mediocre performance on a test or at a recital. In other words, Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches. Chinese parents aren't. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.
There were over 4,000 comments to the article, which is a record for the WSJ. It elicited a lot of strong feelings from parents.

But maybe not as negative in their reactions as you might expect. Charen points out, "The tiger mothers may overdo it a bit — but let’s face it, many American parents are too reluctant to demand work that isn’t “fun” and too ready to believe that our children have something to teach us rather than the other way around."

Admittedly, I don't know anything about parenting from my own experience. I can only conjecture about what I would do or how I might react given certain situations, but I don't know what kind of temperament my kids will have, or how even my own response while actually in that role of parent. However, I think there is some merit to what the author mentions.

There is such a strong push in our society to protect and boost self-esteem, but as Chua points out, depression, anxiety, and other related disorders run rampant, and maybe more now than ever before in spite of our best efforts to coddle and protect. I think there is some sense to her assertion that it's good to assume strength and not fragility. Her harsh manner is very likely not the best method for raising children, but the tendency to be too soft and too lenient probably overrides much too often. As members of the Church, if we have those expectations when it comes to morality, would it be that much of a stretch to have similar expectations in other arenas of life?

Just some thoughts while I'm waiting for our server to get back online.


Salt H2O said...

I agree with 75% of what this woman says. Who would argue that this generation of youth values work ethic and discipline?

Laura said...

i agree with some of this article. i too can agree with the lack of work ethic in kids now. but i don't agree with being that harsh. i am sorry, but i will never tell my daughter she is fat (i know that really wasn't the point, but still). i have thought a lot about how i will get my kids to be motivated and hard working. i think the key is to set high expectations and expecting your kids to meet them. kids will rise to the expectation set for them. i think this article was getting to a similar point. like you don't hope your kids will go to college. you tell them they will go to college. but there is nothing wrong with boosting self esteem. i tell my kids everyday that they are good, they are smart and i am proud of them. and i think it makes a difference.

Silvs said...

Word. I don't think anyone besides the author of that article really thinks it's a very good idea to be so brutal to one's kids, but there is some validity to some of the things that she says, no? I really like the "assume strength, not fragility" comment, just because I think kids are more resilient and capable than sometimes we give them credit for, but I can't ever imagine that such overt negativity can be very beneficial to children. Just thought it was an interesting take.