Love or hate Amy Chua’s book, Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother, call it extreme parenting, abuse or a portrayal of excellence long over due; there are no clear results it benefits children in terms of surviving in the real world, getting a job, managing life. Unfortunately judging by the personal stories detailing its effects, comments, observations from educators and ordinary people alike, seeing the impact of this conditioning, it can cause real, lasting problems. Issues go beyond the emotional, the psychological right to the core of what it strives for, success; more and more evidence mounts that this rote learning and endless repetition, while increasing test scores, improving grades, possibly meaning going on to a prestigious, Ivy League university does nothing to change the likelihood or not of getting a job. Instead it creates an impossible, inhuman standard with practicality hurdles for both parents and kids. Plus we’ve seen what happens when young people don’t feel they can live up to the western, American standard and we can no longer say Asian isn’t part of that horrific equation. God help us if everyone adopted the Chua method.
First and foremost, unlike Ms. Chua, most parents work 8-5 in America meaning they cannot supervise, enforce 3 hours of homework and 3 hours of piano/violin practice a day. Some commute an hour or more to and from their job; then mothers have dinner to cook, actual teacher given homework to check, kids to bathe and it’s off to bed. Incidentally if you are a powerful executive you’re likely to work 16-18 hour days, likewise unable to enforce such rigorous hours. She also must not own a TV because they would forever be trying to turn it on instead of do what was assigned to them. Next is the sheer amount of hours spent doing these activities; elementary school kids are dismissed around 3:45, in most areas, lets say they live close to home and are there by 4:00. After 6 hours of homework and music it’s 10:00 at night the child has not eaten, bathed or done anything else, household chores perhaps; never mind children that young should be in bed around 8:00 to get the hours of sleep they need to function and do well. Kids that young also need play to relax and deal with normal stresses of their age; being, 5,6,7 they will play with a string on the floor, a pencil, anything becomes a distraction, independent of a lack of TV, videogames. Even with junior high age kids they would not be done until 9:00, and while they are older and can stay up later, the equation assumes they didn’t spend 3 hours on actual homework not parent designed practice sheets and again, the child hasn’t eaten or bathed, family dinners are out, babysitting siblings so parents can go out, friends, what any teenager would call a life.
Going even further, if the parent has the time, they may not have the skill. The story Chua told to Nightline about her 10 year olds bad math paper and drilling her is one thing; one wonders if she did the same with her daughters Algebra 1-2-3, geometry and calculus homework. Again assuming parents took those courses in school, that they were even available; some older parents may have grown up in rural areas without advanced math. Foreign language is something else they may have gone without or their child is learning a different language and therefore they cannot drill according to the Chinese or Chua method. Having taken those courses, even with all that repetition and routine; how much of it will you remember 20-30 years later when it’s time to teach your kids? How much of that math does she remember herself, especially being in a non-math intensive field? Also to be understood is the difference between playing an instrument and teaching an instrument; they may be a piano virtuoso, a violin prodigy, however that in no way translates into the ability to teach someone else to be. To say nothing of, they may not be able to afford said instruments in the first place.
Concepts that similarly need rebuffing begin with the idea that parents lack standards for their kids and put little to no effort into achieving them; if you think parents are not concerned about their children’s education, then both you and Chua need to look again, it is why there is a competition to get children into the best preschools, top notch elementary and secondary schools, why parents who have any choice in where they live go for areas with the best schools, those who can, pay for private schools. And don’t think this pressure only applies to parents, in an era where seemingly everyone has a degree students feel increasing pressure to get into prestigious schools in the hopes of landing a job, increased pressure to get all A’s in order to meet that goal. The current crop of college students, no matter the school, are more stressed out than ever striving to succeed, fearing there will be no job opportunities on the other side. In that same vain must be addressed this idea only Chinese type parents know what is good for their kids; yes we know what is good for our kids, it is why we make them eat their vegetables, go to bed at a certain time, bathe, turn off the TV, go outside and play and yes do their homework, help them with their homework, even redo sloppy homework. It is NOT why we force 6 hour music and extra homework practice on instruments we forced them to play, subjects we force them to jump ahead in calling, it good for them. Likewise we know we will have plenty of opportunities to instill in our children the value of not quitting, not taking the easy way out, whether that be a massive school project or a subject they struggle just to pass, so we don’t go creating extra scenarios with excessive practice sheets, difficult musical pieces.
Putting the self esteem conundrum to bed once and for all; we know that when a child comes home with a bad grade fostering good self esteem doesn’t come from ripping to pieces something already shaken, calling names, shaming them into doing better before we’ve even figured out what the problem is be that a learning disability, a bad teacher, yes they do exist, or a one time occurrence the child already knows how to fix. We know that sometimes they need a shoulder to cry on and time to process things before they can get up and try again, adults are no different, regardless of what they or Ms. Chua say. We know at times they will come to us not sure they can do something so we work with them, encourage them, advise them to practice more, and no, not drill baby drill, not timing them with stop watches, not only to do math problems, but to do them quicker than classmates. And when they come back with an A or a B on a project they were sure they would flunk, or the teacher comments on unique perspectives, we praise them with statements like: see I knew you could do it. We also know we can praise them for hard work in areas of natural talent, interest, creating the same self esteem without dictating what they do or giving praise for a substandard performance. Truth be told, for every one of Chua’s extreme examples we know a better way.
Smart parents handle, or should handle, the extracurricular, instrument situation as follows; when their child says they want to do this or learn that, show them pertinent practice schedules, i.e. for the local little league, have them talk to teachers of instruments, have them tell the child how much they will have to practice to be like the person they saw on television, how long they should practice daily, what you expect if they choose said activity (and not absolute perfection, top player, exc.) then ask the child if they still want to do it if they say no, move on, if they say yes, continue. Keeping in mind the age of the child realizing preschoolers to about age 9-10 will change what they want to be when they grow up, activities they want to do weekly or daily as new things come into their environment. When and if they come to you wanting to quit a sport, or stop playing an instrument, for an instrument they continue practice for 30 days at that time you agree to discuss the next move, for a sport they finish the season, as that is the commitment all athletes sign up for. Teaching them not to give up, without the draconian parenting. Similarly be flexible when your child wants to quit one sport, activity, instrument and try something else. We are likewise secure in knowing giving up practice, musical piece for the night, for the practice session, to move on to other activities does not constitute giving up indefinitely. Another parent known as a dolphin parent, who let their child learn through play, let their child try many instruments until he found the one he was passionate about; then she didn’t have to force him to practice, he did so on his own becoming quite a good musician, coincidentally at Andover headed for the Ivy League. These parents didn’t give up on their kid having music in his life, learning to play something; they simply kept going until they found the instrument for him.
Seasoned parents can elicit grades from their children minus the name calling, abusive behaviors, over the top threats and fear; good old bribery usually does the trick paying so much for an A less for a B. For some it’s offering the new skateboard or videogame they want if they achieve an acceptable grade, more time with friends, a special day just for them. Yes we accept B’s C’s even D’s when we see the latter 2 grades in 1 or 2 classes we know our child struggles with, when they have expressed career goals in the exact opposite direction of those subjects, when we have been in the trenches working with them, even consistently drilling, working in concert with the child’s teacher and they still come out with a lower grade. Many have pointed to the narcissism, hubris, of Chua for excluding teachers in the success of her children, giving off the idea they had nothing to do with it, bear no responsibility, deserve no recognition. Dealing with kids who consistently get bad grades in traditional academia, we may notice other interests such as cooking, mechanics, carpentry enrolling them in local enrichment courses exploring those areas, encouraging them once they reach high school to take such classes, watching them finally shine. Ironically people in Ms. Chua’s periphery, working on her car, serving her in a restaurant, hired for home repair, babysitting.
Children, who actually are lazy, unmotivated, lack initiative, aren’t that way, as Chua claims, because that’s the way all children are, but rather because there is nothing to motivate them to, nothing to aspire to, nothing to spark initiative. They know that even if they do well in high school they won’t go to college because their family can’t afford it; they know that even with perfect grades and several extracurricular activities they won’t get a scholarship, or a series of them because there aren’t enough to go around to all the best students. Even for those planning on college, they know that once they get their degree they are likely to end up in a medial job, making low wages because there aren’t jobs in their field. Keeping in mind that we have parents raising up to junior high age kids who were milk weaned on the slogan get education and you’ll go far now possessing degrees and still barely make ends meet. So why push your kids inhumanely, kids saying what does it matter either way, knowing it doesn’t. Closely related is the mediocre student above who knows his passions lay outside traditional schooling who just wants to pass so he can go to art school, design school, cooking school, training institutions based on portfolios, ability to cook, what they know about mechanics, not what grade they got in history, what instrument they play, how fast they can do math.
Educators too have chimed in on so called Chinese parenting noting the marked difficulty Asian, and other students raised in this model, have with emotions like empathy, basic social skills, difficulty understanding literature describing the human condition, inquiry, they don’t ask questions just memorize answers for exams. Seeing her stance on TV, video/computer games, readers can reasonably assume internet was limited to school only, creating kids who are ill-informed about the world; can’t talk about world events for lack of viewing the news, lack of reading online news, opinions, thoughts on a plethora of worthy topics, things that will effect them in coming years. Her oldest child is old enough to vote; will she know enough, have enough opinions to participate? Others observe a lack of personality, sense of self, sense of humor. Further colleges are looking for well-rounded students who have excelled and experienced many things rather than one or two-dimensional people; yes they will admit these Asian prodigies into their schools, but only some. Commentators calling this a splash of tough love or an American wake up call, point to the high percentages of Asians attending top schools. In part that is because they come here from Asia specifically to go to a particular school; raised in this method, they believe a top school is the only place for them whereas an American student might go to trade school or specialized training, seen as beneath a “tiger” child.
Additionally, pitfalls exist when “tiger” children do nothing but music lessons and core subject practice, when all they know how to do is hunker down in their dorm room and study; they miss vital information in high school, college about classes they should take, extracurricular activities to be a part of in order to get where they want to go. Scores of those who do so, “tiger” children or not, pay for it later because they go to college, come out minus a work history, minus internships, minus desired job skills, virtually unemployable; Chua is operating from this outdated construct consequences of having micromanaged her children for 18 years, failing to notice employer needs, expectations have changed. Parents of various age children have pointed out her children are 15 and 18 likening her championing success to taking a victory lap before the race is won; parents who want her to call them when her kids graduate college. What happens if one of her kids doesn’t get into a top school; is the title of her next book, essay going to involve the dwindling standards of Ivy League schools, because they require creative thought? She has said she has no specific career goal for her children as long as they are happy; so she has created these one, two-dimensional people without a goal to reach for, making them even more lost in the real world. Personal troubles too abound; kids controlled this way have extreme problems buying items at the supermarket, choosing furniture for an apartment, overwhelmed by the amount of products, afraid to make the wrong decision. They have issues with adult, lasting relationships, intimacy, because they don’t know how to make emotional connections.
So what does this mean for “tiger” children and jobs; it means failure not success, because employers don’t care if you graduated Magna or Summa Cum Laude from a top university, got all A’s and won various prizes. They don’t care how well you play an instrument, that you played at Carnegie hall, something that would never be mentioned because boasting is a no, no, for the kids only the right of the parents; they care about what job skills you can bring to them, how much experience you have. They want to know you can hold a job, get along with both boss and coworkers, particular sticking points for people raised with an uber work ethic not shared by those around them. On the job, such children expect their bosses to do as their parents did repeating things over and over rather than the reality that bosses say things once, twice, at most 3 times, then expect you, the employee, to get it. A step further, they expect you to learn from your environment, anticipate things, not just be excellent followers of directions. Contrary to Chua’s exhortation of her methods, many times it leaves kids feeling worthless if they aren’t good at everything, not lacking in self esteem, but completely devoid of it, unable to list their talents, things they like to do or read. This can be a disaster in a job interview when they can’t list strengths and weaknesses. Other problems include being asked situational questions like name a time you disagreed with your boss and how you handled it; never having had a boss, they don’t know how to answer the question. And if they give stock, rote answers, approaching interviews the same way they approach educational endeavors, they won’t get the job either.
Neither does said method coincide with economies here or in China, since Chua proclaims herself a shining example of Chinese mothers, mothering. Highest demand jobs in China center around factories creating products for export to the U.S. and elsewhere; Chinese mothers, on average, proclaim they will let their children chose their path in life not dictate what they become. They want their children to evolve into creative, free thinkers; Chinese education systems are increasingly dissatisfied with the results of rote learning and are moving away from it toward more western ideas. Oddly enough China’s success has come from adapting to more western concepts; officials, citizens see it as a way to function, interact in a 21st century market, not a detriment or decline of standards. Chua may think the world is on fire because of the supposed export of free market democracy, but then why does everyone without it want it? Is that why there is violence in Egypt; is that why Iraqis came out for free election proudly showing off their inked fingers (proof of voting) despite threats of violence? Conversely, are not regimes in such countries run by dictators obsessed with power, bent on denying freedom, suppressing human rights? Those seeing Asians here, raised as her children, remark that many burn out before reaching the extraordinary, mentioning the lack of philanthropy among said Asians, pointing to the narcissism present due to this upbringing.
Revealing the most in demand jobs in the U.S., they are discovered within service industries nursing, CNA’s, personal attendants for those with disabilities, elder care, all areas requiring so called soft skills, caring compassion, gentleness, expert people skills. Other helping professions starving for workers include social workers, counselors; careers you won’t get far in condoning bruises and locking children in closets, tying them to things, for bad behavior or to get better behavior. Calling your patients fat, lazy, stupid, psychologically weak will not help them, will not keep you on staff in a hospital, clinic or allow you to have a practice of your own. Nor will it correct the core chemical, organic imbalances, factors in depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, erase the trauma of sexual abuse and is likely to find them pointing a gun at you. By the way, when you reach that pinnacle of success becoming executive of a company, if you call your subordinates garbage, shred their work, destroy the flash drive it’s on call them names, threaten termination your not going to find people to work for you and may find yourself facing legal action for creating a toxic workplace. But you won’t get that far either when the medial jobs on your way to that high powered position such as reception, event planning all require social skills you don’t have, this type of parenting not only doesn’t cultivate but purposefully obliterates.
Often times success means figuring out how to do what you want to do in spite of your weaknesses, not drilling them out of existence. Being a great writer, fiction or non fiction, doesn’t always mean being a perfect grammarian, but cultivation of arguments, strength of analysis, imagination; being a successful artist isn’t just about mastery of a medium, it’s about using new mediums or old ones in new ways. Highly successful individuals strongest influence, when it came to work ethic, was their parents seeing how hard they work, seeing them get up early, put in long hours, proving that old adage about leading by example. People who wish they had achieved more in life usually wish they had been brave enough to pursue their dream, not go the safe route or do what others wanted. Most on their deathbed do not wish they had spent more time at work, but with their families, wish they had valued more than money, success, prestige. Hinting at another old adage, you can’t take it with you. As alluded to in the opener Asian can no longer be excluded from the tragic tapestry of what can go wrong when individuals feel they cannot meet the standards set before them; Virginia Tech, a sad example of an Asian person snapping under our system. But the final proof against this “parenting,” her methods, is the 25-year-old Asian woman who stabbed her mother to death, unable to cope with her demands. The only question we have to ask ourselves is why would we want to create more of that in the name of greed, power, fleeting success, recognition; is it really worth it?