On Asian Parenting

10 Jan

Parents, you have to read this article about Chinese mothers in the Wall Street Journal.

The piece is by a Chinese woman who, like me, grew up in the USA and has a non-Asian husband. She is raising her kids in the way I was raised. Basically, it boils down to:

  • Focus on academics — perfection is the only acceptable result
  • Also important to excel at violin/piano
  • No sports, theater or nonacademic activities.
  • No regard for the child’s self-esteem
  • Spending hours a way drilling her kids with practice tests
  • No sleepovers, no boyfriends

The article has some really interesting info such as:

almost 70% of the Western mothers said either that “stressing academic success is not good for children” or that “parents need to foster the idea that learning is fun.” By contrast, roughly 0% of the Chinese mothers felt the same way.

And some true observations such as:

If the child comes home with a B on the test, some Western parents will still praise the child. Other Western parents will sit their child down and express disapproval, but they will be careful not to make their child feel inadequate or insecure, and they will not call their child “stupid,” “worthless” or “a disgrace.” Privately, the Western parents may worry that their child does not test well or have aptitude in the subject or that there is something wrong with the curriculum and possibly the whole school. If the child’s grades do not improve, they may eventually schedule a meeting with the school principal to challenge the way the subject is being taught or to call into question the teacher’s credentials.

If a Chinese child gets a B—which would never happen—there would first be a screaming, hair-tearing explosion. The devastated Chinese mother would then get dozens, maybe hundreds of practice tests and work through them with her child for as long as it takes to get the grade up to an A.

Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them. If their child doesn’t get them, the Chinese parent assumes it’s because the child didn’t work hard enough. That’s why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child. The Chinese parent believes that their child will be strong enough to take the shaming and to improve from it.

This is exactly how my sister and I were raised and I always assumed that it was a result of my parent’s insecure feelings as immigrants in an unfamiliar land. Their fear that we would not be able to support ourselves (and them, when they were no longer able to work), I assumed, drove them to push us harder than they would have if we stayed in Korea.

But this woman clearly doesn’t have those same motivations. So what is it that drives her to raise her kids in the way she was raised? Is she not scarred by the constant haranguing? Did she not have a rebellious period where she hated her parents, suffer from anorexia, or allow herself be bullied because she always felt that she was not good enough?

There are certainly some aspects of my upbringing that I plan to repeat with my kids. I plan to sit down with them daily to work on their homework and drill them as necessary. I will expect really good grades and for them to go to a top college. I know that my mother was able to successfully instill in me a strong work ethic, the ability to focus and the drive to not give up. I do not agree with many westerners who feel that these are traits that you have or do not have. I know that my mother instilled them in me through her strict methods.

But I also know the impact that my upbringing had on my self esteem and happiness as a child. I was not happy. And I want my kids to be happy and to feel good about themselves. I am not going to tell Matilda that she is too fat, too slow, to dumb. I won’t ever say to Mateo that he is a failure and a loser. If they end up achieving less than perfection, so be it.

So please post comments, I am dying to know what you all think about the article? For non-Asians, are you totally horrified? And for Asians, do you plan to do this to your kids?

Read the full article here.


Update: I checked out this comment thread on Quora. Another statistic, asian-american females have a a high suicide rate in the USA. The story posted by Christine Lu is worth reading too. Her “perfect” sister committed suicide. She wrote the author about it and the author says that in her book, she actually talks a lot about retreating from the Asian parenting model. So in short, the WSJ article is perhaps not very representative. Bet it will sell books though.

More links:

Story on WSJ about how parents in China are embracing Western parenting in order to encourage creativity http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704111504576059720804985228.html?mod=WSJ_article_related

Care.com blog http://blog.care.com/sheila/2011/01/are-playdates-keeping-your-child-out-of-harvard.html

My Mom is a Fob: Earnest Advice in Broken English from Your Asian-American Mom (foreword by Margaret Cho) http://amzn.to/hJUoft



One Response to “On Asian Parenting”

  1. Dave Baker January 10, 2011 at 10:24 am #

    Fascinating. I would never berate my child for bringing home a B! Or even a C. Or, heck, even a stray F! I know, I know, sacrilege. But some things are more important than calculating every move toward getting into a top college. Same applies for “No sports, theater or nonacademic activities.” If your kid is really into theater or sports, I say nurture that.

    Gosh, I can’t imagine my mom ever berating me for an occasional bad grade. Yet I pretty much always had A’s on my report cards. The important thing is, I didn’t feel like a loser if I did happen to get a B. It was no big deal. I was a pretty happy kid.

    Janey, sounds like you guys are planning to combine the best of both worlds. That’s probably a fantastic plan.

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