Thursday, January 13, 2011

Hyper Chinese Parenting

LOT's of people commenting on the dragon-lady Amy Chua and her spooky glimpse into the hyper-parented Chinese-American household. I have to take the article at face value although some commenters say her entire memoir softens the whole picture.  I don't have time between bedtimes to read it.  At the time of writing, the WSJ article has 5100 comments.

My take:

Western parents seem to be adopting strategies similar to the Chinese approach more and more.  I've been following for some time where many examples of the "Hover Lest Our Children Fail Us" attitude are shown frequently.  Even The Simpsons picked up on this with a line from a hyper-parent "You can't let children ...(do things themselves)..., you have to hover over their shoulders and force them to succeed."
More and more pressure is hoisted on kids, although, the western flavour includes academic and athletic excellence.  Just look at the one-on-one sports training for kids as young as 4 geared toward the "anything to get them to the bigs" attitude.  I was skating on a pond (really a big puddle) with my son when a father came with his two boys to let them play hockey.  After a half-hour or so, he jumped out of his SUV to yell at them for being "lazy".  Huh? I thought this was just fun pond hockey.  You're going to ruin the sport for them. Let them enjoy some skating time without a coach breathing down their necks.
Chinese parents do seem to take things to the next level, and as Half Sigma says they will, "no doubt produce workers who are good value creators, and their corporate employers will love them, and they will be paid far less money than the value they create."  By turning her children into piano playing/math problem solving machines, eschewing social activities and refusing to let their children any choice, Chua is producing highly-proficient drones.  I'm not anti-achievement, but, the drive has to come from the children.  Chua thinks that she owns her children.  She is also steeling their own achievements by molding them into what she imagines them to be.  One day, they may wake up and realize that they were only performing for their parents and the emptiness will begin to grow. 
Read the passage about the piano practice.  Her daughter was exhasperated about a difficult piece so Chua dragged her back to the piano bench.
She punched, thrashed and kicked. She grabbed the music score and tore it to shreds. I taped the score back together and encased it in a plastic shield so that it could never be destroyed again. Then I hauled Lulu's dollhouse to the car and told her I'd donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn't have "The Little White Donkey" perfect by the next day. When Lulu said, "I thought you were going to the Salvation Army, why are you still here?" I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn't do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.

Eventually, she got it and was elated.  Wonderful, right?  To me, it sounds empty.  To me, it sounds like Chua was the one afraid of raising a daughter who is a loser (something I'll cover on my new blog 911OnSpeedDial).  If the daughter had been allowed to go to her lesson without perfecting the piece, her teacher would have helped her.  Then, maybe after more practice, she could have mastered it on her own, in time for the recital.  Her accomplishment, or failure, would have been hers and not be overshadowed by her mother but either way, she would have learned to work it out herself. Chua is the one playing the instruments through her children and missing the point of teaching piano in the first place.  It's not to create prodigies.  It's to create a learning experience.

What western cultures realize and have ingrained, is, that to force children to excel and make their life-choices for them, is taking a big risk.  Your child could rebel and you lose your relationship.  Your child could internalize the pressure and crack if they don't achieve a high enough level of success (whatever that is).  Without making choices at a young age, they'll grow older and not have enough life experience to cope in the real world.  To most western parents, the rewards aren't worth these risks.  Still, we find plenty or western children who find their own motivation to push for excellence.  Some were pushed by parents, but most get a thrill out of competition and push themselves.

All cultures have a wide range of parenting styles, but, Chinese definitely have a higher percentage of the high-pressue style that Hua describes and take it to another level. As I've learned from Chinese friends, it is the norm in China.  There, it is probably easier since the schools are geared toward this mentality and most other students are in the same situation.  In North America, it is more difficult due to the exposure to our culture.  This also makes the risks far greater if a child rebels and goes rogue.  With less social skills, they have less ability to navigate the pitfalls such as drugs and sex.

While there are certainly things we learn from Chua's parenting; that kids can be resilient and achieve great things, the warnings are abundant and clear.  The point of raising kids is not to compete for the highest achievement in school or music.  The most important thing is to raise kids who are happy, independant and strong.  With that to build from, they'll seek success for themselves.  It just may not be in medicine or asto-physics.

No comments: