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Are Americans Weak Parents?

A recent book written by Yale professor Amy Chua, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, brings to light the difference between American parenting and Chinese parenting. She claims that tough parenting is the only way to create Grade A children, compared to the lax style of Western parenting.

Although she grew up in the US, she was raised in a traditional Chinese household and was therefore held to extremely high standards, which she now employs with her own daughters. She defines a “Chinese mother” as driven, snobbish and bent on raising kids who excel at everything they do. She contrasts this manner of child rearing with the emotional, sappy and Disney movie-esque methods that “Western mothers” use.

She believes that although Chinese mothers are sometimes viewed as cold, heartless and overbearing, they realize the fundamental principle in raising children is “nothing is fun until you are good at it”. This justifies her required music lessons, strict household rules and nothing less than perfect expectations.

This book, understandably, has caused quite severe reactions and created quite a stir among parents from all cultures. In the current media frenzy, research has been presented indicating that there are in fact distinct differences in the way Americans treat their children versus parents born outside of the US. Recently, studies have been conducted to test the unique ways in which parents respond and correlations have been made about cultural influence.

One study of note asked Chinese and American children to complete an assessment involving age-appropriate questions about academic subjects. After completing the test, the children were given a short break in which their mothers were allowed to come into the room and view the results of the test with the child. Across the board, the Chinese mothers spent the time going over the problems that were missed and teaching the child how to arrive at the right answer. The American mothers consistently came in and acknowledged how well the child performed, typically indicating that the child “only missed” so many questions.

The study revealed an interesting reality. American parents focus on not hurting a child’s feelings and not damaging self-esteem by praising and showing approval. Chinese parents focus on achievement, performance and success, regardless of how the child feels about it. Is one better than the other? I would argue that a fusion of the best of both approaches would fundamentally change our children and their future.

I have written articles about the negative impact of too much praise and the current issues with Generation Y entering the workforce. American philosophy about child rearing has embraced inclusion, cooperation and gentility. Unfortunately, this has created a generation of children who tend to be entitled, demanding and lazy. Chinese philosophy embraces obedience, honor and excellence. However, this has been viewed as cruel, harsh and domineering. So, how do we find a balance?

The positives of American parenting styles are individualism, creativity, and enterprise. It focuses on showing love and creating bonds. The positives in Chinese parenting styles are preparation, discipline, and accountability. It focuses on earning respect. The integration would need to be American parents being less concerned about winning a child’s love and more about earning a child’s respect. Chinese parents would need to be more open to expressions of uniqueness and developing ingenuity.

Chinese parents can be accused of being too involved in every detail of a child’s life, to the exclusion of personal and individual freedoms. American parents can be accused of being too removed and distant, to the exclusion of obedience and meeting expectations. In all, we need to take responsibility for our role as models of how to succeed in life as adults. No matter what we value, we demonstrate everything that they will learn about life. We can, and should, be the representation of both ends of the spectrum at times so that we teach them how to handle anything that comes their way.

Being open and firm, consistent and willing to change, supportive and critical, nurturing and honest are all crucial to creating healthy and well-balanced children. I suppose finding the balance within ourselves when we have conflicting thoughts about what we want for our children turns out to be the biggest challenge of them all!

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