A recent article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” by Amy Chiu,
not only brings up nearly taboo subjects of race and culture, but calls directly into question the basic
model for Western parenting. There is a strong stereotype in the United States regarding successful and
smart Chinese people, and in my experience, a nearly universal rejection of the methods that stimulate
these results; “the ends don’t justify the means.”
The major issues I have with this article concern its anecdotal approach and ironically, its extreme
stereotypes. Not all western parents are as passive as the author claims, and the broadly
stated “parenting style” is difficult to quantify. The success of one method over another is never going
to be universal. All of this begs the question: is there any data to support her theory that Chinese
children are more successful than their Western counterparts, and if so, can you attribute that success
to the parenting style?
I don’t want to write a research paper attempting to quantify “parenting style” and apply this model
demographically to get a picture of what works and what doesn’t; I don’t think that it would be useful.
Indeed, my problem with Chiu’s essay stems from her mixed use of statistic and anecdote, leaving the
reader with the impression that her words are grounded in immutable fact. Every child is different, even
within families; each child may require very different methods to foster growth and success. What I will
do, is offer some words of wisdom combining my own experience and some of Amy Chiu’s advice.
Two pieces of advice in this essay ring true. “Nothing is fun until you’re good at it” and “children on
their own never want to work.” Children need a sense of discipline and goals; otherwise they’ll never
get to the point where they are self motivated. Chiu is right in the sense that as children grow and
succeed their motivation begins to come from within.
The problem I take with the “Chinese” methods Chiu presents are that the subjects are forced, and
that success is limited to a set of these core subjects. The goal of a parent should be to foster a sense
of wonderment and discovery so that a child can find his or her own path through the world. It’s
important that a child feel free to seek out and pursue their passion, and feel secure that a parents love
and support will still be there regardless of the subject they choose to pursue. Ensuring that your child
has as access to new avenues of discovery, and helping your child to form a regiment for practicing and
mastering the new things that they show an interest in should be your goal.
Codling children should not be on anyone’s list of priorities, but strong-arming a child into continuing
with something that they obviously don’t enjoy seems counter-productive to me. Forcing your child to
practice piano an hour a day is reasonable, but when they become a teen and want to try the guitar,
give them that option as long as they are willing to put the effort in.
Don’t get me started on the lack importance Chiu places on social development. If your child wants to
attend a sleepover, let them! Social skills are completely neglected in Chiu’s model; social events can be
a great learning experience. “I know you’re going to stay up late and have a great time at this sleepover
Billy. Just remember, regardless of how much sleep you get, I expect you to perform your daily chores
and practice your drums tomorrow.” This is an opportunity for you to instill an understanding of
responsibility in your child. Stay out late and have a good time, but wake up knowing full well that
expectations are undiminished.
The academic approach in Chiu’s method may be a quality that could use some work in the “western
parenting style.” While it may be true that some children simply lack aptitude for certain subjects, the
reality is that American public schools can be conquered with straight A’s by even the most average
student, provided they hit the books.
I’ll leave you with the following question. If this authoritarian parenting style were implemented
broadly across the US, would creativity and individuality survive? Would Jackson Pollock have painted?
Would Elvis Presley have played the guitar? I don’t have all of the answers, but when my child comes
to me with an idea for something new, I’m not going to tell them to drop it and get back to fulfilling my
Eric B. is a writer for Brookside Patio Furniture, which specializes in resin wicker patio furniture and other high quality patio furniture.