Thursday, January 13, 2011

Chinese mothers, clash of the parenting styles (again!) and what this means for kids

I finally figured it out! My mother is Chinese! Not literally (mom is blond and blue-eyed and likes to cast judgment by looking down at her children over her pointy, up-turned caucasian nose) but, according to Amy Chua in her controversial WSJ article, Chinese Mothers are Superior, my mom fits the stereotype in a lot of ways.

Here's how Chua, author of Battle Hymm of the Tiger Mother, spells it out:

"A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it's like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I've done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:

• attend a sleepover
• have a playdate
• be in a school play
• complain about not being in a school play
• watch TV or play computer games
• choose their own extracurricular activities
• get any grade less than an A
• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
• play any instrument other than the piano or violin
• not play the piano or violin."

I can relate. Childhood was no fun. In between the piano lessons and grueling swim team workouts and extracurriculars, there was little time for eating and sleeping. My sisters and I were forced into activities, punished for grades below A- and brainwashed into thinking that these efforts had some sort of bearing on our future success and happiness.

“You’ll thank me later” mom used to say.

No, I won’t.

In theory, pushing your kids to do their best and not letting them quit and give up before they’ve had a chance to really excel makes sense. But here’s the thing: not everyone can be a winner. As a parent, if you accept nothing less than perfection, you’re either setting your kids up to be perfect (unlikely, since nobody is perfect) or insecure, neurotic and highly competitive (yep) or – rebellious and hateful. Nice choices!

Recently, Harvard researches put the theory to the test (see the recent CNN article, Want to Get Your Kid Into College? Let Them Play). What they found is that kids who are encouraged to play (encouraging emotional development) do much better in school than the children who focused on skill and academic development.

Whatever you call it – east versus western values; skills vs. social and emotional learning - it’s not new. Of course, I'm sure Chua’s article adds more fuel the Mommy War debate, which was getting a little stale anyway. MediaBistro just reported that the Chinese Mother article had already generated over 2,500 comments so there you go. When it comes to raising kids, everyone’s got an opinion.

As a consultant in the world of children’s and parenting media, I am aware of the challenges and concerns on both a professional and personal level. Recently, my daughter (a TV addict, a little on the heavy side, not doing any activities right now because I couldn’t get it together) asked me: “When I grow up, are you going to be mean to me like Grandma is mean to you?”

“No,” I replied, “and you’ll thank me later.” But I didn’t say that out loud.

Here’s what I think: there are a lot of really smart, really creative parents out there who are raising their kids in new and different ways, challenging stereotypes and redefining boundaries. We live in a time of intense scrutiny but also of tremendous opportunities. You can be a slacker mom. Or you can go free range. Eco chic. Zero-waste. The playing (er, battle) field is wide open. Knock yourselves out.

Your thoughts?

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