Jan

13

 I don't have kids, but this article on "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior" seems to relate to some of what has gone around before about raising kids and Asian children generally being ahead of the curve vs their Western counterparts.

Nigel Davies comments:

The Chinese authoress, Ching-ning Chu, described this tradition as '5,000 years of child abuse.

Steve Ellison writes:

Since the reaction to this article so far seems 100% negative, I will put in a good word for it. My (Korean immigrant) wife and I had a similar parenting philosophy, although not as extreme. Most American parents demand far too little of their children. I appreciate the author making the point that parents have a right to demand high standards and achievement.

My son attends a school for highly gifted students. Even among this population, some parents complain there is too much homework. By contrast, we hosted an exchange student from Korea in our home. This student while in Korea had gone to school as required from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm every day and then attended another school until 11:00 pm every night to get ahead in academics. This regimen is typical for children of families of means in Korea.

The author of the Journal article came to the US not from the People's Republic or a Chinese-majority jurisdiction, but from the Philippines, where there is a small Chinese minority that is far wealthier than the general population and is hated for it. The author's aunt was murdered by a mob during ethnic violence. The approach outlined in the article was probably necessary to survive in the Philippines.

Nigel Davies writes:

I see your point Steve, but to me the whole thing looked like an ill-tempered rant because the lady concerned attracted disapproval at the party she went to.

As a chess teacher I've taught youngsters from many different cultures. The ones I turn down flat are the pushy ones who have decided their kid will be a champion. The reason I refuse is simple - I've seen these kids burn themselves out as they try to perform well enough to be loved. On the other hand there are kids that genuinely developing excellence with full parental encouragement and support.

These two approaches may seem very similar but they're most definitely not; one comes with conditional love. And I think that it may be more valid to try and correlate the article's recommended approach with the kind of political regime that exists in China; brutality fosters brutes.

Laurel Kenner writes: 

I am reading Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, the book excerpted in the WSJ article for which Mr. Coyle kindly posted a link. Aubrey is taking Mandarin from a disciplinarian Chinese native, and I said I'd be interested in her opinion. Her reaction to the article: She was furious. She had grown up under just such a mother, and it wasn't a happy memory. Her mother would say, "I would rather have given birth to a piece of roast pork than you" to shame her, and the recollection still stung, years later. We may admire the Chinese kids for their "A" report cards, but they in turn envy the American ability to think "out of the box," innovate and found big enterprises.

I like Ms. Chua's style, and the book certainly is thought-provoking. I agree that the best way to self-esteem is to master a skill.

However, the short biography she provides in the book provides an unwitting clue as to the drawbacks of the Chinese approach. At Harvard, she was unable to ask questions in class, as her instinct was to simply take notes on everything the professor said. When it came time for a job interview for a Yale professorship, she found herself tongue-tied and wasn't hired. (She did get the job seven years later, after writing a cutting-edge book on how ethnic conflicts doom democratic majority rule in the Third World.)

Charles Pennington writes:

This is a fascinating and valuable book, which I've halfway completed. It is a defense of her unfashionable parenting philosophy, and she is not afraid to describe how it works in real life, complete with many anecdotes that make herself look bad. I think adults end up appreciating the special efforts that their parents made to impart on them a special skill. Maybe by now even Andre Agassi can appreciate his father's unrelenting efforts to turn him into a great tennis player.

I value the book because it gives me a realistic picture of the trying times that my wife and I can expect when we harness and over-ride our children's impulses and push them in a better direction.

The article has generated thousands of written comments, many of them harshly negative, even vicious. Ms. Chua gets some extra points in my book for boldness and bravery.

Russ Sears writes:

Beyond talent, it take a combination of the three c's of developing and spotting genius are commitment, confidence and creativity. The trick is that non of these can be crammed down a child but nurtured and grown. Further, children will react differently to anyone method so the instructor/coach must tailor the methods to the child. Last, but also perhaps most importantly, each discipline, talent or endeavor each requires a different combination of these c's and a highly expert opinion of how when and where to apply them, in order to obtain greatness.

For example a high bar, can create drive in one kid, perfectionism in another and burnout (as Nigel suggest) and pattern of quitting in others. As the Chinese example shows simply demanding commitment leaves even the obedient fearful lacking in confidence and reliant on the instructor to guide them stifling creativity. Teaching a child to love a sport, hence commitment is a necessary groundwork, and a parent/ coaches first job, but not sufficient. The idea that you can out work everyone is a fatal flaw to many scholars athletes and business men. The greats are all highly committed and their love and understanding will always out perform those that simply are counting on toughness and commitment.

Confidence, however, is only in moderation or it become hubris. It too must be developed and work. Testosterone can give a nature edge. Steroid abuse on the other hand may give a physical edge, but also tends to develop overconfidence superman syndrome. This is why I believe most of the athletes that get caught started taking them after they already developed some level of greatness. However, if you are to thrive in times of great stress rather than choke you must have confidence. Enough confidence that you do not over think the process or the exam, but enough practice, talent and knowledge than your instincts are spot on. The opposite of confidence is of course anxiety or unnecessary fear. 1 in 8 American suffer from an anxiety disorders. This therefore would be a good place to start in understanding how behavioral psychology effects investors.

Creativity by itself generally need disciple of commitment and confidence to be applied right. When to make the exception to the rule? When to trust yourself rather than the authorities? What is the right question to ask? Answer these creative questions correctly and you are on your way to greatness. Creativity however, often is either completely ignored in recognizing genius. Or it is often thought to be the only thing that matters. Both views kill the budding geniuses.

Jeff Watson writes:

Reading all of this parental preparation makes me feel like I dropped the ball as a parent as I did very little except to minimize hangups, teach my son right from wrong and allow him to be the happiest kid I know with a million friends and several beautiful girlfriends.. His mother was instrumental in making him into a scholar and she didn't have to work at it very hard at guiding his inquisitive nature as there was genetically coded DNA ensuring his "Knack" for the classics. There was an expectation that he would always learn, do well, think critically, and we were not done with force, coercion,punishment, or any other psychological devices. I was there to teach him to be a man, to do sports, surfing, skimming, and skating, shooting, archery, golfing,, bandage his knees and elbows and tape up knees and shoulders. I was also his biggest cheerleader, proofreader, outline fixer, and science teacher, who also taught him to cook and bake like a chef and prepare BBQ like a Black Southerner from Memphis.. My son might not have Mandarin under his belt, but he has Latin, Greek, Spanish, French, Italian pretty well down, both conversational and written. The jury is still out as his grad school is looming and we don't know what will be his choice. I offered him a year off after school just to hang out and surf before he either resumes his career or schooling. I wish someone had given me a year long surf break at his age as I think I would have done better in all my business because I wouldn't have been uptight for a couple of years. Of course, the theories of Galton correspond with my family and the previous generations , and I expect them to continue into the future. Hopefully, the children of the list members can also improve their progeny by marrying well, creating the right circumstances, and not pushing the kids into overload as there's a delicate balance. Just being members of the list is indicative that your kids won't be hanging out in pool halls, OTB, Illegal Pokers and numbers games, and that's a very brilliant head start that 70% of the fellow New Yorker kids can't get.

Yishen Kuik writes:

Perhaps one notion that might be useful is the "casualty" rate.

When we say such-and-such a profession is a "rock star" business, we usually mean that the number of winners in that industry are few, most of the rest are struggling, and the winners take a massively disproportionate amount of the prizes in that industry. The "casualty" rate is very high. Being a musician or an artist is a rock star business, being a doctor is not.

In Singapore, parents push their kids and will go to great lengths to sacrifice for their education. In general, we are a law abiding, conscientious, well educated and pragmatic people. However we are not known for thinking big, taking risks or innovation. And while most Singaporeans are close to their extended families, dining with them once a week, it is unusual that parents enjoy close friendships with their children. The relationship is largely characterized by respect and filial piety.

Because of this system of strong family networks, strong interest in pushing children and demanding academics, not many Singaporeans fall through the cracks
- we are a low casualty rate society. Not very good at producing rock stars, but quite good at not producing bums. This is great for kids who need the discipline and guidance and would otherwise grow up to be bums, but one could argue limits the potential of those who could have been great.

This has worked well for our small country - a stable system and a non-striking, non-unionized, trouble free and educated labour force has proven to be a winning formula as a service providing small nation that supports business between larger nations. But clearly this is not a formula for a large industrialized country, which needs to depend on the innovation of the few to create sufficient large scale value. Perhaps a system that sacrifices the many in order to locate and promote the elite few is the natural solution for an innovation driven large economy? I do not know what the answer is.

Nonetheless, Singapore is a very young country and has only been wealthy since 1980. I would expect attitudes between parents and kids to shift in the next generation.

Alston Mabry comments:

Very nicely articulated, Yishen.

An interesting thread overall.

I heard the author of the book in question speak briefly on NKR today and heard that the subtitle of the book is:

This is a story about a mother, two daughters, and two dogs. This was
*supposed* to be a story of how Chinese parents are better at raising kids than Western ones. But instead, it's about a bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting taste of glory, and how I was humbled by a thirteen-year-old.

Jeff Watson adds: 

I don't know, all these people drag out scientific ways to raise kids to be smart, to be champions. They push the kids pretty hard , aiming for Harvard, Yale, etc and one might expect some blow-back from that harsh regimen.. Fact is that parenting isn't an exact science and if you raise a responsible, happy, free from baggage, healthy, well spoken kid, you have 80% of the battle won.(I don't know what studies show but would suspect that well adjusted, happy kids probably do better in college than their non-adjusted peers) The schools previously mentioned like a story for admissions, and not the same story and school path and activities to get there that the great washed multitudes present them. So many in this world are competing through their children and I suspect that the outcome in this type of contest will not bode well for either child or parent especially if the child doesn't get into the first couple of choices..

Sometimes, a kid just needs to take an afternoon off, lie on his back and look up at the clouds and just imagine. Does a world of good in so many ways. If a kid is meant for an IVY school, he will get into an IVY school as there's always more than one way to skin a cat.

Jim Sogi opines:

Many modern children are horribly spoiled. It doesn't do them any good in the future. Their parent's are afraid of harming their delicate psyche's and end up with spoiled monsters that no one likes. You don't have to lay weird trips on them either, mostly that has to do with withholding love, or disapproval both of which create their own sick repercussions. A simple well defined set of expectations and rewards and time out or denial of reward is enough. Love must be unconditional. I see parents doing the absolutely wrong thing all the time, rewarding bad behavior and ignoring the good.

David Hillman writes:

I don't have children either, but I'm not certain having children is a prerequisite for recognizing common sense and good parenting. Is it that difficult to distinguish the difference between yelling at a child who's about to put his/her hand to a hot stove and yelling at a child skipping up the aisle at Walmart harming no one, i.e., just being a child? Or, what about a swat on the backside when a kid is being particularly rowdy and inattentive to commands to stop versus a backhand across the face to "put the fear of God in him/her"?

It was my great fortune to be born to parents who loved unconditionally and nurtured, yet they employed measured discipline and never spoiled. They told us "you can be anything you want to be and do anything you want to do if you apply yourself". The sky was the limit and we believed them. The only thing they absolutely insisted upon other than a "yes, ma'am" and a "no, sir", was that we were going to college come hell or high water, but what we did with our lives beyond that was our choice and they provided appropriate guidance. They led by example, not by threat of punishment and in the end produced a couple of reasonably well-balanced and self-satisfied [term used rather than 'successful' as the definition may vary from one to another] offspring.

Still, to this day, they occasionally lament their parental failings ["in retrospect, we should have…", "if we had it to do over again,……"]. While I, too, recognize some of their missteps privately, I tell them no instruction manual pops out of the womb with a kid, they were great parents, did the best anyone could, which was better than most, and I believe that to be true.

This discussion of parenting methods brings to mind a couple of items from long ago that provide contrast.

One, the clarinet lessons of my youth. Sister Mary Rasputin, a wizened, 4' tall 80 pounder taught me to play using the 'threat of physical abuse and eternal damnation' method. Her metronome was a 15" wooden ruler slapped rhythmically in the palm of her hand. She 'coaxed' exercises and pieces from my ebony Schmoeller & Mueller Bb licorice stick with red-faced, narrow-eyed, bared-tooth, shrill, 100db, spittle-laden complaints, insults, beratings, accusations and threats. Instead of motivating, however, I found intimidation worked quite the opposite with me. No matter how prepared, I dreaded the weekly 'lessons', hated the practice assignments and fell out of love with the clarinet. Eighth grade graduation, still a few years off, couldn't come soon enough. Yet, as it came and went, this instruction appeared fruitful as I wound up with 1st place medals from statewide competitions and was seated 2nd chair in the high school orchestra. But, I learned by intimidation and rote, didn't learn much about music theory until decades later, played mechanically, not with passion, and can't help but think I'd have been better off sitting in my room studying my Rubank Elementary Method and mimicking my Acker Bilk records.

Fast forward to interaction between two former mutual acquaintances. One was a very assertive sort who grew up in a middle-class family with a 'tough love' father, the other grew up in a somewhat disadvantaged but reasonably loving family. The former had had some business success, but even his own brother once told me "He's a great guy to be around, but I'd never do business with him." The latter had not made his mark at that point. He was ambitious, but more or less muddled through life looking for the 'big hit'. The former had material goods and proudly showed them off. The latter judged his own self-worth by comparing what luxuries he didn't have with what others had. The former often publically berated and ridiculed the latter in an effort to motivate him. The latter did not respond well. All the berating did was help him feel worse about himself than he did and perform poorly.

For one who is not a parent, it is still comforting and often poignant, and it gives me hope for future generations, when I see parents stopping in the grocery to quietly instruct a child on proper etiquette or behavior rather than employing a 'terrible swift sword' approach to discipline. And, I will frequently approach that parent and complement him/her on the obvious parenting skill. The reaction is always positive. I can't help but think that kid is going to be of more use to society than will one who's had good behavior pounded into them.

Yes, fear can be a strong motivator. We all know that and there are plenty of clear examples of success and heroics motivated by fear. In my own case, tho', I went to college and have done well because of it, but I haven't played my clarinet in years. A persistent nurturing and explanations of 'why' seems to have won out over terror in the long term. That was what worked for me, not a good skull cracking.

The point is there are many methods of parenting and of motivating and of instructing. I've had some parents say to me, "Sometimes you just have to say 'Because I'm the mom!', and I suppose that is so. I suppose also some kids need a 2×4 upside the head to get their attention. But not all methods work for all people. The trick seems to be knowing one's child or student [or employee or patient or spouse or recruit or client or you name it] and trying to recognize and employ the method or combination of methods that will be most fruitful. Not the easiest task and the stakes are often extremely high, especially in the case of child-rearing.

I always thought I'd have been a good parent. Maybe, maybe not. It didn't work out that way. I was either too selfish or not courageous enough to pull the trigger. But, I've compensated by becoming every kid's favorite uncle. And, since I've learned through observation the best kids are like the best dogs and like friends with boats…..you get to enjoy them, but they go home with someone else who has to maintain them, being the favorite uncle works for me.

Yet, I have great respect for those of you who have chosen to repopulate this planet with your 2.1 kids and thank those of you who take the time to know your kids and raise them well and give them the tools they need to help them grow into decent human beings. 'Cause what they become, how they behave, and what they do, will in some way impact me and all of us in some way, and that kinda makes them my kids, too.

George Zachar writes: 

No amount of common sense, good intentions, or book research, prepares one for parenting. 

Jim Sogi comments: 

David's advice to patiently explain in detail the expected behavior is the proper method of parenting. The common wrong method is to say, "No, don't do that." It gives the child no clue as to the proper behavior. Set expectations in writing. For example: Wash dishes once per week, or no allowance. This is clear, since the consequence is obvious. The wrong way is to say, "You're lazy and no good, and I will withhold my love if you don't help around the house more." It is too vague, and the repercussions are not commensurate with the behavior. Yet it is the common tactic I see over and over.


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