Is Amy Chua Right About How to Raise Children?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011 - 02:02 PM

Author Amy Chua is creating a firestorm with the essay she wrote in The Wall Street Journal entitled, "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior." In it, she says the key to successfully raising a child is to forbid them from a whole load of activities like attending sleepovers or playdates and to settle for nothing less than A grades.

The backlash to her essay (and book) has been huge, but we're opening it up to you: Do you think there are any benefits to raising children this strictly?


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Comments [12]


After reading the article from WSJ, I was shock. As an immigrant from Taiwan who did not do well when I was in junior and senior high there. I decided to come here for the undergraduate and later graduate degree. I have benefited so much from the higher education and training I got here in this country. Now I teach and also have my little one at the 1st grade. The more I look at her, the more I recall myself when I was little in Taiwan. Knowing that my parents already divorced and I was placed in the “under-performance” classes, there were not many chances for someone like me anyway...

Many of your points I believe could be insightful across cultures and races. I am glad that you as an Asian American who stands up and addresses the common expectation from most parents. It is just the title and overemphasis of the culture differences make you sound now like an abusive mother. I know you are not as I later listened to some of your interview. You want to focus on the very universal parenting skills toward kids - be consistent and responsible for your own action.

Back to my little one, she is so different from who we are and where we came from. To that, I admire her. But that does not mean I will comprise when she starts to nag.

Jan. 14 2011 08:51 PM
good chinese mother from New York City

Dear Ms. Chua,

Like you, I am a Chinese mother, born in Manila from Chinese parents like yours, but unlike you, I vowed to be a different Chinese mother, and encouraged my daughter to enjoy all the activities you prohibited. And still, she scored 2340 on the SAT, 60 points off perfect, and got accepted by Harvard, Princeton and Yale.

It will be interesting to see if your methods can produce the same results.

Jan. 13 2011 07:22 PM
Julia Ryan from Oak Park, IL

Being abusive does not help raise successful children. It helps the parents reach their own goals which are highly questionable.
I have a Chinese adopted daughter who is a straight A student, a good ballet dancer and a happy and moral young person. It is due to her own innate intelligence and hard work, our love and support of all she does and a healthy mix of fun.
I believe that moderation is everything. Going to extremes is very damaging. I had an unkind mother and have suffered all my life. My daughter is a much more successful and happy 15 year old.
It's plain common sense. Please be balanced when you parent. Healthy food is fine, not too much TV or computer, but please allow your children to function in the real world happily.

Jan. 13 2011 05:14 PM
Carolyn from Brooklyn

Like her parenting or not, it's a fascinating read. I downloaded it on kindle for iphone last night and finished it at 1:00 AM. I couldn't put it down! I'm sure there will a lot of backlash, and some will use this as an excuse to explain away their own harsh ways.

Jan. 12 2011 04:15 PM
Al from KY

Where to start—first, cultural norms do have some effect on children and they will more readily accept that is acceptable for their culture.
But children also learn what they see, both in their parents and in other examples, so I think it's important for parents to mirror what they want their child to learn, and to guide the child into situations where they will be exposed to the appropriate people and activities.
And, it's important to remember that abused children can end up being abusers...that is, we tend to repeat in adulthood what is foisted upon us in childhood, if our psyche becomes damaged from childhood experiences. So it is a good idea to not go to an extreme that would damage the child's psyche .
As every child is unique, then it befits us to treat each child as a unique person, and respond to his/her individual gifts and needs as best as we can.
But above all, give love and stability. Children want stability, and they respond to love.

Jan. 12 2011 02:56 PM

The best way to ensure a child's success is to facilitate their OWN motivation to excel, not force it upon them. Amy's tactics are much too extreme, and would be considered by most ot be downright abusive. Although she may be satisfied with the success of her children for the time being, she has fostered lifelong resentment in them against her. As long as she can live with that knowledge..

Jan. 12 2011 12:16 PM

I am a parent of two young kids and Chinese-American. Although we have high expectations for them, we are definitely not that extreme. Plus, not having playdates and participating in some social acitivities is absurd.

In general, I can only say Prof. Chau's methods seem too extreme, even from Chinese, maybe other Asian too. But, hey, she is the professor of Yale and did raised two successful daughters. Maybe that's what it takes.

Jan. 12 2011 11:39 AM

The other night, "Battle Hymn of The Tiger Mother" was reviewed on Fresh Air. It was said that though the author abusively raises her children to make them successful not happy, the reader will agree that strict parenting is too rare and "Western ways" of not burdening kids with parent's neurotic expectations is just political-correctness.
After hearing this commentary/book-review, I found it hard to sleep.Now this same upcoming issue on The Takeaway.

In the movie "Precious" the main character (an illiterate, lower-class, teen living with an abusive, welfare-queen of a mother) is told by her mother that she will never amount to anything should have been aborted. The mother pressures her daughter to go on welfare,not peruse education. True-to-life for some people too.The literal elements of these lifestyles are different, the dynamics are essentially the same.
Why be afraid of being an ultra-stereotype and raising your kids to be the same ?

Phoebe Eng wrote "Warrior Lessons."It tells of how people of her culture live emotionally-tormented lives concentrating on small failures and in the first few pages tells about a depressed Chinese woman's death which Ms. Eng suspects was suicide because of the guilt of disappointing one's parents. Statistics show that in 2009 suicide became the second-highest cause of death of Chinese youth, reportedly due to academic stress and is common in females.

It can be asked that if parents were demanding of their kids for thousands of generations, then why are Chinese teens so suicide prone today? Is it that Chinese parents were not really as demanding of their kids in past centuries as today? Is it that there is now more technology and accompanying difficult things to learn so as to succeed and Chinese parents have gotten more intense too?
Is it that Chinese kids have always committed suicide at a high rate but only now is there such a close-study of the phenomenon? Oh don't forget, Oriental cultures tend to practice the killing of elderly, useless parents too.

Rules of Freakonomics dictate that for better or worse, regardless of method, children do not form according to their parent's desires.Extreme pressure is one of those elements on the farthest end of the Bell Curve least likely to work perfectly (high success and no emotional drain). Some parents have a self-defeating fear of disgracing cultural ways. "Iindividuality” is a bad word here.

It only makes it seem more sensible for people to have themselves neutered.

Jan. 12 2011 10:56 AM

If you take a 1960's PE teacher and the average Taliban, you get an Amy Chua. Children are not clones of their parents and parents have to pay close attention to how they are different. I agree with having standards and high expectations, but raise your children humanism. BTW, I am Chinese-American, and glad my parents supported me in what I was good at.

Jan. 12 2011 09:14 AM

I used to feel like then and then my kids got older. Preschool age children are a different ball game altogether.

Jan. 12 2011 08:24 AM
Holly U. from North Myrtle Beach, SC, USA

I don't think I would take it that far. However, I am more strict than most white American parents. (Granted my 3 children are all still preschool or younger ages.) I raise them in a way I consider old fashioned and better than most current methods.
For example: No bottles, no pacifiers, no sippy cups. We eat in the kitchen or dining rooms. We do not eat on the sofa, car, or running around the house or playground. Water and Cheerios are sufficient snacks away from home (and my husband, born under European Communism, once told me I was spoiling them letting them have THAT!). Also bananas are portable, healthy, cheap, and filling.
We eat every meal as a family, together. I cook a meal, and they eat it. They are supposed to at least eat one bite before pronouncing whether they like it. If not, they can eat cereal (and we only have WIC approved cereal, so it's not a sugary treat) or go to bed.
They are allowed one hour of TV/video a day. And I feel guilty about that amount being too much. They have very few toys that are not kid powered (no batteries) and open-ended. I avoid licensed characters like the plague.
Compared to their friends/my friends, I'm SO MEAN. But they have amazing health, manners, cooperation, behavior, and imagination, so I feel we're definitely doing better than most.
I don't think I'd go as far as the Chinese mothering system. However, I know in my own childhood, there are times that my parents could have pushed me harder, made me stick with something and I probably would have grown and become stronger as a person. On the other hand, I also can remember times I was SO very grateful for letting me out of things. Trying to find a middle ground will be impossible but a good goal for my family. To learn tenacity, responsiblity, and the other traits Ms. Chua mentioned is very valuable, I agree.
I often remind my husband and myself that my #1 goal is for our children to be GOOD. Before anything else. Because a good person is worthwhile, a contributer to society, even if they are ugly or stupid or bad at sports or poor. A bad person is potentially quite evil, even if-especially if- handsome, healthy, and smart.

Jan. 11 2011 04:23 PM
Torya Blanchard (via Facebook)

I loved this article! My mother was a black "Chinese mother", only I was tone deaf and practiced piano for years, ha. To get high achieving children, this is what it takes.

Jan. 11 2011 02:44 PM

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