I just couldn’t endorse the book, though. Not because Amy Chua admits to insulting and guilting her daughters constantly … and not because Amy Chua deprives her kids of playdates and sleepovers … and not because Amy disses athletics and drama. Believe me, I’ve spent years now watching scholars’ videotapes of how parents and kids really interact, I get used to that stuff.
Rather, I couldn’t endorse it because too much of the book felt like braggadocio about how great her daughters were at piano and violin. Hey, we all do it … we take immense pride when our kids do well … some of that pride slips out now and then, absolutely … but a whole book predicated on children’s superiority made me uncomfortable.
Ashley and I have studied parenting in China quite a bit, and two points are immediately relevant. The first is, the tradeoff between being a warm, loving, cuddly parent and being a parent who makes your
child focus on learning is a false tradeoff. Going back to that study of mothers in Hong Kong I mentioned, during that five-minute break the Chinese mothers smiled and hugged their children just as much as
American mothers did (and were no more likely to frown or raise their voices.) Importantly, these contemporary Chinese mothers did not insult or guilt their kids.
So when you hear about top math scores from Shanghai, don’t think the success comes from cruel and harsh parenting. It comes from being supportive of learning.
And with teenagers, we so often focus only on external rebellion. It’s certainly the most visible. But teens whose need for autonomy is suppressed often have internalizing problems, such as depression.
Depression is actually becoming a huge problem in China. The work of Dr. Keng-Ling Lay in Taiwan has discovered one of the reasons why. She studies children and teenagers who’ve been told all their life
that the secret to success is hard work – and yet, despite trying their best, never become A-students, or gifted musicians, or top athletes. They believe their inability to work hard enough is innate.
They see no path to success, and feel like failures. It’s sorta obvious, but this is the downside of kids living in any environment where success is defined in such limited ways. Dr. Lay says that parents are changing rapidly in Taiwan, but teachers are not.