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Life Arts    H2'ed 1/19/11

The Tiger Mom in (Scientific) Perspective

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It seems that I can't get Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom excerpt in last week's Wall Street Journal off my mind.  Fellow Psychology Today blogger, Nancy Darling, described Chua's piece as " flinch worthy ".  I couldn't agree more. I flinched many times.

If you haven't yet read it, here's how it opens:

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 a piano or violin

-          not play the piano or violin

Self-proclaimed 'Tiger Mom', Amy Chua
(Image by Commons, Author: Larry D. Moore)
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Apparently, this piece, though authored by Chua herself, somehow misrepresents, or at least takes out of context, how she really parented, or so Jeff Yang argues .  Either way, I was bowled over by how little autonomy the girls were allowed. It's not just that they weren't allowed to be in a school play. Apparently, they weren't even allowed to discuss the possibility.  Several days after reading it, I'm still not over it.

Part of it is that I don't agree with Chua's parenting priorities. Traditional academic success isn't that important to me. Don't get me wrong: I'd like my kids (ages 8 and almost 4) to be smart, and I really hope that they develop a life-long love of learning, but I'm not about to drill them on multiplication tables (the older one still doesn't have them down) or otherwise "demand" some specific academic outcome. Unlike Chua, I'm much more interested in the learning process. I want them to enjoy learning, because I think learning is fun, and fun (unlike parental demands) is sustainable. I want them to learn because they are curious, not because they're forced. I want them to learn because it meets their own needs, not because it meets mine.

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Mikhail Lyubansky, Ph.D., is a teaching associate professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where he teaches Psychology of Race and Ethnicity and courses on restorative justice.

Since 2009, Mikhail has been studying and working with conflict, particularly via Restorative Circles (a restorative practice developed in Brazil by Dominic Barter and associates) and other restorative responses to conflict. Together with Elaine Shpungin, he now supports schools, organizations, and workplaces in developing restorative strategies for engaging conflict, building conflict facilitation skills and evaluating the outcomes associated with restorative responses via Conflict 180.

In addition to conflict and restorative (more...)

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