Wednesday, January 19, 2011

More on Chinese Parenting Styles

Lawyer and writer, Amy Chua, has recently published a memoir that has been cause for much controversy. Ever since reading an article titled "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior," a short excerpt from her memoir, I have a bone or two to pick with her, and it seems a lot of people have similar feelings. People are criticizing her article from multiple angles. Some of the criticism includes her stereotyping and generalization of "Chinese" parenting styles. Anytime people stereotype an entire group of people, they are going to be wrong. There are going to be people within that group who do not fit the mold or who defiantly challenge it. But Chua does give a disclaimer in her article that she is using the term "Chinese mother" loosely and does not expect her ideology to be true for all Chinese mothers.

Other criticism revolves around Chua limiting her daughters' ability to develop socially. While Chua writes that the stereotypical American parents are not strict enough on their children in not making them practice their instrument long enough or in not demanding academic excellence. Interesting enough, in one editorial written by New York Times writer Daniel Brooks, he criticizes Chua for coddling her children but simply in a different way than Chua sees coddling. He writes that Chua, in not letting her children be involved in social events such as slumber parties or school drama, is in fact inhibiting their social development and "protecting them from the most intellectually demanding activities because she doesn’t understand what’s cognitively difficult and what isn’t" (Brooks). He goes on to argue that learning how to operate within the social contexts that Chua withheld from her children is in fact functioning at a higher cognitive level than simply gaining book knowledge or memorizing a piece of music. I applaud Brooks for pointing out the importance of social interaction in helping children develop.

Seeing Chinese parents in action first-hand by living in China, I often shake my head at what they push and praise: academic excellence, beauty, and special talents. It is not that I don't think those things are important or have value, but I don't think they should be the main things in life. My friend who has a hellion of a 10 year old son often talks to me about how she is worried because he is "too slow" when he does his homework. I think I would be a bit more worried about some behavior issues than his "slow speed" of completing homework. But she does not seem to be concerned about those issues and just says, "Oh he's a bit naughty" and then she laughs nervously, and we talk about something else. Another young girl who has just started High School has taken up violin lessons. Her parents use her one morning a week when she does not have school (Sunday) to drag her to violin lessons. Perhaps she is excited about her violin skills, but inside I can't help feeling that these kids are being pushed to their limits and perhaps also to their breaking point.

At the same time, it is true that in China, one' s academic success, especially while younger does largely determine their fate in life. In America, we have so many examples of how people jump from rags to riches. But in China, this idea is not as common or much of a reality. People's jobs are either determined by their parents' position in society or by their ability to excel academically, namely doing well on their college entrance examination so that they can make it into a top University in their desired field.

It seems like the best form of parenting would be a combination of both, expecting, but perhaps not demanding academic excellence while also giving children opportunity to develop socially along with their peers. With that said, I still have no idea which is the right or best way to parent and thankfully for now, I don't have to.

1 comment:

bitsyinchina said...

I think you're very right, Portia. Moderation in all things! I remember a friend of mine, the father of 3 teenagers at the time, telling me the most difficult thing about parenting was adjusting his style to each individual kid. There is no 'one way'-- there are many ways to train and hone your children. Fortunately, we have Someone to help us who knows the depths of our children's hearts.