Chinese vs. Western parenting: which is number one?

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By Andrew Dinsmoor, Senior Staff Writer

Professor Amy Chua of Yale Law School is the author of “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” In the essay “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” Chua challenges Western parenting techniques, the aptitudes of its children and their work ethic. Chua points out that in Chinese culture, mothers also want the best for their children.  However, they have a different concept of how to make their children the best.

Chua wrote, “…the vast majority of the Chinese mothers said that they believe their children can be ‘the best’ students, that ‘academic achievement reflects successful parenting…'” The essay explained that Chinese mothers incessantly push their children to be the top violinists, the top math students, the valedictorians – and they expect nothing short of perfection.

In the Chinese parenting model, there are numerous restrictions in life: no television, nothing but A’s, no play dates, no sleepovers, no dating, no performances in school plays, no choosing your own extracurricular activities and no playing any instrument but violin or piano. If a student comes home with a B – which Chua wrote would never happen – the mother will sit down and work out hundreds of practice tests until that B is an A. Chinese parents will insult their children, calling them lazy, pathetic or garbage if they don’t perform to perfection in every aspect of life.

It’s easy to see where Chinese parenting diverges from Western-style parenting. In America, for example, kids are given individuality.  They choose to be in art, theatre, basketball or whatever interests them. Kids are allowed to indulge in the areas they love, whereas Chinese mothers believe they know what’s best and will often override the preferences of their children.

Chinese mothers believe it’s vital to force a kid to practice and practice until he or she is the best. Western parents allow children to try to build confidence on their own by allowing them to achieve in subjects about which they’re passionate. 

Don’t get me wrong. Chinese parents do want what’s best for their kids. But they are forgetting to nurture the driving force behind life: happiness. What is money good for if you have no one to share it with? What’s a vacation like without family and friends?

Chinese parents worry relentlessly about being the best and Chinese parents will sink to degrading and shaming their own children to produce these uniform perfectionists. Sure, calling your kid “dumb” might make them work to become smarter, but it will form relationships based on anger, resentment and fear between parent and child.

If you want to truly build confidence and show support, you use positive reinforcement. Studies have shown that sports coaches who use praises such as “Good job” rather than “You can do better, sissy” produce athletes that are more confident, involved and most importantly, spirited at practices. 

When I was in high school, I knew a girl, Beth Chen. Her family moved from China to America when she was 9 years old.  At Westside High School, she was a top student and never got less than an A. Yet instead of being happy, Beth was constantly stressed. Her mother was never satisfied, always telling Beth what she could be doing better. Sure, Beth had great grades, but they came at great cost — to Beth and her relationship with her mother.

This was the Chinese parenting model in action, and I witnessed the stress it put on a child by leaving little room for happiness.

In the end, Chinese mothers want what all mothers want: a successful, competent and independent child. You can’t blame them for that. China’s population is over 1.3 billion, and I remember Beth telling me that in China academic competition is so fierce that you have to be a cookie-cutter, straight-A student to even stand a chance at college acceptance.

Chinese colleges accept students based on their National Higher Education Entrance Exam scores – a two-to-three day exam that has been noted in Time Magazine as “the most pressure packed examination in the world.” More than 40 percent fail the test. Chinese mothers have developed lifestyles that will allow their children to achieve in this environment.  Necessity and survival must be kept in mind, and there’s a reason for the advent of the Tiger Mom.

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