08 January 2011

Amy Chua's Tiger Mother Parenting 2, With Photographs

Amy Chua in WSJ

In photographs, Amy Chua's daughters appear happy and confident. If you read Amy Chua's article in the Wall Street Journal, you will find that the apparent confidence and self esteem did not come easily. It required much work and much time devoted to achieving competence. Remember Al Fin's cardinal rule of child-raising? First competence, then self-esteem naturally follows.
...even when Western parents think they're being strict, they usually don't come close to being Chinese mothers. For example, my Western friends who consider themselves strict make their children practice their instruments 30 minutes every day. An hour at most. For a Chinese mother, the first hour is the easy part. It's hours two and three that get tough.

... In one study of 50 Western American mothers and 48 Chinese immigrant mothers, almost 70% of the Western mothers said either that "stressing academic success is not good for children" or that "parents need to foster the idea that learning is fun." By contrast, roughly 0% of the Chinese mothers felt the same way. Instead, the vast majority of the Chinese mothers said that they believe their children can be "the best" students, that "academic achievement reflects successful parenting," and that if children did not excel at school then there was "a problem" and parents "were not doing their job." Other studies indicate that compared to Western parents, Chinese parents spend approximately 10 times as long every day drilling academic activities with their children. By contrast, Western kids are more likely to participate in sports teams. _WSJ

...nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a child starts to excel at something—whether it's math, piano, pitching or ballet—he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more.

...Western parents are extremely anxious about their children's self-esteem. They worry about how their children will feel if they fail at something, and they constantly try to reassure their children about how good they are notwithstanding a mediocre performance on a test or at a recital. In other words, Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches. Chinese parents aren't. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.

...Here's a story in favor of coercion, Chinese-style.
Lulu was about 7, still playing two instruments, and working on a piano piece called "The Little White Donkey" by the French composer Jacques Ibert. The piece is really cute—you can just imagine a little donkey ambling along a country road with its master—but it's also incredibly difficult for young players because the two hands have to keep schizophrenically different rhythms.

Lulu couldn't do it. We worked on it nonstop for a week, drilling each of her hands separately, over and over. But whenever we tried putting the hands together, one always morphed into the other, and everything fell apart. Finally, the day before her lesson, Lulu announced in exasperation that she was giving up and stomped off.

"Get back to the piano now," I ordered.

"You can't make me."

"Oh yes, I can."

Back at the piano, Lulu made me pay. She punched, thrashed and kicked. She grabbed the music score and tore it to shreds. I taped the score back together and encased it in a plastic shield so that it could never be destroyed again. Then I hauled Lulu's dollhouse to the car and told her I'd donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn't have "The Little White Donkey" perfect by the next day. When Lulu said, "I thought you were going to the Salvation Army, why are you still here?" I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn't do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.

Jed took me aside. He told me to stop insulting Lulu—which I wasn't even doing, I was just motivating her—and that he didn't think threatening Lulu was helpful. Also, he said, maybe Lulu really just couldn't do the technique—perhaps she didn't have the coordination yet—had I considered that possibility?

"You just don't believe in her," I accused.

"That's ridiculous," Jed said scornfully. "Of course I do."

"Sophia could play the piece when she was this age."

"But Lulu and Sophia are different people," Jed pointed out.

"Oh no, not this," I said, rolling my eyes. "Everyone is special in their special own way," I mimicked sarcastically. "Even losers are special in their own special way. Well don't worry, you don't have to lift a finger. I'm willing to put in as long as it takes, and I'm happy to be the one hated. And you can be the one they adore because you make them pancakes and take them to Yankees games."

I rolled up my sleeves and went back to Lulu. I used every weapon and tactic I could think of. We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn't let Lulu get up, not for water, not even to go to the bathroom. The house became a war zone, and I lost my voice yelling, but still there seemed to be only negative progress, and even I began to have doubts.

Then, out of the blue, Lulu did it. Her hands suddenly came together—her right and left hands each doing their own imperturbable thing—just like that.

Lulu realized it the same time I did. I held my breath. She tried it tentatively again. Then she played it more confidently and faster, and still the rhythm held. A moment later, she was beaming.

"Mommy, look—it's easy!" After that, she wanted to play the piece over and over and wouldn't leave the piano. That night, she came to sleep in my bed, and we snuggled and hugged, cracking each other up. When she performed "The Little White Donkey" at a recital a few weeks later, parents came up to me and said, "What a perfect piece for Lulu—it's so spunky and so her."

Even Jed gave me credit for that one. Western parents worry a lot about their children's self-esteem. But as a parent, one of the worst things you can do for your child's self-esteem is to let them give up. On the flip side, there's nothing better for building confidence than learning you can do something you thought you couldn't.
The point is not that every parent should raise her child like a Chinese Tiger Mother. The point is that "conventional wisdom" in parenting is not only not-wise, it is full of shit. Self esteem is a desirable result of competence, not an end in itself. Modern western societies are raising incompetent lifelong adolescents -- but they have great self-esteem. At least until they catch on to how they've been shortchanged.

Not every child is the same. Some will respond better to coercion than others. Some will find their strength early and follow it eagerly, with minimal encouragement. But some structure is almost certainly necessary in the early, formative years. Some skills almost always have to be drilled repeatedly, at first.

Amy Chua: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

Al Fin: Amy Chua's Tiger Mother Parenting Part 1

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Blogger LossOfGravity said...

Regrettably, Ms. Chua's exaggerated remarks are an embarrassment to her wonderful family (nice photos), Chinese culture, the Wall Street Journal, my alma mater (Yale) as well as to her. It is as if she was never served a slice of Americana despite her success here in America. Is the Wall Street Journal a proponent of material success at any cost? Perhaps the idea that there can be no real commitment without choice should be rewritten - there can be no real commitment without coercion. I will not be reading any of Ms. Chua's books anytime soon.

Sunday, 09 January, 2011  
Blogger kurt9 said...

I highly recommend Amy Chua's book "World on Fire". She really squirms in trying to avoid HBD explanations for the differences between "market dominant minorities" and the "sons of soil".

The best part of her book was where she discussed Hernando de Solo's proposal to "formalize" the informal economies that predominate in South America. She dismisses his ideas on the basis that the "market dominant minorities" would still excel over the native peoples even if all were set equal in business and contract law in accordance to De Soto's proposal. However, she fails to discuss WHY this would be the case.

Sunday, 09 January, 2011  
Blogger Dave said...

Compare with the guy in this story:


Monday, 10 January, 2011  
Blogger al fin said...

Great link, Dave. Thanks!

Both Chua and her husbands are law school professors, by the way.

Monday, 10 January, 2011  
Blogger PRCalDude said...

Loss is right.

When I read, "Tiger Mother," I think "Weak Father." The picture screams this to me, as does a paragraph later in the article:

"Oh no, not this," I said, rolling my eyes. "Everyone is special in their special own way," I mimicked sarcastically. "Even losers are special in their own special way. Well don't worry, you don't have to lift a finger. I'm willing to put in as long as it takes, and I'm happy to be the one hated. And you can be the one they adore because you make them pancakes and take them to Yankees games."

The daughter on the lower right looks like she's already embraced being a slut to try to find the love and parental authority of her father in strange older men. There is nothing more sniveling and PC than a law school professor.

If you ever look through old photos of American families, the father is always at the center sitting with erect posture and a stern but confident look on his face. The children and wife gather around him in deferrment to his authority. Here, the father isn't even pictured. Mizz Chua may have an Eastern style of parenting, but she has surely embraced the Western style of shrewing.

The self-esteem revolution is new to Western parenting. Any worthwhile critique of Western parenting should center around that, not the fact that Western parents don't turn their kids into robots.

What is truly tragic is that her kids are probably competent at instruments but will eventually encounter natural proteges who practiced only a fraction of the time yet play way better. The kids will eventually realize that they could have spent all of those long hours doing something for which they had much more natural aptitude and desire and resent their parents, especially their witch of a mother.

Westerners like their kids playing sports because sports team participation most naturally translates into our style of warfare, business, and thinking. Each person on the team has their own important individual role but is dependent on the rest of the team doing their job for the team to be successful as a whole. Common purpose and esprit-de-corps used to be what the West was all about. Now everyone has a "grab what you can" mentality, just like the Chinese.

Incidentally, my father-in-law manufacturs in China and tells me all the time about the corruption there. His plant is over there for the wage arbitrage and business climate but he says the costs will be on par with his plant in Mexico in about 5 years. So I suspect that in 5 years we'll be hearing about plateauing growth in China and a bursting of their housing bubble. Indeed, much of China's GDP "growth" already is nothing more than inflationary monetary policies from the ChiCom central bank.

Monday, 10 January, 2011  
Blogger Tom Craver said...

Are we really to believe that inducing temper tantrums and screaming at a child somehow helped the daughter learn this new skill?

As opposed to Mom recognizing when her daughter was getting so frustrated she was about to give up, and encouraging her to try again the following day?

The brain needs some time to re-wire itself. Sure - push the kid to develop competence, but chances are good she'd have gotten the same skill in one more day of practice, as her brain finally got itself re-wired to work the hands separately, without all the drama.

For that matter, instead of just focusing on that one piece, Mom could have gotten creative and developed drills to help her daughter develop hand-separation skills that would likely have led to faster success.

Instead, "Tiger Mom" demonstrated the lack of creativity her extreme approach to teaching induces.

American Parents - do follow the "push for competence" model - but push yourself to be a more competent teacher, as well.

BTW - I don't consider the time spent learning to play music a waste just because the kids will find that music prodigies easily surpass them. Music creation can be its own reward - it isn't a contest in which the child needs to "win".

Monday, 10 January, 2011  
Blogger Wade said...

She must be different than the parents of the Chinese exchange students I saw sleeping in class in law school.

Monday, 10 January, 2011  
Blogger Unknown said...

You can be a Chinese mother without being Amy Chua's brand of Chinese mother...

Tuesday, 11 January, 2011  
Blogger Unknown said...

I find her obnoxious...and one dimensional. There's no depth to her thinking or methods. She has unfairly given "Chinese mothers" a bad name.

BTW if you really have "it," you need not flaunt it. And if you flaunt it, then you don't really have "it."

Tuesday, 11 January, 2011  
Blogger GOSSIPGIRL said...

LOLOL. when i heard amy chua was writing a book on parenting, i almost died laughing.

i've known both sophia and lulu for over 8 years, and almost half of what she says her children were "not allowed" to do is totally false. i've had over a dozen sleepovers with sophia; at her house, my house, or other friends houses. i can guarantee, and even have dozens of pictures and videos to prove it, that i've had well over 100 play dates with her, most of which consisted of us playing the sims 2, a well known computer game that she was obsessed with. she also loved games like age of empires, and that weird online game runescape. she even took a class on photoshop once. i vividly remember hanging out in her parent's bedroom watching those idiotic mtv reality shows and making fun of them for hours. at our school, literally everyone got a's. if the school didn't give everyone a's, we wouldn't have gotten into the top new england prep schools. sophia was definitely not always the first in her class; though she was insanely smart, she more than once came in second place. in other words, this book is grossly exaggerated.

sadly, i'm not friends with her any more, mostly due to the fact she hooked up with our mutual best friend's boyfriend, but that's another story. in fact, now that i think about it, she has almost no friends now, mostly due to acts like the one i described. sure, she's going to yale, but what kid from our school isn't? considering everyone who goes to our school is a legacy there anyway, or at least has parents who teach there. sophia's a pretty awful person now, and i would mostly blame her parents for that fact.

i'm pretty sure no one here will believe any of this story, and i'll get some angry feedback, but whatever, it needed to be said from someone who knows them.

LOLOLOL. i'm sorry, i still can't stop laughing.

Tuesday, 11 January, 2011  
Blogger Book PR Girl said...

Writer Patty Chang Anker is an evolved Chinese Mother. Read today's Huffington Post piece here http://www.huffingtonpost.com/patty-chang-anker/chinese-mother-evolve_b_807332.html
I'd like to hear Ms. Anker and Ms. Chua discuss parenting styles!

Tuesday, 11 January, 2011  
Blogger al fin said...

Charles Murray has what seems to be the best take on Chua's parenting:
"To get a little bit serious: large numbers of talented children everywhere would profit from Chua’s approach, and instead are frittering away their gifts—they’re nice kids, not brats, but they are also self-indulgent and inclined to make excuses for themselves. There are also large numbers of children who are not especially talented, but would do a lot better in school if their parents applied the same intense home supplements to their classroom work."

To those who seem to have blown an engine over Chua's schtick: Amy is no doubt laughing at all her critics all the way to the bank. Authors are told by many editors to use provocation and hyperbole in their writing to get wider attention.

As mentioned in the article, this is not an endorsement of Chua's parenting method. It is only an illustration of the work it sometimes takes to instill competence in children.

Conventional parenting in the west is neglectful, by comparison, and adds much less value to the child than it could. Children suffer in later life as a result.

Something tells me that there be trolls here. Take some of the above comments with a dram of mag sulfate.

Wednesday, 12 January, 2011  
Blogger Will said...

Bravo! Finally a mother who is willing to state her views authentically and challenge the laziness of parents who settle for their children's mediocrity. I applaud her energetic efforts to do her best to parent her daughters. I envy her for being so clear about what she thinks a successful child should look like. I recognize her warrior spirit to fight for her beliefs and never give up. Her dedication and love for her parents is something that I long to feel as an adult.

My wife forwarded me the WSJ article because as she started reading it, she thought it was a joke, until she couldn't find the punch line. Because I have studied, travelled or done business in China since 1988, she thought I would have some unique insights. I do.

Chua has a keen affection for opening discussion topics that insight vitriolic exchanges. The essay has been edited as sensationalist marketing piece that sparks the interest of the mainstream media puppets. Unfortunately, she will fool and mislead many Americans and disgrace many of her Chinese compatriots.

She is a lazy mother and should be ashamed of herself. Chua has taken the easiest path as a mother, the way of her ancestors. She treats her kids the way her mother mistreated her. Most parents do so, thereby ensuring a tumultuous evolutionary future for humankind.

Chua is so smug with her college degrees, citing ivory tower academic studies that never let reality stand in the way of their conclusions. She has grown comfortable in her affluent American lifestyle, posing happily with her kids. For her, it is all about saving face and how her children can support her looking good.

Chua is amazing! She embodies the worst of both Eastern and Western cultures. She has a Chinese sense of superiority coupled with American arrogance. Any sense of humility and tolerance clearly skipped her gene pool. We are all accidents of our place and time of birth. If the powers that be played the same cruel joke on other first generation Chinese-American moms, then perhaps they are handling it more gracefully.

Wednesday, 12 January, 2011  
Blogger Chiao Kee Lim said...

I read Chua's article and can relate to what she has written at many levels. Like many others, it stirred up a lot of emotions in me.
I was raised by the same Chinese parenting model and, naturally, have something to say about it. Even though it has worked for her daughters (or has it?), unfortunately, that model of parenting didn't really work for me. I had a lot of emotional issues as a result of that upbringing, and suffered from depression for 12 years. If you would like to read about my experience as a child raised under that type of model, you can find my blog post on

Chiao Kee

Thursday, 13 January, 2011  
Blogger OldSouth said...

Very, very interesting to read the responses to your post.

On my much less elegant blog, I posted thoughts about Ms. Chua's WSJ article.

The level of vitriol directed her way is huge, and I suspect folks may be trolling for places to comment--just a guess.

My dear bride and I, Anglos both, employed a little softer version the Tiger method, not knowing it would someday have a name or debate about it. We raised two, one in public school, one home-schooled, and both succeeded beautifully, and we all really like one another.

Having seen so many families snatch failure from the jaws of success, there is much that this approach offers. However, absent love, there is no 'perfect circle'.

As one poster noted, it is better to have a strong (but not cold) father in the house.

Thanks to one and all for their thoughts, in any case.

Friday, 14 January, 2011  
Blogger rseeao said...

TO begin with, I'd like to emphasise how satisfied I am for someone to finally tell that story. Doubtless, thousands if not millions of Asian and (on a smaller scale) Western children have had this learning model enforced on them, in varying degrees of moderation. However, in a world where there is far too much lingering beneath the surface, it is rare for anyone to come out with such an honest story- perhaps a bit brusque and brutally honest. This will undoubtedly leave Chua with strongly negative comments and attitudes, but it is important to understand difference. As an Asian teenager in a situation similar to that depicted, I must say that I learn with a mixture of both the Western and Eastern ways of thinking. Sure, I'm often pressured to do well at school, but I apply the same pressure on my parents for them to allow me to pursue something I enjoy. At the end of the day, Westerns and Easterns both need to deviate from their bike-track minds (think about the width) and accept differences. The Chinese way may bring about resentment and a bitter childhood, but this may be seen differently, in the light of success. The Western way will leave children with a profound memory of their enjoyable childhood, and perhaps less success in adulthood. As with everything else, these models are both useful in moderation. But a great thanks to Chua for opening up like that . It's rare nowadays .

Saturday, 15 January, 2011  
Blogger karma said...

I support your style 100%; being an asian dad myself. however I hope neither of your girl turns into likes of Asia Carrera.
good luck

Monday, 17 January, 2011  
Blogger AC said...

It's not the discipline I have a problem with. It's the implicit uber-materlialism. Competence in piano. Ok so what? Maybe I hate piano. Because it's hard and because it's something to brag about. Well guess what: that's as absurd as it's own ends as self esteem is.

Seriously. Orienting your life around "look what I did" "look how I'm better then you" is certainly no way to live. It's certainly not Christian.

At the end of the day what's china have to brag about? An authoritarian communist government and a huge supply of disposable labour that's all powered by coal and destroying the environment faster then my v8 suv. If that's the end result of teaching kids to work their fingers to the bone and not question authority then maybe I'll just take my liberal parenting and eat it too.

Seriously... Is this about evaluating Asian morals, or is it about western self-crisisizum of our own track records? I say the latter. Believe it or not we know a few things the Chinese dont

Wednesday, 19 January, 2011  
Blogger Elizabeth Blakely said...

Greetings all;
Has anyone read "The Ringing Cedars" series books by Vladimir Megre?
I highly recommend them for all parents of young children! At 4 years of age Anastasia's son(Anastasia is the adept that is speaking through these books)can accomplish a faster speed of thinking than a calculator. Why? He is raised in a pristine atmosphere, with pure food, air, water, brain enhansing pollen and a mother who knows how to make the child think logically. In fact these books are filled with the real purpose of life and Earth's true history in many things.
Please explore them! They will amke your heart sing!
Agnes Toews-Andrews
Canadian Spiritual Writer

Thursday, 27 January, 2011  
Blogger Unknown said...

I hate this mother. Her dogmatic ideology encloses her daughters' view on the real world. Basically she forced her daughters to have an incapability of thinking outside the box. This is a tragedy....

Sunday, 30 January, 2011  
Blogger K S Venkataraman said...

Child-rearing is a balancing act; and there are many variable factors to be carefully analyzed and taken into account. It is the duty of the parents to bring out the best in their children and instill self-confidence in their minds. Though there may be instances where the children could not understand the tough attitude of their parents, or teachers for that matter, I know a number of persons, who think of their strict parents / teachers fondly and thankfully, later on.

Thursday, 17 February, 2011  

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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