Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Tiger mom or just crazy conservative mom?

So, I am guessing many of you read the WSJ article by Amy Chua on her new book on parenting, called the "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother".
Well, you should've known about it since it cause so much controversy and attention, including one blogpost that simple write "PS. You Suck" (most of the sentences start with "And Fuck you..")

The whole story can be summed up by these few lines
"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 the piano or violin"

abit harsh parenting techniques?
I have to say, regardless of whether or not it is painful to admit, my parent's parents and up to my parent's generation took this "Tigerness" as a rule of thumb guide to parenting. Although the intensity of it was not as strong as Mrs. Chua's - for example, i think everyone was allowed to have play dates and watch TV.
The whole point is that this Confucius parenting style which used to be hailed as a good parenting technique, is no longer the case for several downsides our societies saw due to it.

20 or so years ago, we all learned about the wonderful mother Shim Saimdang the great mother of scholar Yi I - how she cut rice cakes in the dark, while she made her son write Chinese calligraphy over and over again.... yeah, he achieved much. he became the great politician and spread Confucianism throughout Korea. (yeah, well done, go pat yourself on the back) This was THE way to raise your child, or so people thought those days.
This great tradition of raising your children was still seen when I was going to highschool - mind you this is 20 years ago. Yet, although there were strict parents, they were not that strict as Ms. Chua put it as it should be.

However, this is now not the case, and the reason is because the problems started to outweigh the benefits.

One of the reasons for this parenting was that this is an effective parenting technique when you have several children (like 7, which my dad's family had) and not enough time to actually respond to them as individuals. One of the core key element of Confucius teaching/parenting techniques is that you set the rules, children are to abide by it, and no questions asked. IF you have 7~10 children running around, perhaps it is easier to raise children as such. However, about 30~40 years ago, when people started having 1 or 2 children, this method ceased to have its perks due to that with this small number of children, it was easy to see them as what they were. Individuals.

In addition, this strict method actually decreased the much necessary technique of being creative. I remember although I was one of the best in art class when I was in the US, and was even toying with the idea of becoming an artist, when I came back to Korea that ambition went straight down the toilet. Why? because the teachers, using the same Confucius techniques, told me exactly what to draw, how to do it, and how to colour I should use etc. When I told them that is not what I want to do, they told me it was wrong and punished me either by giving me a bad grade and/or giving me (those days physical) punishment for talking back. That really killed the inner creativity of Korea, not just for me but for many of us. That is why we have one of the highest shares of technically skilled "artists" in the world, but we end up in sweat shops colouring in The Simpson's cartoon as designed by the Americans. This is why we hear all these stories of how in the prestigious music conservatories across the world, countless numbers of students from Asia come to study classical music, but fail to get admission. This is not because of their technical skills, which is far better than the other students, but their soul is missing, or they do not have any creativity in how they play. Having been forced to play an instrument for several years - without having a personal urge to do so, like Amy Chua is doing to her kids, - I can imagine why your piano playing will not sound joyful although technique wise it is perfectly played.(and yes, I don't care if your child played at a great concert hall, all I care is whether or not if she or he was able to enjoy that, feel the energy of the composer and was able to digest it as her own) With an even greater emphasis on creativity and uniqueness in this day and age, the strict top-down parenting techniques do not provide the necessary skills for the children of today and in the future.

Even if creativity was not a big issue, the strict parenting, especially of fathers, resulted in major family crises. Fathers were being left out of the family since he was always the (more) strict one, also combined with the crazy working hours of the Korean workforce, this meant that fathers after awhile were strangers to the family, no longer able to connect with anyone. Thus, in the past decade or so, there have been several courses offered in Korea for fathers to start getting in touch with their families and themselves emotionally.

The emphasis on education and high expectation on academic achievement led to one of the highest PISA scores and the (second) highest college graduate rate in the world. However, Korea also has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, many of which are Korean high-school students who believe they are worthless due to their low academic achievement, and others who under the strict parenting regime never learned to love themselves because of the fact that they did not achieve as much as they were told they needed to. Nor did they learn the skills to accept failure, not focus on it, but embrace other things that are still thriving in their lives.

So the fact of the matter is, we need to decide: do we want higher academic achieving non creative kids who killed themselves? or happy creative unique kids who are alive?

Why is Amy Chua and so many Asian American(other countries?) mothers applying such rules even when the "old country" has abandoned them? I think this may be due to the phenomenon that the Asian-Americans tend to latch on to the traditional values they knew when they (or their parents) left the country. Whereas the country itself changes in a very dynamic way and changes its values and norms accordingly. In addition, you have to understand that Asian-Americans are still minorities who are under racist societies. More than the Asians in Asia, they need to prove themselves that they are not second rate citizens, but that they are actually better than the majority. One way of doing that is to show that they can out-do everyone in the most commonly appreciated things, such as social position, income generation, education achievement etc. It is abit sad to see that even the second, third generations have to suffer from all this as well. Especially, when these achievements have really nothing to do with how happy or satisfied this person is. These are mostly attributions that are needed to show others what a great life you have and what others see as your achievements. All you achieve then is happiness through other people's eyes, but not of your own. But I mean, you won't make a statement by making well rounded individuals, or it is much more noticeable when you make rich or high educational achieving individuals.

Having said all this, one thing we must embrace about this tiger mother, is that she never gives up. Her efforts in supporting her children is endless and even when the child feels hopeless, the Mom is always there in 100% belief that her child has a gift for everything. Given in the right dosage, this is a wonderful thing to have as a child.(again given in the right dosage. oh yeah, the cynicism of (some and definitely my) East Asian moms are also fantastic to make sure you don't take yourself too seriously)

---ps. I must've written this in such a haste, because re-reading it, it is sooo full of grammatical and spelling mistakes, it is rather embarrassing. I hope you didn't mind (you the reader, yes you there, who is still reading up to here!)

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