Parenting styles are often highly debated, from the woman in Alaska who disciplined her son with Tabasco sauce to self-prescribed ‘Tiger Mom’ Amy Chua, whose ‘tough love’ discipline style has garnered national attention. Neither of these stories are particularly new, but they remain relevant. Many say that parents such as these are being abusive toward their children; others feel that they are on the right track. Is a ‘tough love’ parenting approach too hard on our children, or is it merely preparing them for a successful future in an increasingly competitive world?
Chua, author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother has been criticized because of her strict parenting style, consisting of hours of math drills, never accepting a grade less than an ‘A’, and rejecting homemade birthday cards from her daughter because she felt they were not up to par. In addition, her children were prohibited from watching television, and going to sleepovers, school plays and play dates.
Chua herself was raised with such a parenting style by her Chinese parents. Western moms have questioned her apparent lack of compassion or acceptance and commented via Meredith Viera on the Today show, “The way she raised her kids is outrageous.” To that, Chua counters, “Everything I do as a mother builds on a foundation of love and compassion.” Chua went on to say that the goal behind pushing her daughters so far was, in fact, their happiness, and that the drive to achieve was merely a method to help them find “fulfillment in a life’s work.”
Chua admits that her extreme parenting methods were not always successful. She relates that her second child, Lulu, was intent on defying her mother every step of the way. Whereas Sophia, her eldest, followed her mother’s direction and was expected to practice the violin for hours per day— without bathroom breaks and often through dinner— Lulu outright refused. Chua was forced to admit defeat.
Still, she insists that her methods are sound, implying that Western methods are too ‘soft.’ ‘“To be perfectly honest, I know that a lot of Asian parents are secretly shocked and horrified by many aspects of Western parenting,” including “how much time Westerners allow their kids to waste — hours on Facebook and computer games — and in some ways, how poorly they prepare them for the future. “It’s a tough world out there.” ‘
Though many Western parents are appalled at such a strict parenting style–and admittedly Chua is not the latest to adopt it or the worst offender–there is evidence that suggests children may be better for it in the long run. Editor-at-large of Psychology Today Magazine Hara Estroff Marano states, “ Children who have never had to test their abilities grow into ‘emotionally brittle’ young adults who are more vulnerable to anxiety and depression.” Simply speaking, children who are not protected from hardship learn how to make their own decisions, overcome adversity, and gain confidence in their abilities. Likewise, there is evidence that suggests children who are praised for hard work (as in the Chinese culture) are more likely to seek out challenging opportunities than those praised for intelligence (as in Western culture).
Another method to Chua’s supposed madness was to drill her daughter in math, using a stopwatch, every night for a week. According to University of Virginia psychology professor Daniel Willingham, the old adage of ‘practice makes perfect’ is true; “If you repeat the same task again and again it will eventually become automatic. Your brain will literally change so that you can complete the task without thinking about it.” This makes it easier for the brain to expend its energy on other, more intricate tasks. In a nutshell, by insisting that her daughter master multiplication through rote repetition, Chua’s daughter’s brain could move onto higher-functioning activities and relegate math to the background.
It should be pointed out that, although the ‘Tiger Mom’ approach is associated with Chinese mothers, this method is not linked with any one ethnicity. There are many cultures that follow similar approaches. Alternatively, there are many Chinese educators that are leaning toward a more relaxed Western-style educational method.
Since writing the book, Chua has admittedly relaxed in the parenting department. Her children are allowed extras such as dating and tennis instead of just schoolwork and instrument practice. Interestingly, her daughters have stated that they, too, will be strict parents.
What do you think? Is ‘tough love’ too tough or does Chua have the right idea?