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'Chinese Tiger Mother' Amy Chua -- Is Her Parenting a Form of Child Abuse?

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Amy Chua, a Yale law professor and the woman who has quickly become the infamous "Chinese Tiger mother," seems to be a taskmaster and a bully. I don't know her personally, but after reading the episodes she chose to put in her book, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," those are the nicest things I can find to say about her parenting techniques. The not so nice thing? I felt like Chua's accounts bordered on child abuse.

Chua's book is generating tons of heated discussion in online parenting circles thanks to the Wall Street Journal article highlighting it (first written about at Politics Daily by Helena Andrews) titled "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior." Nothing gets more attention and critique from mothers and the mom blogosphere than a new spin on the now-tired Mommy Wars narrative. At first blush, I thought Chua's story would be a humorous journey through the ups and downs of unbending rules and attention to detail in a world of children who are overly attached to their Wiis and their Facebook accounts. But her book, which Chua says she wrote after her "crisis" when her younger daughter announced she was quitting the violin, is actually scarier than that -- it's a shocking tale of extreme parenting.

While Chua may not be "Mommy Dearest," if another parent forced her young daughter to pull an all-nighter of piano practice, refusing to give her water or bathroom breaks, or tried to force a 3-year-old to do better at her first piano lesson by making her stand outside in 20-degree weather until she relented, I suspect that Social Services would be knocking at the door. At the very least, that mother or father would be subject to our pop culture scrutiny, a la Kate Gosselin.

By her own admission, Chua has called her daughters, Sophia and Lulu, "garbage," "worthless," "barbarian," "common," "low," and "disgusting." Chua's book is filled with anecdote after anecdote about how she wields unrelenting command and control over her girls, threatening to burn her children's stuffed animals and treating them cruelly:
I threatened [Lulu] with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas and no Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing [her piano piece] wrong, I told her she was purposefully 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.
I was truly shocked by Chua's actions and the cavalier tone she used to write about them. Simply put, Chua does not come off well no matter how hard she tries to back-pedal on her promotional tour. In the aftermath of readers expressing outrage over her parenting techniques, which I am hoping were exaggerated for literary effect, Chua has been telling anyone willing to listen that "Tiger Mother" should be read as a tongue-in-cheek account of a humbling parenting journey. She told Diane Rehm this week on NPR:
I . . . know many Chinese people who do not parent this way. So what I put in the book, I mean, is partly tongue in cheek, I said, ''What a Chinese mother believes,'' and this is me, by the way, at the beginning of the book because the book is a journey and I do change.
There is little evidence of a humbleness evolution in her book however. Amy Tiemann of Mojo Mom blog concurs, saying that despite Chua's protestations to the contrary, she read the book as completely serious and uncompromising:
I realize that there are many ways to be a good parent. But I assigned myself the task of actually reading Chua's book and forcing myself to come down on one side or another: Do I think that it's acceptable to treat your children the way Chua raised her daughters? My answer is, no, it's not okay. If the behavior described in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is not abusive perfectionism, what is?
Given her views, I suspect Chua would scoff at the recent article about families returning to the pleasures of playtime with their children. And odds are "The Blessing of a B-" is not in her stack of bedside reading.

Some writers in the online Asian community are highly critical about the fact that Chua seems to celebrate this parenting style. One Asian blogger wrote a post entitled, "Parents like Amy Chua are the reasons why Asian-Americans like me are in therapy." And Cynthia Liu writes at K12 News Network that there are too many stories of sad consequences in young adults who have been raised with the take-no-prisoners parenting approach reflected in Chua's book, including suicide and long-term depression:

The wreckage from the lives I've seen as a result of this high-stakes parenting outnumbers the glowing "success" stories I'm well aware exist. After all, we can't all be number one. That's why I'm puzzled as to why Amy Chua would want to repeat the kind of parenting she experienced with her own children.

There's nothing wrong with being strict with one's children or having rigorous standards. Maryland mom Jessica McFadden describes herself as a Western mom with Chinese mom tendencies, requiring her children to do math and spelling drills, and buying her 7-year-old son a free-standing basketball hoop to practice when he wanted to quit the sport. But McFadden's accounts of her parenting style, as tiger-like as she thinks they may be, come nowhere close to those of Chua, a woman who confesses to being disappointed about her older daughter's Carnegie Hall debut, as well as the handmade birthday cards crafted by her children.

"The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" is already a success -- it's currently ranked No. 4 in sales on Amazon. I suspect "Tiger Mother" will be on the other best seller lists sooner rather than later because even if parents are shocked at Chua's methods, we are still a society of competitive helicopter parents who know that it's become increasingly difficult to get our kids into college and even harder for them to find good jobs when they graduate. In our 'please give me the secret to perfect parenting' culture, if one mother is viewed as having a magic wand, or should I say a magic whip, for turning one's child into a prodigy with Ivy League potential, even if the methods seem harsh, there is sure to be a substantial audience.

As a "Dog Mother" of a "Rabbit Daughter" who plays a little violin, I know first-hand that it's usually a struggle to persuade kids to practice the instruments they've chosen or been forced to choose. We all know that there are few who will practice on their own and that parents need to be involved on some level to help their children gain a positive experience from learning to play music or any other endeavor that requires time and effort. But in a world where our children are increasingly victims of a culture of perfectionism, celebrating a memoir of parenting that harshly judges any parents who don't push their children in the same way that Chua did, and that suggests that extreme parental harshness is the key to any child's success, is dangerous.

I want my daughter to succeed in life and enjoy it. I want her to practice her violin and get her homework done before she's allowed to watch some TV (shhh!). I have to believe it's possible to accomplish that without resorting to abusive tactics. Clearly, Chua (or her publicist) has sparked a flame. But I think it's one most of us can agree should be be put out quickly before it spreads. And I pray that my daughter, as Chua's did, never compares me to Lord Voldemort.
Filed Under: Race Issues, Woman Up, Culture

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When in the book did Chua force her 3 year old daughter to stand outside in 20 degree weather? Yes she took her daughter over to the door and opened it and threatened her with it, it was Lulu who stepped outside and refused to come back in. Which left Chua begging pleading and bribing her daughter. Amy lost that battle. Do I think she was too harsh in her parenting. Absolutely. However this was her experience in parenting, not what she was instructing others to do. In the end she admitted it didn't always work and she gave in and learned to compromise. Really is she any worse then parents who do not care if their kids do well in school, never make sure they eat a decent meal, allow them to stay up all hours of the day and night, allowed to spend hours upon hours on the internet and watching all the TV they want. That is horrible parenting as well. Obviously they are both extreme and the majority of parents fall somewhere in the middle.

March 15 2011 at 7:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Wow. As a mother, I am wondering which America I'm living in. All around me I see teenagers who do not work for anything yet demand everything that money can buy and who are incapable of taking responsibility for their own actions and choose to act like helpless victims of circumstance. And the parents who do nothing but reinforce these kinds of attitudes and behaviors because they never want to make their child feel "not good enough." I do NOT see children becoming "increasingly victims of a culture of perfectionism."

Rather, I see children becoming victims of the mentality that refuses to appreciate giftedness and excellence - that in fact is almost embarrassed by it. Shame on us for telling exceptional children that they must hide their pride in achievement in order to keep from making those who didn't achieve the same feel bad. And shame on us for not pushing our children to be the very best, for allowing them to settle for mediocrity. I find it somewhat ironic that in order to avoid making our children feel like they aren't good enough by demanding excellence from them, we tell them that they aren't good enough to be the best (i.e., not everyone can be #1) - and then somehow try to make that okay.

Similar to "Tiger Mother" I fully believe that my children CAN achieve and do not accept anything less than the best from them. While I have never refused my child a bathroom break or a meal, I do believe that I know what is best for my kids and sometimes you do have to override their own desires.

They are CHILDREN - they simply do not have the life experience to know what is best. They would eat junk food for dinner and watch TV for hours on end, rather than eat healthy vegetables and study their math homework so they can eventually go to college and get a good job. I don't see much difference between those examples and the examples Tiger Mother used such as refusing to allow a child to participate in a school play as it will interfere with their academic studies.

Furthermore, when it comes right down to it, my kids KNOW how much I love them. I even explicitly tell them that I love them too much to allow them to be helpless underachievers who never do anything they can be proud of. And as much as they might fight me, at the end of the day they feel good about *themselves when they master a new skill or get a good grade.

January 25 2011 at 3:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I saw Chua try to say that it was all a joke on tv shows, but I am sure that it was not written as a joke. Many years ago, I was waiting for my daughter's ballet class to begin and watching the class of really young girls before hers. One tiny adorable little chinese girl was still in diapers, and when the class was over, her mother yelled at her and said that she didn't think she had danced her best that day. The mother said over and over that she didn't think that she deserved to eat lunch. I was shocked. The mother keep asking her if she thought she danced well enough to deserve lunch until finally, the dance teacher, half asian herself, came over and said that she should have lunch. She danced well enough to eat lunch because she was still in diapers and food is a basic need. I was ready to report her to CPS. After that day, I realized that when all the school award ceremonies are dominated by the asian children, there is a reason why. I wanted a more balanced, happy life for my children and I never put that kind of extreme pressure on them for any reason.

January 23 2011 at 4:08 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I personally welcome any provocative book that elicits strong feelings, prompting conversation about raising our children. As a college consultant, I wouldn’t mind a judicious sprinkling of the Eastern approach in raising American high school students.

Parental involvement varies across the board in our society, from abject neglect to hypermanaging. Ironically, helicoptering in our culture seems more about micromanaging a kid’s resume and decisions than being engaged with the substance of learning.

By contrast, I was struck by Chua’s description of Tiger Moms’ hands-on role in their children’s academics from Day One: “It’s true that Chinese mothers get in the trenches, putting in long grueling hours personally tutoring…” We’ve all known parents who attend every soccer game, but have no idea what their student is studying in history, or what he got on the last test.

Some parents are so long on self-esteem (or ego) and so short on drive to build their child’s competencies, that they unwittingly create unrealistic expectations for college admission. The child is given a sense of entitlement to be accepted at an elite college, without the qualifications for today’s competitive college marketplace.

I could do without the harsh, in-your-face style, but Chua's belief in her children and her "get in the trenches" approach to help them build competencies can teach American parents a great deal.

January 20 2011 at 9:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I don't disagree with any of the commenters who say there are many different valid approaches to parenting. Of course there are. But I still have a big question in my head about the extreme techniques -- making your three-year-old stand out in 20 degree weather until she complies with piano lessons? Withholding water and bathroom privileges? Don't think I'll ever do that to my daughter no matter how uncompliant she is.

January 19 2011 at 4:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Why does there only have to be one correct parenting approach? Some children can handle a stricter parent with ease however some children are much more sensitive and need encouraging in order to gain confidence to do better. Cater your parenting to your child's needs instead of copying "techniques" from other parents who may or may not be successful. Chua's children may have been able to handle strict Tiger Mom but like the writer of another blog, they can end up with depression, BPD, or PTSD. Find out what works best for YOUR children.

January 18 2011 at 10:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to valgaavmiko's comment

I agree with you. I am Southeast Asian descent and my parents ruled with an iron fist. I have four siblings and myself was a very sensitive child. I did not take well to the discipline which I felt was harsh at times. My other siblings seem to take the discipline better than me and do not regret the way they were raised.

January 19 2011 at 3:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

When you look at her children and see their joy and love for their mother how can you say she is not doing a outstanding job. When I went thru Basic training in the military some of it was hard but when you get in battle it pays off. Our responsibality as parents are to train our children to be productive citizens.

January 18 2011 at 11:21 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Started reading this articles, and just stopped after a couple of paragraphs, saying to myself//"Why am I reading this " S..T "? I feel for the poor children , but also find myself feeling sorry for the poor woman who seems to be so abusive in her need to be totally in control. What a gift motherhood can be if used to express and experience that wonderful love that can flow back and forth between mother and child.

January 18 2011 at 9:07 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
zygi & paris

Our way of thinking and doing are quite different from the Asian way. That does not make it wrong or incorrect. These children are born into a culture that is high in expectation. If you watch these children as teenagers and adults, they are more reserved and respectful. This is because of their upbringing. I am certain that this mother has love for her children in disciplining them. Perhaps if we too employed some of her tactics (on a softer level, because our children are not used to this way) our children would not be commiting serious crimes in and out of school. One of the things that I find most enjoyable is their respect for their elders. Compare ours children's idea of respect to theirs. I also enjoy their humbleness, which is certainly hard to find here.

January 18 2011 at 8:50 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Are you nuts? Any parent that uses these tactics must be! Again, I will say as I have in the past its a shame that anyone can just have a child. This woman should be ashamed of herself. There are no "buts" or "I can see why" or its a "cultural thing" ~ its simple to see that this woman is not complete in the brain department. I feel for her offspring and I hope someone somewhere reads her book and investigates it. I will not read her book but I'm sure its not the last we will hear of it. She will be sensationalized because of extreme tactics. That is what is sad about this race we call human.

January 18 2011 at 8:45 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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