Friday, May 18, 2012

MIKE JACOBS COLUMN/'Tiger Mother' spotlights parenting styles

Coaching and parenting is not ‘cookie cutter’ from the standpoint that all children can’t be coached or taught in the same fashion. In Amy Chua’s “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” we learn a valuable lesson about how expectations and demands on our children and players can vary.

Chua, who was born in Champaign, Illinois to parents who were of Chinese ethnicity from the Philippines and had emigrated to the United States, writes of her relentless commitment to make her two daughters successful. She raised her children in a strict manner, which she felt was contrary to what she interpreted as modern American standards.

An excerpt from her book references what she deemed as a cultural difference in parenting among Chinese parents and American parents-

“A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it’s like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I’ve done it. 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 #1 student in every subject except gym and drama; play any instrument other than the piano or violin; not play the piano or violin.”

Chua used the term “Chinese mother” loosely- she had met a very successful Caucasian male from South Dakota, and after sharing stories of their childhood, decided that his working-class father had definitely been a ‘Chinese mother’. Conversely, she also referenced mothers of Chinese heritage- almost always born in the West- who are not Chinese mothers, by choice or otherwise.

She references “Western parents” regularly in the book, and that was termed loosely. Chua felt Western parents come in all varieties, and that Westerners are far more diverse in their parenting styles than the Chinese. Some Western parents are strict, where others are lax. It’s important to know that when she uses the term “Western parents,” she is of course not referring to all Western parents—just as “Chinese mother” doesn’t refer to all Chinese mothers.

All the same, Chua described that even when ‘Western parents’ think they’re being strict, that they usually don’t come close to being ‘Chinese mothers’. As an example, she cited Western friends who consider themselves strict when they make their children practice their musical instruments thirty minutes every day. For a Chinese mother, she felt the first hour is the easy part - It’s hours two and three that get tough.

Chua also referenced that despite a level of discomfort when discussing cultural stereotypes, that there are tons of studies that show significant differences between Chinese and Westerners when it comes to parenting. She cited that 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.” In comparison, roughly 0% of the Chinese mothers felt the same. 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.”

Where Chua had implemented this strict parenting regime for her own children, she stressed in an interview on that there has to be a balance between parenting philosophies.

“As we head into the 21st century and global competition gets intense, simply emphasizing hard work and memorizing and long hours is not going to be enough.”

She criticized Americans for “deferring too quickly to their young kids’ choices”, but at the same time called on Asian parents at the other extreme to lessen their grasp once their kids become old enough.

“To me this type of parenting should be when kids are very young. I think it actually should start to end when they are around 11, 12, or 13,” said Chua, adding she mistakenly “went too far with it” with her daughters.

Whether the successful model for a parent is a ‘Chinese mother’ or ‘Western parent’ is for you to determine, but I do think that what can be drawn from the idea of ‘the Chinese mother’ is the higher level of expectations and demands. If we permit our children or players to be complacent or quit when things get tough, how will they ever learn? If they don’t set high standards for themselves, how can we hold them accountable to accomplish more for themselves? A foundation of hard work and commitment can create success in most areas.

I don’t know that I would describe myself as a ‘Chinese mother’, but I do think there are some core values that can be adapted from that style and applied to our own youth athletes.

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