Chinese Parent Amy Chua Talks Extreme Discipline and Parenting Regrets

Filed under: In The News, Behavior, Books for Parents, Celeb News & Interviews

amy chua family picture

Author Amy Chua and her family. Credit: The Penguin Press

Amy Chua is getting a lot of flack these days for her parenting style, which she calls the Chinese way. It revolves around total respect for parents, heavy math and language drills and hours and hours of music lessons (piano or violin only!). Lots of verbal abuse, such as calling your kid garbage if he or she screws up. As for TV, video games and play dates, they don't even register on the child's schedule.

In Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, the Yale law school professor sets out to explain why she thought the Chinese approach to raising kids was superior to the Western way. And why her rebellious daughter is making her regret some of those choices. An edited version of our chat with Chua follows.

ParentDish: What is the Chinese way and how does it differ from Western child rearing?
Amy Chua: I'm using the term "Chinese parent" very loosely -- it's really more of an immigrant mentality. Basically, I'm describing the way that my parents raised me, with a very strong emphasis on academic excellence and fewer choices. I wasn't allowed to do a lot of things when I was little that other people got to do.

PD: There's been a lot of buzz lately that Chinese parents will only accept perfection from their children. True?
I think what the Chinese parent is conveying to the child is not "You have to get an A or I will reject you," but "I believe in you so much that I believe you can be excellent, and I will be in the trenches with you and I'm not going to let you give up." In the end, the Chinese approach is not about A's and achievement, but it's really about helping your child be the best that they can be, and that's usually better than they think.

PD: Did you find it hard to deal with when you were a kid?
In retrospect, my parents having high expectations for me, coupled with love, was the greatest gift that they could give me and it's why I decided to parent my own two children the same way.

PD: What do you reject from Western parenting styles?
For me the biggest difference is that Western parents worry much more about their children's self-esteem whereas Chinese parents don't. They assume strength rather than fragility, and because of that that they behave very differently. A lot of the techniques and things they say seem very harsh to Westerners.

PD: How did your daughters respond?
AC: With my first daughter, Sophia. things went very smoothly, and I think I got a little cocky and I thought, 'Parenting is easy.' Then my second daughter, Lulu, came along; she's a real fireball and I got my comeuppance. From day one, it was always a little bit rocky, but then at 13, Lulu rebelled. It was a real crisis for me, she rebelled against my strictness but also seemingly against everything I stood for.

PD: You write in the book about a big blowup with Lulu, after which you eased up a bit and let her make more of her own choices. If you could go back, would you do things differently?
I would probably do the same thing with minor adjustments. I have many regrets. I wish that I hadn't been so harsh at the time. I wish I hadn't lost my temper. I wish that I'd paid a little more attention to the individual personalities of my two children. I think I would have given my daughters, in retrospect, a little more choice. They have much more freedom now. I'm very, very proud of my girls. They are confident, happy girls with huge personalities.

PD: Did you wind up with a different view of parenting overall?
AC: Very much so. This is still a work in progress. I'm not saying that the Chinese way is the best approach and that it's for everybody. At the end, I wondered if a hybrid approach is better.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.