The Chinese Mom Gets Her Just Desserts: Does Strict Parenting Spell Success?

Filed under: Development: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Development: Big Kids, Development: Tweens, Development: Teens

Amy Chua, aka The Chinese Mom, author of "The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom," is the woman who rejected her 4-year-old's homemade birthday card because it wasn't good enough. I could argue her no playdates, no second-place child-rearing regime is an attempt at control in a complicated world. I could speculate that it's a middle finger to the reigning parenting culture with its everybody-wins-a-medal, let's-talk-it-out while I drive you and your five friends to the birthday party.

Or I could treat the Tiger Mom to some of her own medicine.

She wants results. I got them.

Bring on the results, the cold hard evidence. Does "Chinese parenting" help kids? Or is it the fast track to an adulthood spent in therapy? Here's what we know:

Authoritarian parenting. These parents, like Chua, cherish rules and expectations but not negotiation or warm fuzzy moments. We got piles of evidence children raised by strict, stern parents aren't as well-adjusted or successful as those with "authoritative" parents who show more affection and wiggle room ("Tell me, honey, why did you hit your brother?").

Make that kids raised in the U.S. and other cultures that value individuality and independence.

Chinese kids do just fine with authoritarian parents. They often appear better off than those with authoritative parents. Cross-cultural studies suggest people raised in cultures that value interdependence perceive tough love as a sign of affection. The fate of Chinese American kids -- those raised in the U.S. by Chinese or other non-Western authoritarian parents -- that's another question under investigation in a large study right now by Chinese-American researcher Ruth Chao.

Self-Esteem. Cross-cultural studies also find strict parenting by itself doesn't lower self-confidence. How kids perceive it is key. If you think mommy doesn't find you all that, you got issues. Affluent teenage girls appear especially vulnerable to mommy's disapproval, but most of this data comes from studies on white U.S. youths. By the way, psychologist Roy Baumeister, the man who put self-esteem on a pedestal back in the '70s now regrets it. Says it's overrated.

Praise. It may be overrated, too. Research shows applause can backfire if parents focus on results ("Awesome drawing!") or innate abilities ("You're an amazing artist!") rather than efforts ("You worked so hard!"). Kids told they're smart over and over attribute achievements to their brains and not their efforts. Bad grades mean they're not smart, so hey, why bother studying next time. Good grades mean they're smart, so why study? Non-Westerner parents tend to attribute success more to effort than talent or ability and that's good for motivating kids. Tiger Mom obviously believes in the power of practice and hard work at least in so much as it achieves stellar results. Unfortunately, anything less is failure.

What else? There's been mention of high suicide rates among Asian American youths, though the stats are inconsistent. There's also some talk about a lack of creativity in Asian parenting, but not much there to pick apart either. However, lots of research attests to the benefits of social intelligence and how the most successful adults aren't the smartest but the most socially gifted. So the birthday parties and sleepovers aren't mere child's play, but productive work sessions. Any fun, thus, icing on the cake.

No, I didn't read Chua's memoir because there's not going to be a test. Certainly Ms. Chua doesn't expect me or anyone to read it for pleasure.

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