Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Amy Chua is the celebrity...

...du jour. In case you haven't heard of her (yet), she's the author of a new book on parenting, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. In it, Chua describes her extreme Chinese method of parenting that demands excellence from her children. David Brooks describes it in his column this week:

Chua didn’t let her own girls go out on play dates or sleepovers. She didn’t let them watch TV or play video games or take part in garbage activities like crafts. Once, one of her daughters came in second to a Korean kid in a math competition, so Chua made the girl do 2,000 math problems a night until she regained her supremacy. Once, her daughters gave her birthday cards of insufficient quality. Chua rejected them and demanded new cards. Once, she threatened to burn all of one of her daughter’s stuffed animals unless she played a piece of music perfectly.

As a result, Chua’s daughters get straight As and have won a series of musical competitions.

In her book, Chua delivers a broadside against American parenting even as she mocks herself for her own extreme “Chinese” style. She says American parents lack authority and produce entitled children who aren’t forced to live up to their abilities.

Not surprisingly, the book has met with a firestorm of criticism:

Her critics echoed the familiar themes. Her kids can’t possibly be happy or truly creative. They’ll grow up skilled and compliant but without the audacity to be great. She’s destroying their love for music. There’s a reason Asian-American women between the ages of 15 and 24 have such high suicide rates.

And, apparently, those were some of the more measured reactions. (Ms. Chua has even received death threats!)

(Personally, I'm happy with the way my wife and I raised our two boys. I'm sure we made our share of mistakes, but I don't have too many regrets.

In fact, as someone who's made a career out of blaming his dad for every single thing that went wrong in his life, I think I've concluded -- at age 52 -- that I probably would have turned out much the way I did regardless. Personalities are largely pre-determined, much like height, hair and eye color. I just don't think parenting is as big a factor as we've been led to believe. 

So if I had any advice for young parents it would be to just relax and try not to screw things up too much.)

But to read other parents' reactions (there were also two mentions of the book in the Sunday Times), you have to wonder what, exactly, were their underlying emotions. And my response is that, instead of revulsion, today's hypercompetitive parents are really more afraid that Chua may be right.

(When in doubt, remember: it's all about fear.)

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