Asian Parents vs. Everyone Else

There was an interesting article about why Asian parents raise such successful, stereotypical Asian kids. Whether it is true or not is up to debate. However, the author takes a really strong stance on what she thinks about Asian parenting. While I somewhat agree with her, I can’t say that she’s all right.

I’m not a mother (waaaaaay too early for that), but it’s an article that kinda sparked a “Dude, what is up with that article?” in me.

To summarize, the article states that Asian parents are way stricter, way more demanding, and way more controlling than Western parents. They do shy away from criticism, even if it includes insulting their child. They have high standards, and they won’t settle for anything less. Hence – children who are super amazing in every way are produced.

The article also points out some “nevers” in raising successful kids:

• 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 No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama

• play any instrument other than the piano or violin

• not play the piano or violin.

Uhm – I beg to differ. I’ve attended a sleepover (and hosted my own), been in school plays, never complained about not being in a school play, watched a lot of TV and played computer games, chose NOT to learn piano or violin (until I was older and was mildly curious, but I quit), and CHOSE to play basketball on weekends and learn ballet. The only one I have to agree on is that I did my best to get an A in every class except gym and penmanship (I didn’t have drama class, so that doesn’t count, and yes, I did have a penmanship class – cursive for the win!).

The article also says this:

Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them. If their child doesn’t get them, the Chinese parent assumes it’s because the child didn’t work hard enough. That’s why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child. The Chinese parent believes that their child will be strong enough to take the shaming and to improve from it. (And when Chinese kids do excel, there is plenty of ego-inflating parental praise lavished in the privacy of the home.)

Now I’m not a parent yet, and I don’t know if my parents really believe this. However, I believe this. It’s true – I do think that a child can do anything – as long as they set their mind to it and try. That’s when you need a parent or peer to push them to do it. If there’s no encouragement or even force, then why would the child even tap into that potential?

Second, Chinese parents believe that their kids owe them everything. The reason for this is a little unclear, but it’s probably a combination of Confucian filial piety and the fact that the parents have sacrificed and done so much for their children.

I find this point a little funny. It’s a common refrain, and I find it so melodramatically over the top (like that makjang ahjumma who thinks that her child must do everything she says because she raised him). But I guess this could explain why Asian parents act the way they do. Plus, it kinda pays off – how many homeless Asians do you see on the street compared to other homeless races? Asian kids take care of their parents, and I doubt any would dream of putting them away in a nursing home. That’s not to say it’s never happened, but I’m pretty sure the statistics are generally low in comparison.

The author also says this for Western parents:

I’ve noticed that Western parents are extremely anxious about their children’s self-esteem. They worry about how their children will feel if they fail at something, and they constantly try to reassure their children about how good they are notwithstanding a mediocre performance on a test or at a recital. In other words, Western parents are concerned about their children’s psyches. Chinese parents aren’t. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.

OK, I have two views: the snarky side of me says that all this coddling is exactly why we see so many Western troubled teens. The other side of me says, yes it’s true they worry about their child’s self esteem, but with good reason. I mean, we don’t want our children to grow up troubled right? All that hard core abuse and yelling can also take its toll on the child, turning them into resentful, cold hearted rich bad boys who need an innocent poor girl to melt his heart. (Woops – too much drama-watching there…) But I have to say, if a parent is overly concerned about how the child is going to handle it, then it suggests that they don’t trust the child to understand and grow from it. I think if you have an environment where people are criticized but take it well, then when the child is criticized herself, she will know how to take it. She learned from her environment. It also means that if you have an environment where people don’t take criticisms well, and would rather be in denial, never change, or become combative, then the child is going to end up like that as well. So if Western parents are always going to be cautious, then the kid is going to end up being a bit more frail because he/she would not have experienced anything that was very difficult.

Western parents try to respect their children’s individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they’re capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.

This is the author’s conclusion, which I think is far more conciliatory than her article title “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior.” I don’t think that Chinese mothers (or any mother who follows the Asian model of parenting) are superior. Western (or those that follow the Western model of parenting) mothers are perfectly capable too and have produced fine people as well.

Now I don’t know about forcing your child to learn an instrument is necessary. But I do get the whole forcing your child to do better and not settling for anything less than an A in the report card. That strive for perfection is integral to setting a base for how the child is going to discipline herself in the future. After all, if you let a child grow up thinking that what they’re doing is just fine, that it’s not important, who’s to say that they won’t think that when it comes to bigger projects in their future? Are they going to settle for, “That’s good enough”, or are they going to strive for “It has to be the best”? I think that in that element, it’s good that Asian parents push their kids over the top. It may seem like you’re torturing the poor kid (and yell, “But he/she’s just a kid! Let them have a childhood!”), but they’ll thank you for it later. I do. Besides, who said you have to deprive them of everything?

I think a good balance between both models (with an slight emphasis on study before play) will work. After all, we gotta adjust to the times – kids are way smarter than their age now. They don’t need us to continue to coddle them, or continue to control them.

source: wall street journal


6 thoughts on “Asian Parents vs. Everyone Else

  1. Dude, I read this myself yesterday and thought it was pretty hilarious because the author is probably speaking from experience. It’s not a research-based article so it’s really all opinion. I agree that Asian kids are pretty well-rounded in all areas, including the arts and perhaps it is because their parents pushed them to those areas. However, I also think that non-Asian kids are doing well themselves in terms of academics. Perhaps not AS well as say, in the 1980’s but hey, America has definitely had an influx of Asian and Latino immigrants over the years so…. *shrugs*

  2. My parents are Asian, and im growing up thinking that you should have fun at times but you must pit education first. I’ve attended at least five sleepovers, watch 10hrs of tv a week, play video games, yet Ive gotten straight a’s all my life so far. I also play piano, am in the choir, and swim, and I chose all of those things for myself, so I completely disagree with this author that Chinese mothers are superior.

  3. I’m Asian of Indian descent. It rings true for me. I had a “tiger mom” and I’m so grateful. Before I turned thirty I spoke three languages fluently, played an instrument well, ran a business (and worked in all of my parents’ various businesses for the sake of gaining experience), started a NGO in a third-world country, wrote a textbook, …

    Life is a competition. Asian parents raise their kids to be the top of the haystack, you know, where there is sunshine.

    About the elderly: When my mother came to this country, she was mortified that people dumped their parents in nursing homes. She opened the first group home in the midwest so that she could care for them.

    I’m so grateful to be Asian. The differences between how I was raised and how my friends were raised truly boggle my mind. I knew before I walked into my first organic chemistry class that I would pass with above a 95% average. On that first day I heard so many people say they just “hope they pass,” as if it wasn’t in their hands somehow. My parents instilled in me a confidence that came through earning it, and as I move through adulthood I know that there is nothing I feel I can’t do or learn. I thought that was true for everyone, but the truth is, very few people feel like I do.

    And I never spent the night at a friend’s house growing up. My parents did not want me in drama and they cut me off me when I decided not to major in science. I took piano lessons at first, but ended up studying flute.

  4. I believe that you can’t raise a mature adult without letting your kid be a child first. Things like sleepovers and school plays teach children social skills that no biology class can.

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