It’s interesting that I read Amy Chua’s book after receiving training in the Triple P. I have known of the Triple P and it’s principles since my postgraduate days and I have used it individually in my work with parents of children with behavioural problems. Basically, the Triple P emphasises a safe and nurturing environment, positive interaction with your child along with setting limits and consequences for the child’s behaviour. And then I read Amy Chua’s book, a memoir about Chinese parenting seemingly superior to Western parenting.
I’m not going to review the book here as I’ve already done it elsewhere. However, I must say, I was shocked while reading the book. Amy Chua comes across as a dictator. Now I know we all probably thought our parents were the worst while growing up and that no one else’s parents were as strict but Amy sets them all to shame. Her underlying motto appears to be success and maintaining a certain position in society. And the Chinese way apparently to obtain this is by verbally putting your child down (telling them they are fat, that they are garbage) because this apparently will motivate them, emotionally blackmailing your child (telling them how much you have done for them, telling them you are going to die eventually), or just being a dictator and pretty much torturing them (by getting them to practise piano or violin for 6 hours at a stretch with no bathroom breaks). She doesn’t believe in her kids going on playdates from when they were little nor for sleepovers. The days revolved around school, school work/homework and piano and violin practice. She even got her kids to practice the piano and violin when they were on holidays overseas!! [That should give you just one small inkling of how crazy she is!]
She thinks that western parents give up too easily if a child finds a task too hard and thereby they let the child give up too. She believes that kids don’t know what’s good for them and therefore need to be pushed in order to reach their potential. But I find myself thinking, there’s pushing and then there’s pushing!
While I was reading the book I found myself thanking my stars that my parents weren’t Nazis like Chua. Although while growing up, I did think they were harsh. But you know what? This book has definitely put their strict parenting in perspective. My parents (possibly like most other Indian parents) stressed the importance of academics with the outcome being more important than the effort you put. But, at the same time, they let me have a balanced life. In primary school, I had to do my homework and studies straight after lunch at home which was fine (even though I know I had my moments of not wanting to do it!). But then, around 5:00 p.m. I’d be out — playing with friends. Playing football, getting dirty in the mud, playing hide and seek, riding my bike — being a kid basically. My parents wanted me to learn Indian classical dancing (which I did for a year and didn’t like it) and then Carnatic singing (which I persisted with for some years). They didn’t torture me to practise and it was more of a hobby than anything else.
The only thing they constantly stressed was academics — until I snapped in Year 8 telling my mum to back off and that the more she ‘nagged’ the less I wanted to study. The good thing? She did back off. Decreasing her nagging. And eventually, I was able to study because I wanted to. Especially once I finished school and got rid of subjects I hated.
I guess all I am trying to say is that I found Chua’s approach to parenting very black and white (and very tyrannical). True, it may have worked with her older daughter who has a passive temperament but again, how much of that is on the outside? How is she certain that her kids do not have mental health problems? At work, I see kids like this often — extremely strict parents, verbally putting their kids down, calling them fat to their faces resulting in teenagers feeling depressed, feeling anxious, feeling like they are just not good enough and can never be good enough. I’m not saying the answer is the opposite. Because I get to see adolescents with behavioural problems when parents are too slack and too lenient. Or kids that give up too easily because they are used to quitting. However, it is possible that there will be a few kids out there that will thrive in a Chua-like environment and kids that will thrive in a laissez-faire environment. But it won’t work across the board.
The answer is somewhere in the middle. Yes, it’s important to push children but not to the point of it seeming like a concentration camp. It’s more important to encourage them to achieve their potential. Yes, they need consequences and limits. But they also need a life. A life with their own peers. A childhood.
But I will admit, this middle road may not work with all kids either.
Have you read Amy Chua’s book? What was your view? And as a parent, how far will you go to push your kids? Or were you pushed as a kid?
Until next time,