Sunday, January 23, 2011

Tiger Mothers: Why It's Not a Good Idea

The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times have both featured articles this month about Amy Chua's recent book,"Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother". The book has stirred lively debate among parents and parenting experts. The Wall Street Journal is said to have had over 5,000 comments about it on their Web site so far! Now Amy Chua is going out on a national book tour to promote the book, which promotes her own extreme parentong strategies and philosophies.Feedback has been so intense that Chua has received death threats.As a Marriage and Family Therapist practicing for 20 years, and having taught Active Parenting classes for more than 10 years,I have some thoughts about what is off about the approach Amy Chua promotes.

Basically, Chua is a hard-driving, ambitious parent who is also a law professor at Yale. She demands straight A's from her two daughters,refuses to let them socialize much,outlaws sleepovers, and provides liberal amounts of criticism. She threw out handmade birthday cards they made at ages 4 and 7 and told them they didn't show enough effort.She can refuse to let them get up to go to the bathroom until a piano concerto is good enough.Chua has tip top standards and never lets the girls forget it.

What are the potential problems from parenting in this highly authoritarian style?You may be setting the children up for problems with increased anxiety and/or depression. They may struggle all their adult lives with not feeling good enough, and need counseling to overcome this belief. They may hate you, may rebel against you as soon as they are out of your watch, and are not likely to turn to you when they struggle with problems because they see you as harsh and judgemental.Think about who you seek out to talk about your personal problems with. Would you voluntarily open up with someone with those qualities when you are hurting or in a dilemma? I wouldn't.

Chua says her tone was meant to be self-mocking, and even she has grown to see areas where she is over the top.Apparently,with some extreme pushback from her girls, even she and her husband are softening a little and are allowing a birthday sleepover. The debate the book has stirred is good, and does make us look at our own parenting positions.

Authoritarian parents have some strengths. They have clear rules and family structure about homework, music practice, meals and bed time. There is no chaos in the autoritarian style of parenting.Basic family structure and rules are good, but as children mature they need to have a bit more say in their own lives.The parents are still the executives in healthier families, but children and teens feel they can ask questions, and get more freedom when they are demonstrating responsible behavior.

What is missing in this style of parenting is the ability to communicate openly in the family, and a more democratic process for letting children and teens make some choices about their lives in age-appropriate ways.Children and teens need to learn through making some mistakes. I would also like to prepare teens for making good choices when we launch them. We impair their ability to think for themselves when they are used to us contolling their every move.If you think back and you had a parent with this high-contol/high-negative approach, reflect on whether this caused you to be more secretive or shut them out.I don't want my daughters to marry highly controlling partners either, and there may be a familiar attraction for a girl raised in this style.Teens raised by authoritarian rule will either end up following others blindly, or rebeling stongly and acting out. I don't like either option.

Tiger mothers love their children, but may need some rethinking about whether the achievements they get from their children are worth the cost emotionally to the child and to the parent-child relationship.Maybe Ms. Chua has learned a little from the heated debate her book has stirred.Perhaps all of us benefit from the discussion.If we are raising our children to be independent thinkers, self-motivated, well-adjusted,responsible,and confident, we need to parent with that long-term outcome in mind.

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