A Response to a Tiger Mother

There's been a lot of controversy about Amy Chua's memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother surrounding her harsh and very strict parenting methods. Even more controversy was created when excerpts from the book appeared as a condensed Wall Street Journal article.
Amy Chua has said in the book (and this part also appears in the WSJ article as well as, from which I am taking these points, Wikipedia's article on her and the book) that her daughters were not allowed sleepovers or playdates, parts in the school play (or complaining about that), grades lower than an A, TV or computer games, their own extracurricular activities, anything less than the top spot in every class, and instruments other than the piano and violin (or complaining about playing the piano or violin). This is also not an exhaustive list by any means.
However, there are a couple things that could potentially cool the flames slightly. First, Amy Chua has said that this is a memoir, not a manual/how-to guide. This is evident because later on in the book, she somewhat (but certainly not fully) backs off from her very strict methods and comes to terms with the fact that she does not have 100% control over her children and their activities. (Full disclosure: I have read neither the book nor the full article. The most I've read consists of a couple long passages from the book and article quoted in other writers' articles.) This ties in with the fact that the WSJ article solely focuses on her strict methods and totally leaves out the part about her "coming-of-age" as a parent. Through these qualifications, the book becomes a good deal more reasonable than it is initially made to be.
With all these things in mind, as a second-semester freshman undergraduate student, I would like to share my response to these things, so follow the jump to read on. I apologize if this doesn't sound like a formal article; it's more of a jumbled collection of thoughts that appear in my head as I see each point regarding her book.
Amy Chua didn't let her kids have playdates and sleepovers. I used to have them all the time; in fact, I still do (when I'm free). That said, earlier on, my parents did try to limit how late my friends and I were awake and how much time we spent in front of a [TV] screen. In the last few years or so, for obvious reasons, that restriction has disappeared. But my biggest concern with this particular restriction is that playdates and sleepovers build social skills in kids; I can say that from personal experience, as I learned more about politely, respectfully, and properly dealing with other kids my age as well as their parents. Chua's kids have been deprived of all this; it's truly a wonder the older daughter has a boyfriend (this is something I saw in another article about the national reaction to the book). I feel like later on, they won't be able to adequately deal with and collaborate with their peers when the time comes and when differences arise. That'll truly be a shame.
She didn't let her kids participate in the school play or even complain about this. Now, I've only been in 2 school plays — one in fourth grade and one in seventh. The one in fourth grade was actually mandatory as part of our class explorations into drama, opera, and similar performance arts. The one in seventh grade was voluntary, but I thought it would be a fun little aside. (For the record, it was. Our group performed Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, as is done every year by a group of seventh-graders in my middle school.) My parents were totally fine with both, and they came to watch (and supported me in) both. Relatively soon after that, I lost interest in performing in plays and such, so I had nothing to complain about. Now, I can sort of see why Chua wouldn't let her kids perform in school plays. It's probably because she's concerned about plays taking time out from priority #1: academics (and piano/violin). But not allowing them to complain about that? I think that just goes to show that she felt she didn't really have a good reason to forbid the kids from performing in the school play and she was truly afraid that her kids would put her on the spot about it. That's just sad.
Chua didn't allow grades lower than an A or class standings lower than the top spot. In middle and high school, I got almost all A's, save for a couple B's here and there (and I never got a B in more than one class in the same quarter). Whenever I did get a B in a class for the quarter or semester, though, my parents would always made sure that I did better by encouraging me to do more practice for the class and often sitting with me to go over it. The only exception to this was the second semester of honors ninth-grade English and that was an issue with the teacher that my parents were fully aware of and understood. But my question is, with all the work Chua makes her daughters do already, if her daughters did get a B, what would she do about it? She could throw a fit and/or burn all the dollhouses and stuffed animals in the house (which she did threaten to do before on separate and unrelated occasions), but the B wouldn't go away. The only thing she should really do is sit with them and do more work for the class, and most importantly eventually, get over it. Now, with regard to class standings, MCPS did away with all that many years ago, so I don't really have any comment on that other than what I just said about grades.
Chua didn't let her kids participate in extracurricular activities of their own choice. My primary interest is in physics; though that is a somewhat more recent development (end of middle school), I was interested in math and science from a very young age, owing to my dad being a chemist and my mom being a computer scientist. I was also very much influenced (even now, in some ways) by my older brother, who was interested in the life sciences from a very young age and is now a biologist. But neither of my parents truly forced science upon me. It's just that my parents and brother talking about science a lot (as well as my parents buying many such related books and watching TV programming like the Discovery Channel and National Geographic) created an environment in which I could also appreciate and develop a liking for science. Furthermore, what my brother did in high school regarding classes and clubs influenced my decisions regarding classes and clubs, though I didn't do exactly the same things (as by this time, my interest in physics over other sciences was pretty solid). For example, when I was in elementary school, he showed me the cool robots he was building in his robotics club, so that motivated me enough to join that. The point is that I was strongly influenced by my family to choose a major and career in the natural sciences, but this was never truly forced on me; it was so by virtue of the positive environment created at home combined with the opportunities available at school. Evidently, Chua didn't create an environment fostering discussion, debate, and higher learning at home to promote whatever field (which I suspect is international relations, given her previous books) she wanted to promote to her daughters. So what's the point of forcing it on them? It'll just make them resentful and want to go as far from that as possible in college. Let them explore their interests (though keep it reasonable); you never know what good things could come from such independent explorations.
Chua didn't let her kids watch TV or play computer games. Now, I don't know what she wanted her kids to develop interests in, but I'm sure that whatever it is, there is something for it on TV, so I don't know why she couldn't have sat with them and watched with them, explaining the finer points along the way. With that out of the way, I will say my parents didn't let me watch TV or play computer games on weekdays, as it would interfere with schoolwork. I didn't resent this at all, as I would be able to play on weekends (and even then, my screen time was limited until around late middle school). In any case, this really doesn't sound so bad.
Finally, Chua also forbid her kids from playing instruments other than the piano or violin and they weren't allowed to complain about playing the piano or violin. (This ended when she engaged in what she called a "nuclear war" with her younger daughter over playing the violin, and she eventually gave in to the daughter.) I started playing the violin in fourth grade and only stopped after graduating high school. I wasn't pressured by my parents to pick up an instrument; rather, once again, I was influenced by my brother who had also been playing an instrument since his fourth grade. That said, though ultimately I was playing because I wanted to, if a day or two had gone by without me practicing, my parents would threaten to stop lessons or return the (rented) violin, which was often motivation enough to get me to practice again; even so, I never complained about practicing or playing the violin. With all that in mind, I never practiced like Chua made her kids practice, and I never considered other instruments (for reasons too personal to share here, though people who know me well will understand). Now, it seems like Chua did play the piano (or something like that) when she was a child and her parents expected similar levels of proficiency from her as she did from her children. But it doesn't seem like she actively practices anymore. So why is she so demanding of her kids when it comes to music? It's not like she created an environment that encouraged musical learning and proficiency; it seems like she forced it on her kids for the sake of repeating her own parents' actions. And why doesn't she let them try other instruments? It's not likely after a few years of piano and violin that they'll drop those instruments when trying another one out. Does she consider other instruments sacrilegious? I think a few classical musicians of all stripes (string, wind, percussion) should have a chat with her about choices in music. Finally, my response to her forbidding complaints stands as before; it seems like her ego is fragile and she doesn't have an adequate explanation in response to such complaints.
Whew, that was a long post! That's all I really have to say about a "tiger mother". She says that "tiger mothers" don't necessarily have to be Chinese, and she specifically mentioned Indian parents (among parents of other ethnicities as well) as other examples. But while I'm not usually one to boast, I'm proud of where I am now (second-semester freshman at MIT) and I can tell you that my parents were most certainly not "tiger" parents. I have a feeling (though I would hate for this to actually happen) that once Chua's daughters leave home, they won't know what to do lacking the extreme order and discipline present at home and they'll fall into myriad problems (pushing away the support structures in place); I've heard this happen to similarly studious Chinese people with similarly strict parents (though by no means at all am I stereotyping this to all Chinese/East Asian people).

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