Tough-love parenting

Amy Chua says she won’t let her daughters play an instrument other than piano or violin, have “play dates” with friends or be in a school play, let alone watch TV or play video games.

In her Sunday Wall Street Journal essay, the Yale law professor champions the virtues of “Chinese mother”-style parenting, an approach with rigidly high standards and little concern about a child’s self-esteem. She says children aren’t as fragile as people think; she sees no problem with calling her daughter “fatty” if she’s gained weight or “worthless” if she is disrespectful or receives a B on a test.

“Western parents,” as she calls them (and she says she knows plenty of Chinese-Americans who fit into that category), worry more about their child’s individuality and feelings of self worth than about their success.

Sara Mead responds to this essay today on her Ed Week blog post. Mead bemoans the tendency of news stories and essays to rely on anecdotal evidence and cultural stereotypes, rather than research, and writes that parenting is far more complex than Chua describes in her piece.

At the risk of perpetuating the anecdotal analysis of this issue: What was your reaction to Chua’s essay? Do you know parents like her? Teachers like her?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Catherine

    While I bristle at the comments – and I would never use them on my own children or those I teach, my Asian students do not seem to suffer from self-esteem issues or have over-inflated self-esteem found in other students. They nearly always complete their homework on time and they do not constantly run their electronics. When I meet with Asian parents, with few exceptions, they support me as the teacher as well as my experience.

    All of that said, I think calling a child “fatty” and “worthless” may get superficial respect, however, what I want with my own children is a life-long, emotionally close relationship that allows for respect flowing back and forth from parent to child / child to parent and student to teacher / teacher to student.

  • http://www.tigerthegecko.blogspot.com maestra

    that’s not tough love. that’s forcing children to be perfect and it’s not healthy. There’s a way to have high standards without crushing children and making them resent their parents. I have a lot of friends who were raised that way and now that they are adults, they feel that they were very damaged by it.

  • Katy Murphy

    A funny response by a Gawker blogger (with a Chinese mother): http://gawker.com/5729862/i-wish-my-chinese-mother-screamed-at-me-more-often?

  • http://charterschoolscandals.blogspot.com/ Sharon

    This response to the WSJ article has also gotten a lot of buzz. It relates a personal tragedy and informs us about the high suicide rate among Asian-American females.


  • On the Fence

    Thank you for sharing this Sharon. This article has gotten tremendous buzz in the media, and the quora link you posted offers an especially thoughtful forum, particularly regarding the high suicide rates.

    I work in mental health and Asians are often severely underrepresented in our patient populations with the thought being that there are many cultural barriers to seeking treatment or even acknowledging mental health issues. This is particularly worrisome for a population that is suffering from high rates of depression/suicide, at least among their young women. Very sad.

  • livegreen

    Yes, thank you for the link Sharon.

  • Nextset

    An interesting story. Child raising is as much as an art as a science. Children are different and what works with an asian child may not work with a black child and vice versa. For one thing they are polar opposites physically with the onset of puberty earliest with blacks and latest with asians (several years apart on the average).

    I do agree that males, especially black males, have a problem if given an overdose of unconditional love and an under dose of accountability and consequences. Before people get in an uproar, remember the physical differences – puberty and it’s effects being the first problem. Now uproar…

    People are very different, nationally and internationally. I’m interested in reading more about the asian childrearing issues, but I’m more interested in how (the schools can) to keep urban black kids out of prison and early graves. I do not believe what works on one group is always directly transferable to the others. And then there’s the Mexican students.

    And what about the asian Hep A problem? I’m especially interested in public health related issues as applied to the schools. in addition to all the other problems and responsibilities OUSD has to contend with there is always the issues such as TB control, STD control, Flu Contagion, Pregnancy epidemics/Breast Feeding, Food nutrition/food poisoning/food service, Drug use/overdose, Child Molest reporting, Rx medication dispensing, Eye and Dental screening & emergencies and other such things (the schools really do need nurses) you have to manage when you bring 1000 or more urban minority kids together.

    Basically the large Urban Schools such as LA Unified and OUSD have a hell of a job – until their populations really shrink due to the Charters growth. I wish them well. And I am worried about what this depression is about to do. We can all see where the government budgets are going and it’s not up.

  • On The Fence


    Not important to the central idea, but the public health biggie for Asian populations is Hep B.

  • Connie

    I read Dr. Chua’s article in last Saturday’s Wall Street Journal. I made me sick. Afterwards I wish I had not read it.

  • Cranky Teacher
  • Starshaped

    Ugh! I think this is an upper class, upper handing thing. It just has a new ‘Asian’ face to it. I have heard tons of parents telling other parents what they are doing wrong, just outside my classroom door. What will be interesting to see is what happens to these children in 20 years. These mother’s words may come back to haunt her in the future. I hope they don’t, but…

  • DMD

    The WSJ article was edited without Chua’s input. The memoir paints a much more complex picture, including a complete re-evaluation of her own parenting when met with the rebellion of one of her daughters. See this article for an interview with Chua and more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=%2Fg%2Fa%2F2011%2F01%2F13%2Fapop011311.DTL&ao=all

    Read the book for a fuller picture.

  • http://www.sittersavings.com Susanna

    I just don’t get it. Certainly we all want our children to fulfill their abilities, but do we have to make them miserable in the process? What is the goal of a life? To have a list of accomplishments or to live a happy and authentic life?