Last week, I attended a talk by Amy Chua, the author of the book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.’ A year ago, a provocative review of her book by Wall Street Journal propelled her into the list of most-talked-about and most-vilified people, as parents (mainly in the West) collectively gasped in horror at her authoritative and harsh parenting methods.
For us in the East, such kind of parenting was something many of us have seen, heard about or even experienced, although we might not subscribe to those methods any more.
When I heard that she was coming to my city, I decided to attend her talk, and finally got around to reading the book so that I would be able to understand where she was coming from. Well, as she said herself in the talk, most people who attacked her were reacting to the WSJ article, which unfortunately was not as objective as such a prestigious publication should have been.
For one, the article was written by a Westerner, who clearly did not get the cultural differences and ironic observations that Chua has made throughout the book. For example, as she said in the talk, the fact that her father once called her ‘garbage,’ was blown out of proportion, with several parents writing in to express their horror and dismay at the ‘potential damage to her psyche.’ With several ethnicities in the audience, she asked us whether or not we had been called names by an exasperated parent or teacher?
All of us chuckled – I remember being called ‘gadhi,’ by my Hindi teacher for making some spectacularly stupid mistakes. It was an instance of clear cultural difference – most of us from older and Eastern cultures were used to far less mollycoddling of both body and psyche from parents and teachers. As one member of the audience said, as long as the child knows he/she is loved and respected, an occasional name calling is not so terrible. And as Chua’s own children forgot when she called them ‘garbage’ once, most of us will shrug these things off and carry on.
Another point that got a lot of reactions from the audience was – should we push our kids? Are we doing our kids a disservice by not expecting a lot from them? I liked what she said in her book, and in the talk. While Western culture expects very little from their kids, seeing the children as weak and to be protected, Asian cultures expect far more from the child as they assume strength in their kids. She said that having high expectations from children helps them learn to excel, and helps them understand that nothing comes easy. Achievement and success take tremendous amount of hard work and discipline, but these are good life lessons for a child to learn and practice throughout his/her life.
What do you think? Should we push our children or not? Is it good to have high expectations for our kids – will they thrive and bloom, or buckle under the pressure? And do read her book – I found it quite different from the image I got from the WSJ article.
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