T Nation

Tiger Mom


I read about this in TIME, and just found this on the WSJ site.

What says T-Nation about it? Some of the things I think she's right about, but most of the time she sounds just downright brutal to her kids.

Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior

Can a regimen of no playdates, no TV, no computer games and hours of music practice create happy kids? And what happens when they fight back?.

A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it's like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I've done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:

attend a sleepover

â?¢ have a playdate

â?¢ be in a school play

â?¢ complain about not being in a school play

â?¢ watch TV or play computer games

â?¢ choose their own extracurricular activities

â?¢ get any grade less than an A

â?¢ not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama

â?¢ play any instrument other than the piano or violin

â?¢ not play the piano or violin.

I'm using the term "Chinese mother" loosely. I know some Korean, Indian, Jamaican, Irish and Ghanaian parents who qualify too. Conversely, I know some mothers of Chinese heritage, almost always born in the West, who are not Chinese mothers, by choice or otherwise. I'm also using the term "Western parents" loosely. Western parents come in all varieties.

All the same, even when Western parents think they're being strict, they usually don't come close to being Chinese mothers. For example, my Western friends who consider themselves strict make their children practice their instruments 30 minutes every day. An hour at most. For a Chinese mother, the first hour is the easy part. It's hours two and three that get tough.

Despite our squeamishness about cultural stereotypes, there are tons of studies out there showing marked and quantifiable differences between Chinese and Westerners when it comes to parenting. In one study of 50 Western American mothers and 48 Chinese immigrant mothers, almost 70% of the Western mothers said either that "stressing academic success is not good for children" or that "parents need to foster the idea that learning is fun." By contrast, roughly 0% of the Chinese mothers felt the same way. Instead, the vast majority of the Chinese mothers said that they believe their children can be "the best" students, that "academic achievement reflects successful parenting," and that if children did not excel at school then there was "a problem" and parents "were not doing their job." Other studies indicate that compared to Western parents, Chinese parents spend approximately 10 times as long every day drilling academic activities with their children. By contrast, Western kids are more likely to participate in sports teams.

What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a child starts to excel at somethingâ??whether it's math, piano, pitching or balletâ??he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more.

Chinese parents can get away with things that Western parents can't. Once when I was youngâ??maybe more than onceâ??when I was extremely disrespectful to my mother, my father angrily called me "garbage" in our native Hokkien dialect. It worked really well. I felt terrible and deeply ashamed of what I had done. But it didn't damage my self-esteem or anything like that. I knew exactly how highly he thought of me. I didn't actually think I was worthless or feel like a piece of garbage.

As an adult, I once did the same thing to Sophia, calling her garbage in English when she acted extremely disrespectfully toward me. When I mentioned that I had done this at a dinner party, I was immediately ostracized. One guest named Marcy got so upset she broke down in tears and had to leave early. My friend Susan, the host, tried to rehabilitate me with the remaining guests.

The fact is that Chinese parents can do things that would seem unimaginableâ??even legally actionableâ??to Westerners. Chinese mothers can say to their daughters, "Hey fattyâ??lose some weight." By contrast, Western parents have to tiptoe around the issue, talking in terms of "health" and never ever mentioning the f-word, and their kids still end up in therapy for eating disorders and negative self-image. (I also once heard a Western father toast his adult daughter by calling her "beautiful and incredibly competent." She later told me that made her feel like garbage.)

Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight As. Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best. Chinese parents can say, "You're lazy. All your classmates are getting ahead of you." By contrast, Western parents have to struggle with their own conflicted feelings about achievement, and try to persuade themselves that they're not disappointed about how their kids turned out.

I've thought long and hard about how Chinese parents can get away with what they do. I think there are three big differences between the Chinese and Western parental mind-sets.

First, I've noticed that Western parents are extremely anxious about their children's self-esteem. They worry about how their children will feel if they fail at something, and they constantly try to reassure their children about how good they are notwithstanding a mediocre performance on a test or at a recital. In other words, Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches. Chinese parents aren't. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.

For example, if a child comes home with an A-minus on a test, a Western parent will most likely praise the child. The Chinese mother will gasp in horror and ask what went wrong. If the child comes home with a B on the test, some Western parents will still praise the child. Other Western parents will sit their child down and express disapproval, but they will be careful not to make their child feel inadequate or insecure, and they will not call their child "stupid," "worthless" or "a disgrace." Privately, the Western parents may worry that their child does not test well or have aptitude in the subject or that there is something wrong with the curriculum and possibly the whole school. If the child's grades do not improve, they may eventually schedule a meeting with the school principal to challenge the way the subject is being taught or to call into question the teacher's credentials.

If a Chinese child gets a Bâ??which would never happenâ??there would first be a screaming, hair-tearing explosion. The devastated Chinese mother would then get dozens, maybe hundreds of practice tests and work through them with her child for as long as it takes to get the grade up to an A.

Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them. If their child doesn't get them, the Chinese parent assumes it's because the child didn't work hard enough. That's why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child. The Chinese parent believes that their child will be strong enough to take the shaming and to improve from it. (And when Chinese kids do excel, there is plenty of ego-inflating parental praise lavished in the privacy of the home.)

Second, Chinese parents believe that their kids owe them everything. The reason for this is a little unclear, but it's probably a combination of Confucian filial piety and the fact that the parents have sacrificed and done so much for their children. (And it's true that Chinese mothers get in the trenches, putting in long grueling hours personally tutoring, training, interrogating and spying on their kids.) Anyway, the understanding is that Chinese children must spend their lives repaying their parents by obeying them and making them proud.

By contrast, I don't think most Westerners have the same view of children being permanently indebted to their parents. My husband, Jed, actually has the opposite view. "Children don't choose their parents," he once said to me. "They don't even choose to be born. It's parents who foist life on their kids, so it's the parents' responsibility to provide for them. Kids don't owe their parents anything. Their duty will be to their own kids." This strikes me as a terrible deal for the Western parent.

Third, Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children's own desires and preferences. That's why Chinese daughters can't have boyfriends in high school and why Chinese kids can't go to sleepaway camp. It's also why no Chinese kid would ever dare say to their mother, "I got a part in the school play! I'm Villager Number Six. I'll have to stay after school for rehearsal every day from 3:00 to 7:00, and I'll also need a ride on weekends." God help any Chinese kid who tried that one.

Don't get me wrong: It's not that Chinese parents don't care about their children. Just the opposite. They would give up anything for their children. It's just an entirely different parenting model.

Here's a story in favor of coercion, Chinese-style. Lulu was about 7, still playing two instruments, and working on a piano piece called "The Little White Donkey" by the French composer Jacques Ibert. The piece is really cuteâ??you can just imagine a little donkey ambling along a country road with its masterâ??but it's also incredibly difficult for young players because the two hands have to keep schizophrenically different rhythms.

Lulu couldn't do it. We worked on it nonstop for a week, drilling each of her hands separately, over and over. But whenever we tried putting the hands together, one always morphed into the other, and everything fell apart. Finally, the day before her lesson, Lulu announced in exasperation that she was giving up and stomped off.

"Get back to the piano now," I ordered.

"You can't make me."

"Oh yes, I can."

Back at the piano, Lulu made me pay. She punched, thrashed and kicked. She grabbed the music score and tore it to shreds. I taped the score back together and encased it in a plastic shield so that it could never be destroyed again. Then I hauled Lulu's dollhouse to the car and told her I'd donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn't have "The Little White Donkey" perfect by the next day. When Lulu said, "I thought you were going to the Salvation Army, why are you still here?" I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn't do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.

Jed took me aside. He told me to stop insulting Luluâ??which I wasn't even doing, I was just motivating herâ??and that he didn't think threatening Lulu was helpful. Also, he said, maybe Lulu really just couldn't do the techniqueâ??perhaps she didn't have the coordination yetâ??had I considered that possibility?

"You just don't believe in her," I accused.

"That's ridiculous," Jed said scornfully. "Of course I do."

"Sophia could play the piece when she was this age."

"But Lulu and Sophia are different people," Jed pointed out.

"Oh no, not this," I said, rolling my eyes. "Everyone is special in their special own way," I mimicked sarcastically. "Even losers are special in their own special way. Well don't worry, you don't have to lift a finger. I'm willing to put in as long as it takes, and I'm happy to be the one hated. And you can be the one they adore because you make them pancakes and take them to Yankees games."

I rolled up my sleeves and went back to Lulu. I used every weapon and tactic I could think of. We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn't let Lulu get up, not for water, not even to go to the bathroom. The house became a war zone, and I lost my voice yelling, but still there seemed to be only negative progress, and even I began to have doubts.

Then, out of the blue, Lulu did it. Her hands suddenly came togetherâ??her right and left hands each doing their own imperturbable thingâ??just like that.

Lulu realized it the same time I did. I held my breath. She tried it tentatively again. Then she played it more confidently and faster, and still the rhythm held. A moment later, she was beaming.

"Mommy, lookâ??it's easy!" After that, she wanted to play the piece over and over and wouldn't leave the piano. That night, she came to sleep in my bed, and we snuggled and hugged, cracking each other up. When she performed "The Little White Donkey" at a recital a few weeks later, parents came up to me and said, "What a perfect piece for Luluâ??it's so spunky and so her."

Even Jed gave me credit for that one. Western parents worry a lot about their children's self-esteem. But as a parent, one of the worst things you can do for your child's self-esteem is to let them give up. On the flip side, there's nothing better for building confidence than learning you can do something you thought you couldn't.

There are all these new books out there portraying Asian mothers as scheming, callous, overdriven people indifferent to their kids' true interests. For their part, many Chinese secretly believe that they care more about their children and are willing to sacrifice much more for them than Westerners, who seem perfectly content to let their children turn out badly. I think it's a misunderstanding on both sides. All decent parents want to do what's best for their children. The Chinese just have a totally different idea of how to do that.

Western parents try to respect their children's individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they're capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.

â??Amy Chua is a professor at Yale Law School and author of "Day of Empire" and "World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability." This essay is excerpted from "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" by Amy Chua, to be published Tuesday by the Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright © 2011 by Amy Chua.


Tough to take an author seriously or unbiased when one of her previous works is titles "World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability." Her article sounds like biased propaganda to me




Sounds like a mother I knew, she wasn't brilliant enough to think that she needed the father to raise her children so she divorced him. When the children turned 12, they moved in with their father.


How so? Biased in what way?


I knew a family like this when I was growing up. The eldest one is a doctor (and a social retard), but the other four are completely difunctional in every way. If I wanted my kids to be hobos with great piano skills then this is how I would raise them.


The press around the book is designed to inflame and intrigue you to some extent.

I heard her talk a lot about how her daughters changed her attitude to a lot of that stuff FWIW.


Not true, ball room dancing was fun for me before I even before I wasn't good at it.


Please tell me you didn't have to dance with a girl. Yucky.


Of course, fool.


Sorry for the wall of text.. got ahead of myself thinking back.. taking a break from my work lol.

Well everyone has blown the book out of proportion... its not supposed to be a how to guide etc.. Shes gone on like a million interviews and is basically like holy shit that wasn't the point.

Books about her experience trying to apply how she was raised to her kids and how it failed horribly.. its a memoir and shes making fun of herself for the most part. Friend got in on tape and I've listened to about 3/4 of it and its pretty entertaining. Also the father is pretty much on the same page.. the article doesn't represent that well.

My experience growing up: skip if not interested

As far as that parenting style.. I agree with it. I was raised in a Persian family in almost an identical fashion. Only difference was that my parents realized they were in america(they talk about this constantly.. and there is never a shortage of trash talking us either) and gave us a bit more free will because they knew all the other kids would influence us and we'd rebel if they didn't. Funny part at least to me is I played violin for 6 years as well as sitar 8 years(same time.. started around 4-5 to lazy to think back exactly).. only reason I stopped was because I started playing trombone. <-- see I had choices :stuck_out_tongue:

me and my sister also both played sports since 4 because my parents wouldn't allow us to be inactive.. they expected similar results and we had to apply ourselves to whatever we decided on.. Practiced daily and it just took slightly less priority then the other activities(my mom was the dreaded sports parent as well which proves to be amusing thinking back). We both still have active rolls in those sports

Unlike most immigrants they didn't force us to be a doctors engineers etc.. when we were younger they told us it was our choice as long we went to college and they obviously expected us to make the grades(oh man thinking back to that is interesting). But I'm pretty sure they didn't force us because they knew the choice we would make lol.. Sister = doctor Me = engineer.

Will I raise my kids in a similar way when I get to that point.. absolutely. Also my sister and I aren't socially awkward.. O.o we are both leading successful lives and interact with people constantly lol?!?. I can probably list off 30 other people I know raised in a similar/stricter(zero free will) fashion and they aren't socially awkward.. not sure why strict parenting would create that.. homeschooling is what causes that :stuck_out_tongue:

Do I believe one is superior to the other... yes.. but I'm incredibly bias.. you still can't deny the fact that immigrants are incredibly successful and do well in life. Also the people I know that were raised in a more open household.. some are my friends.. They're ok with mediocre. Like they are perfectly happy with being mediocre with what they do. iono thats hard for me to grasp. And i'm not saying its one or the other.. there is obviously success stories all around.. in the end one probably isn't better then the other.

edit: as far as china is concerned.. I went to a high preforming magnet high school.. my senior year our concert band was invited for this festival or what not.. forgot its name.. basically went over there and performed as well and did some sight seeing etc.. One of our stops was a similar high performing school in china.. point is.. we've never felt so dumb in our lives.. They most likely surpassed every single person in our band academically. Its a shame that so much talent is wasted. We ever performed for them half way through the visit and only 1 class stayed lol... The rest went back because they didn't want to waste time listening to us when they could be working.

also just read through this and it sounds kinda douche like.. did not intend it to come off as such.

Cliffnotes: If we are discussing parenting styles... Do I think the "American" way of raising kids is total shit... yes. You don't owe your kids jack shit.. they owe you and they better show it. I think giving a kid free will teaches them to be lazy assholes that don't want to do anything and I think that is easily shown by how hard immigrants work compared to others.. and I mean immigrants that are well off and don't even need to work hard.


As my grandmother would say in Spanish, "the only thing mediocre does in this world is make the great look better."


All I can say is success dun come cheap. Basically I tend to agree with her in the article, most of them anyway. though shaming the kid could be a double edge sword.


i live in korea and the parents are pretty famous for putting their kids in after school academies (english, math, art, dance...you name it). this is every single kid. i have 1st graders that go to up to 8 different after school academies. you get kids on the street at midnight in their school uniforms coming home from the math academy. the kids think this is the only way. they cant believe that it when i tell them that its not the norm to go to after school academies in the uk.

yeah, the kids will be incredibly book smart, but they are not happy. they are stressed, pressured and exhaustred from a young age and it doesnt stop. i mean, korean society is not at all healthy imo. the suicide rates are extraordinarily high in part because of the high pressure to work hard, be smart and get ahead. there is no balance. its all about getting good grades, getting into the best university, then getting into a big company or becoming a doctor etc, working at least 12 hours a day.

and i suspect the author is exaggerating somewhat, in that not EVERY chinese parent is like that.


I think there is a middle ground that works fine. You can push your kids to do well in school - whatever they want to do that is - but also give them freedom to have a social life and have fun. I know a lot of kids who didn't have any freedom until they went to college and then they went wild.


this way of raising your kids have created a sheltered society in china... lots of kids don't know how to deal with their emotions and pressure of the real world... when they used to disappoint their parents they might get a beating or two but they knew how to do deal with it... in the real world their boss doesn't hit them...

a few months back there was the employee for foxconn(?), they manufactured iphone parts, that lost one of the prototype iphones and he ended up committing suicide... they are saying that this upbringing does not give the child time to deal with his own emotions and learn how to cope...

in my personal experience (asian) me and my sister had pretty controlling parents (to an extent) but again like amiright they realized we were in the US and the things we were exposed too were much different than back in asia... so they took a different approach as we got into high school there was much more freedom to do things as long as we told them what we were doing, who we were with, and when we'd be home (all pretty routine)...
also they wanted us to succeed in school but made it clear that if we didn't it was our future we were ruining, not there's.... for the most part it looks like it worked out... both of us have good paying jobs... got work outta college and majored in degrees that weren't tied to the liberal arts colleges...

all in all do i agree with the tiger mom? hell no... but its good to see that she realizes what she's done right and wrong... its a good acct of something i've seen alot....


The same goes for sex.


I appreciate you putting "American" in quotes, because there are many different ways of raising kids being used in the US.


Sounds like the female version of my dad.

It's a simple formula. Those that work the hardest seem to get the "luckiest".


I think the middle ground between the "American" way and the "Asian" way is needed. I see a lot of kids in the US who don't learn squat in school and waste hours and hours every day playing video games, toiling on the computer, and complaining they're bored.

On the flip side, nearly every Chinese student I met in college was exceptionally book smart, but had basically no personal skills and no idea how to act around people, and also hated their parents with a special kind of passion I rarely see.

One guy, he gave piano lessons to make cash, and he could play beautifully, but he hated it, the mere sound of the piano filled him with rage. He hated music, and hated the fact his parents forced him to waste his childhood learning an instrument he abhors. He also said that he basically had 0 friends growing up and that he'd lay in bed at night crying and dreaming about what he'd do when he turned 18 and could leave.

When I was in Japan, I saw a nice middle ground. Some parents are still really strict, but they generally have a nice combination of free time/fun and expectations/work. The kids would work very hard during the day, then they'd come home, do whatever homework, kick their shoes off and ride bikes or play video games. It was the ones who were pushed extremely hard that usually broke down and killed themselves or someone else.