Of Tiger Moms and Ramen Noodles

Tuesday, March 1, AD 2011

I finally got around to reading Amy Chua’s stirring defense of the “Tiger Mom” approach to parenting.  For those unfamiliar with her parenting techniques, she sums it up for you:

Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:

• attend a sleepover

• have a playdate

• be in a school play

• complain about not being in a school play

• watch TV or play computer games

• choose their own extracurricular activities

• get any grade less than an A

• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama

• play any instrument other than the piano or violin

• not play the piano or violin.

Chua proceeds to justify this approach both in this article and in her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. On the surface this strict approach seems to work.  Her children and a staggeringly high proportion of Chinese-American school children perform remarkably well in school.  Furthermore, her comments about western parents’ obsession with the self esteem of their children are not completely off the mark.

Let’s assume that this strict approach is the best way to ensure that a child achieves academic success (ignoring for the moment that I was permitted to do all of the things that her children were not and I still managed to earn a Ph. D).  Setting aside any reservations one has about this almost totalitarian style form of parenting, my question is: and then what? 

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9 Responses to Of Tiger Moms and Ramen Noodles

  • I just saw Chua on Charlie Rose tonight. She says there isn’t just one right way to raise a successful child. Rose probes her on the place of morals in her parenting. She doesn’t seem to be religious. Her husband is Jewish and she says he takes care of that. Actually, she said her husband is a Constitutional law professor so he takes care of that. Typical of American secularists, I guess her morals are derived from the Constitution.

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  • And if we have to share some Ramen Noodles along the way, so be it. It’s actually pretty tasty.

    Pack of ramen made with half-again extra water, a stick of celery chopped translucent-thin and added just before the noodles are done (or a handful of frozen veggie mix added when you add the noodles), crack an egg into it when the noodles are just about right, stir and serve– great dinner for two, costing less than a soda. If there’s any leftover meat you can flake into it, great!

  • After you’re done, add rice and you have another meal. You can even cook the rice using the left over ramen soup.

  • And yet there are scientists saying that if developing countries earn higher incomes over the next 40 years and eat higher on the food chain, they’ll use up the earth’s resources…so we should use more tax dollars to fund abortion now. They want to cull the population regardless of what they might eat.

    Thank you for the article.

  • I have heard from Asians themselves:

    They do very well in sciences/math because they are very hard working and will drill until they drop. But, when it comes to creative thinking, well, not so much. In other words, they make great technicians, but not necessarily great innovators. Anyway, that comes from some within the Asian culture, fwiw. Seems this tiger mom approach is right on track with that (and, after it’s said and done, good technicians are always in demand).

  • As is often the case with many controversies, the problem is lack of balance. Chua is probably right in thinking that children are more resilient than most American parents give them credit for, and will not necessarily wither or collapse when confronted with a serious demand or challenge. However, to insist on nothing less than total perfection assumes that every child is capable of reaching perfection — and as the mother of an autistic child, I know that is not the case.

    Not having read the book (only the media reports and responses) I don’t know if Chua addresses the fact that youth from high-achievement-oriented Asian cultures also have a very high suicide rate because they have been taught never to tolerate failure. Chua also has acknowledged that she backed off from the high pressure approach when her daughters reached adolescence and began to rebel.

    Finally, I believe a lot of the initial explosive response to this book was triggered by the headline the Wall Street Journal placed on it: “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.” As anyone who has ever written for a newspaper or other publication knows, the author of an article normally has NO control over the headline and a copy editor with a slightly devious sense of humor or desire to attract attention, can slap a misleading headline or title on an article such as this. Chua herself never said that Chinese mothers were “superior” but millions of people assumed she did.

  • Amy Chua has a sister with Down Syndrome. She knows not everyone is capable of everything. I think parents know very well their children’s limits. I think the difference in attitude is between “good enough” and “I know you can do better.”

    I think depression is more commonly caused by social issues than academic failure. There is some causation. If you’re studying you aren’t socializing. You may even become a social outcast. Remember all the geeks with no friends? It’s tough to balance.

    As for Eastern education being more suitable for technical skills than Western education which develops more creative skills, there is something to that. Amy Chua’s defense is that you need to learn the basics first. You can’t learn basic math but through repetition. You need both rote learning and room for the mind to roam.

    It’d be nice if psychologists could tell us the exact ratios of what kind of activities children need.

  • I was one of those geeks with “no friends.” (at school)

    I had much less depression that most of the popular girls exactly because I had enough confidence in myself to be myself more fully than they would ever dare– this, in spite of depression running in my family.

    It’s not social issues, it’s stress beyond what someone can deal with. Age-group social stress is probably one of the more common sources of stress because that is what most teens focus on, since we box them in with folks whose main connection is being born the same year and limit the number of alternative options for socializing. (thank God for the internet)
    I would imagine in a more family oriented culture, family based stress– such as shame from failure– would result in depression.
    (Different views of suicide are probably a factor as well– IIRC, many Asian cultures view suicide as a way to remove dishonor, not as an escape tactic.)