Who are superior – American or Chinese Parents?

It seems you can’t read or watch anything without hearing about the Wall Street Journal Article written by Amy Chua, the author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.  Time Magazine is one of the latest to talk about her article about why Chinese mothers are superior to American ones.

Most people are horrified by what Dr. Chua shared about her parenting style, yet by all accounts her children are well behaved, smart, and respectful, all qualities that most American parents desire for their children.   So if she is such a horrible mother, then how come we all sometimes wish our teenage daughters were just like hers?  And if China does such a bad job with their children, how come the United States salivates over their impressive PISA scores ; the municipality of Shanghai ranks number one in the world in the overall average of math, science and reading, while the US ranks 17!

Different cultures have different parenting styles, and usually these practices, which begin in infancy, are meant to socialize children for appropriate trust in local and social contexts (Weisner, 2005).   So an American raised child, perhaps loud, independent, and/ or a free thinker, may not survive in countries like China and India, where obedience, self control and deference are valued.

I have learned about many parenting practices that are extremely difficult for someone with my Western upbringing to understand.  For example, in New Guinea, Etoro boys, in the fairly recent past, had to ingest their father’s semen to reach manhood (Henrich, Heine, and Norezayan, 2010).  In some small towns in Germany, it is considered normal for parents to leave their babies in their crib in the morning for several hours, and even go out shopping while a 12 month old is left alone in a crib, in order to instill self-reliance (Quinn, 2009).  Kreung families in Cambodia build love huts for their teenage daughter to move into so she can have sex with potential husbands.

Who is to say what is right or wrong?  If the children raised in these environments become contributing, well adjusted members of their cultures, what did their parents do wrong?  And although hearing about Amy Chua’s shaming seems extremely harsh, I still realize that for her, this practice may help her raise children that conform to her expectations of a successful adult.

So, I am working hard not to judge who is superior.  They are just different parenting styles, which seem to produce different outcomes that are adaptive for different contexts.

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2 thoughts on “Who are superior – American or Chinese Parents?

  1. this was sent to me from a friend who asked me to post it cuz she can’t post from work….
    Amen girlfriend!!! I’ve also felt guilty about being too harsh with me kids, so I did an experiment last weekend with William. Last weekend he had to make a mobile for his book report, but I firmly rejeted his 1st couple of attempts, which were VERY feeble, so I made him totally redo his work from scratch. The 3rd version he carefully redid and proudly shouted “I DID IT!!!” as he realized his full potential and totally “owned” his finished project which I had firmly refused to help him with. Myhumble opinion is that there are no absolute “rights” or “wrongs” when it comes to parenting & parents, who individually know their kids, but I definitely confirmed that Chinese blood does run thru my veins …. ; )

  2. Amazing job, Yalda! All the great detail about other cultures is definitely a reflection of the lab you are a part of! I was a little apprehensive going in because I was unsure of the angle that would be taken (considering, as you mention, all the negative press), but I absolutely loved your empathic approach! Chua’s daughter wrote a response in the NY Post that adds another layer to this on-going debate: http://www.nypost.com/p/entertainment/why_love_my_strict_chinese_mom_uUvfmLcA5eteY0u2KXt7hM/0

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