I went to bed way late reading this in my precious Sunday Times iPad app, giggling and laughing all the way through:
A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many maths 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 Lulu, were never allowed to do:
• Attend a sleepover
• Have a play date
• Be in a school play
• Complain about not being in a school play
• Watch TV or play computer games
• Choose their 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
I’m using the term “Chinese mother” loosely. I recently met a super-successful white guy, and after comparing notes we decided that his working-class father had definitely been a Chinese mother. I know 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.
Western parents — and I’m also using the term loosely — come in all varieties. But even when they 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 practise 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 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”.
Roughly 0% of the Chinese mothers felt the same way.
Hehehehe. The whole thing is a terrific read. Since I figure hardly any of you subscribe to the Times paywall, there’s a free version on the WSJ, nearly identical but for all the funniest bits which seem to have disappeared. But here’s another bit I wanted to quote:
Happiness is not a concept I tend to dwell on. Chinese parenting does not address happiness. This has always worried me. When I see the piano- and violin-induced calluses on my daughters’ fingertips, or the teeth marks on the piano, I’m sometimes seized with doubt.
But here’s the thing. When I look around at all the western families that fall apart — all the grown sons and daughters who can’t stand to be around their parents or don’t even talk to them — I have a hard time believing that western parenting does a better job with happiness.
I’m really not sure why this is. Maybe it’s brainwashing. Or maybe it’s Stockholm syndrome. But here’s one thing I’m sure of: western children are definitely no happier than Chinese ones.
Amy Chu [sic] details a parenting style obsessed with acing tests and playing the violin while eschewing normal American activities like sports, school plays, and even playing with friends or having them sleepover.
Let me explain why this is horrible parenting advice.
American society doesn’t value violin or piano playing. When elite colleges select applicants, they value sports-playing far more highly than all other extra-curricular activities. And when they do look at other extracurricular activities, group activities such as being in a school play are more highly valued than solitary activities such as playing the piano, because the group activities are believed to be more indicative of leadership potential.
The Chinese parenting style will no doubt produce workers who are good value creators, and their corporate employers will love them, and they will be paid far less money than the value they create, the excess value being transferred to white people who got into better colleges because their curricula vitae had more leadership and sports activities, and with those more prestigious educational credentials they got into higher paying value transference career tracks like investment banking and upper level management, and now enjoy the value created by those Chinese cubicle employees who are doing the real work and the real value creation.
Also, those sleepovers and playdates are extremely important for learning the social skills needed to get ahead in corporate America where schmoozing is more important for getting promoted than creating real value.
Good point. Seriously. Also: Apparently American parenting style is breeding armies of workers who are great at getting promoted but crap at producing anything. “Americans! We can’t engineer our way out of a paper bag but look how many connections I have on LinkedIn!”