Tiger mothers: the great parenting row

Sunday 30 October, 1.45pm until 3.15pm, Lecture Theatre 2

The furore surrounding the publication of Amy Chua’s book Battle Hymn of The Tiger Mother has shown the passion aroused by the question of what expectations we should have of our children, and the extreme heat generated by debates about how we should achieve those expectations. Are our aspirations for children too low nowadays? Do kids need to be pushed, and if so, by whom?

Amy Chua argues parents, particularly in the West, are too liberal and too afraid of exercising their authority. By contrast, she writes, ‘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.’ This seems reasonable and sensible enough, and yet Chua has been viciously attacked, particularly in the American press, for her particularly intensive form of parenting. Chua does attack many ideas Western parents take for granted, and can seem unnecessarily judgemental. She believes some activities are worthwhile for children - learning to play a difficult musical instrument, for example - and that others have no value – so no taking part in the school play. She believes children do not know what is best for them, and adults have a responsibility to make them do what they believe is best for them: ‘To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own will never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences’.

It seems Chua has touched a raw nerve in a society in which self-esteem is prized above all else, and we are continually being told the important thing is to make our children feel accepted, respected and valued. There often seems to be an assumption that kids are so vulnerable any criticism or attempt to challenge them will damage them for ever. So should we toughen up and push our children to achieve? Or, against Chua, should we affirm the idea that giving children a bit of freedom to pursue their own interests is no bad thing? Perhaps the problem is the very fact that parenting is such a controversial issue in the first place. Some believe parents, whatever their parenting philosophy, are too intensely involved in their children’s lives today. Both Chua and her critics seem to agree that parenting is the single, key determinant of a child’s future success and happiness. But as long as children are loved and cared for, perhaps parenting styles are less important than we think?

Decca Aitkenhead
journalist, Guardian and g2

Stephanie Calman
writer and broadcaster; author, Confessions of a Bad Mother and How (Not) to Murder Your Husband; founder, www.badmothersclub.com

Tim Gill
writer and researcher; author, No Fear: growing up in a risk-averse society

Nancy McDermott
writer; advisor to Park Slope Parents, NYC's most notorious parents' organization

Jane Sandeman
convenor, IoI Parents Forum; contributor, Standing up to Supernanny; director of finance and central services, Cardinal Hume Centre

Produced by
Jane Sandeman convenor, IoI Parents Forum; contributor, Standing up to Supernanny; director of finance and central services, Cardinal Hume Centre
Recommended readings
‘Western parents need to chill out about their kids’

The author of Paranoid Parenting says that far from needing a stricter ‘Asian’ approach, Western parenting is already way too intensive.

Frank Furedi, spiked, 9 June 2011

Who’s afraid of the ‘tiger mother’?

All the non-stop commentary on Amy Chua's new book overlooks one important fact: determined ‘tiger mums’ are a response to the fact that society itself no longer pushes children to succeed.

Nancy McDermott, spiked, 29 January 2011

Amy Chua Is a Wimp

Sometime early last week, a large slice of educated America decided that Amy Chua is a menace to society. Chua, as you probably know, is the Yale professor who has written a bracing critique of what she considers the weak, cuddling American parenting style.

David Brooks, New York Times, 17 January 2011

Do (strict) Chinese mums know best?

Amy Chua claims that soft western parenting fails because it stops children from fulfilling their potential, whereas her hardline Chinese approach gets results.

Toby Young and Oliver James, Guardian Comment is free, 16 January 2011

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what Chinese 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...

Amy Chua, Bloomsbury, 11 January 2011

In China, Not All Practice Tough Love

Some parents want their children to be creative, independent and less obsessed with test scores

Victoria Ruan, Wall Street Journal, 8 January 2011

Optimism versus Pessimism

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