[OT] WSJ: "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior"

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Submitted by AK on January 10, 2011 - 11:37am

As long as I'm on a China-related posting binge, here's something from the WSJ on a subject near and dear to many of our hearts ... overbearing Asian parents :) The timing of this opinion piece is almost perfect as holiday arguments tend to reawaken childhood trauma.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424...

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
• 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.

Submitted by EconProf on January 10, 2011 - 2:09pm.

I could not get this article up because I am not a subscriber to the WSJ.
However I read it at the library and it is fantastic. Any traditional American parent of young children would immediately make changes if they read it--it is that insightful.

Submitted by stockstradr on January 10, 2011 - 2:40pm.

I read that article same day it was published.

It is a brilliant article, and she's courageous to have written it (because she spoke the truth but will certainly suffer countless attacks for being "politically incorrect" in her statements)

I married a Chinese woman who raises our kids using this same approach, and it yields benefits every day for our kids. My Chinese in-laws also live with us, and I'm also grateful every day for their strict no-nonsense HIGH EXPECTATIONS approach to helping raise our children.

My wife teaches at one of the highest ranked high schools in the entire Bay Area. (Usually ranked in top 50 in the nation.) During college application season, she gets several requests each week for recommendation letters for her Asian students applying to America's best universities and colleges. We're talking Harvard, MIT, Stanford, etc.

I end up writing those recommendation letters, because my wife's English writing skills are not the best. (she teaches Mandarin, not English!)

For writing each letter, I work off the "cliff's notes" brag sheet supplied by the child's parents. It lists facts of all the kids accomplishments, and backs them up with actual copies of certificates and awards.

Writing dozens of such recommendation letters has been an EDUCATION for me on how these Asian students were raised by their parents with the the college application process in mind.

It is no understatement that the mothers/fathers of these Asian kids started planning their kids lives around college application strategy when these kids were two and three years old! For example, they would start the kid on violin or piano at three years old.

They don't just get straight-A's in all courses, including ADVANCED placement courses.

These are typical accomplishments for these Asian kids by their senior high school year:

1) Play either cello, violin, or piano, so expertly that they have won state competitions and may have played Carnegie Hall. Lead musician in the high school band.
2) Have completed technical summer internship (while still in high school!) at institutions such as MIT, Stanford, Berkley, Lawrence Livermore Nat Lab, etc.
3) Multiple examples of months-long or years-long volunteering contributions, such as spending summers in South America, supporting medical teams doing free reconstructive surgery for children with cleft palates
4) Held multiple leadership positions, such as student body president, or head of debate team, or similar.

And YES, I'm damn proud when one of my recommendation letters helps these kids land a spot at Harvard or MIT or Stanford, but the truth is that these kids did all the work and preparation starting at 2 years old.

I should also acknowledge that the Chinese parents do not have a monopoly on this approach to raising kids.

I see this child-rearing approach also in the Korean, and Japanese, and Indian parents. I end up writing the recommendation letters for kids of those ethnicity also, and their accomplishments equal those of the Chinese ethnicity.

Finally, one more very important point.

The kids I'm writing about DO NOT involve themselves at all in the catty social-circle cliques so popular with and important to the Caucasian high school kids. The Asians avoid the DISTRACTION of those cliques.

Submitted by briansd1 on January 10, 2011 - 2:45pm.

There is truth to "Asian values."

Lee Kuan Yu repeated talks about them. Jim Rogers is a believer.

It's no surprise to me to that, in one generation, Hong Kong and Singapore got richer (per capita) than their former colonial masters, Great Britain.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asian_values

http://www.businessinsider.com/jim-roger...

Submitted by Allan from Fallbrook on January 10, 2011 - 2:46pm.

Well, at the risk of sounding politically incorrect or racist: One of my strongest memories regarding performance on the SAT was hearing comments from black students who did poorly and Asian students who did poorly.

Black students: "The test is racially biased".

Asian students: "I need to study harder".

I went to Catholic school/high school in the SF/Bay Area and participated in one of the most academically rigorous programs there (St. Francis High School in Mountain View). The toughest competition I can recall, when it came to things like AP courses, Speech & Debate, etc, came from Asian kids. I was raised with a very Midwestern German work ethic and taught from a young age about academic and athletic excellence and hard work, but they were at a completely different level.

It's sad, really, because the now old-fashioned American virtues of study, hard work and self-sacrifice, which made this country such a great success, are in critically short supply amongst American youth.

Submitted by sunny88 on January 10, 2011 - 2:51pm.

Being one of the children raised by Chinese parents I have to agree that only hard work, dedication and sacrifice will result in success. Unfortunately, this approach has also it's drawbacks, i.e. social skills are much less developed in most of these kids which can be a disadvantage when facing daily life (i.e. being nerdy). I think a combination of "Western" and "Eastern" approach is the best way to raise successful offsprings.

Submitted by sunny88 on January 10, 2011 - 2:52pm.

Allan from Fallbrook wrote:
Well, at the risk of sounding politically incorrect or racist: One of my strongest memories regarding performance on the SAT was hearing comments from black students who did poorly and Asian students who did poorly.

Black students: "The test is racially biased".

Asian students: "I need to study harder".

I went to Catholic school/high school in the SF/Bay Area and participated in one of the most academically rigorous programs there (St. Francis High School in Mountain View). The toughest competition I can recall, when it came to things like AP courses, Speech & Debate, etc, came from Asian kids. I was raised with a very Midwestern German work ethic and taught from a young age about academic and athletic excellence and hard work, but they were at a completely different level.

It's sad, really, because the now old-fashioned American virtues of study, hard work and self-sacrifice, which made this country such a great success, are in critically short supply amongst American youth.

Political correctness is one of the major reasons why progress is so slow. We should all be able to tell the truth no matter how painful it is.

Submitted by stockstradr on January 10, 2011 - 2:53pm.

Black students: "The test is racially biased".

Asian students: "I need to study harder".

I very much agree with this point.

Submitted by Coronita on January 10, 2011 - 3:10pm.

I think the key is to strike a fine balance. My sibling worked hard and played hard. She's very successful in life. I just worked hard, and had no life and not nearly as successful.

If the goal in life is in a so-so "average" profession, I believe that social skills are far more important than capabilities.

IF the goal in life is to be in a field requiring specialization/etc, then perhaps you can sort of punt on the social skills.

You kinda can't be a all talk and no action (up to a point) and you kinda can't be an all doer and no talk, otherwise you won't get noticed.

I personally don't really like some of the aspects of asian influence that parents have brought over to the states. For example, putting kids into enrichment programs starting at age 4-5... It's getting way too extreme imho. And guess what? Asian parents aren't the only ones doing it....My neighbors (non asian) have been sending their 4 year old to "kumon" for a few hours. And although I didn't say anything, I was thinking, you've got to be kidding me...

Me, I took the lazy approach, and took TG's advice and bought some cool math games on an ipad. Kid doesn't want to put it down.... :)

Submitted by Allan from Fallbrook on January 10, 2011 - 3:21pm.

sunny88 wrote:

Political correctness is one of the major reasons why progress is so slow. We should all be able to tell the truth no matter how painful it is.

Sunny: I agree with your assessment, but I think we both know that, in the America of today, frankly speaking one's mind or stating the truth, is a recipe for disaster.

We're not prepared (nor are we allowed) to speak the truth, so as not to offend, or make others feel bad, or honestly admit how far this country has fallen, especially when it comes to education, ability and performance.

I have two kids in grade school and it never ceases to amaze me how much effort goes into the "self-esteem" and "self-worth" of the students, and how little effort goes into actually teaching them. Teachers "teach to the test" (essentially gaming the State of California standardized test system, which drives all metrics, especially budgetary dollars). As parents, we're constantly lectured about "diversity" and "cultural understanding", but we hear very little about the three "R's" (Reading, 'Riting and 'Rithmetic).

In the 1960s, the California school system was one of the best in the world. Now look at it. Everyone knows why, but we're too afraid to say it.

Submitted by AK on January 10, 2011 - 3:27pm.

I too think that balance is important ... Those catty social cliques are a "distraction" in high school, but they live on in the adult workplace. I think it's important to learn how to deal with those power games without being consumed by them.

Isolating your kids from frivolous "mainstream" pop culture doesn't do them any favors either. How can you market to the mainstream culture without understanding it? How can you make sound investment decisions without understanding consumer sentiment and investor psychology?

And music lessons ... that's a subject for another post entirely. Suffice it to say that IMO piano is left-brained and single-threaded, while guitar is right-brained and multithreaded. If you want your kid to grow up with half a brain, restrict him/her to piano. Better yet, restrict them to classical works written by dead guys in powdered wigs and silk stockings.

Submitted by sunny88 on January 10, 2011 - 3:40pm.

Allan from Fallbrook wrote:
sunny88 wrote:

Political correctness is one of the major reasons why progress is so slow. We should all be able to tell the truth no matter how painful it is.

Sunny: I agree with your assessment, but I think we both know that, in the America of today, frankly speaking one's mind or stating the truth, is a recipe for disaster.

We're not prepared (nor are we allowed) to speak the truth, so as not to offend, or make others feel bad, or honestly admit how far this country has fallen, especially when it comes to education, ability and performance.

I have two kids in grade school and it never ceases to amaze me how much effort goes into the "self-esteem" and "self-worth" of the students, and how little effort goes into actually teaching them. Teachers "teach to the test" (essentially gaming the State of California standardized test system, which drives all metrics, especially budgetary dollars). As parents, we're constantly lectured about "diversity" and "cultural understanding", but we hear very little about the three "R's" (Reading, 'Riting and 'Rithmetic).

In the 1960s, the California school system was one of the best in the world. Now look at it. Everyone knows why, but we're too afraid to say it.

You're right, but then we shouldn't complain about the country going down the drain. The only way to improve is to recognize the weaknesses and come up with solutions. Making people feel bad is often the first step for improvement. Tell people when they are lazy and praise them when they work hard. Don't reward losers - make them feel bad to motivate them. I believe that the current climate is contraproductive and leads to disaster. Political correctness is the enemy of progress!

Submitted by sdduuuude on January 10, 2011 - 4:32pm.

Tell me again how not being allowed to "attend a sleepover," "have a playdate," or "be in a school play" is a good thing ?

I was allowed to do all those things and I could ruin a curve with the best of them. Asians cowered in fear when I joined a college class :)

My kids are on the same path. The playdates and sleepovers don't seem to be ruining their road to success.

Yours Truly,
Male, Pale, and Stale

Submitted by briansd1 on January 10, 2011 - 4:34pm.

sunny88 wrote:

You're right, but then we shouldn't complain about the country going down the drain. The only way to improve is to recognize the weaknesses and come up with solutions. Making people feel bad is often the first step for improvement. Tell people when they are lazy and praise them when they work hard. Don't reward losers - make them feel bad to motivate them. I believe that the current climate is contraproductive and leads to disaster. Political correctness is the enemy of progress!

Well said, sunny88.

When it comes to students, giving them passing grades for trying is not good enough. The students, at a young age, need to learn that trying is not good enough because, in life, you have to produce results.

I was just talking a friend about her diet. She wasn't happy because I said that obviously it's not working because there are no results. She's a good old friend so I'm able to speak the truth; but still, it was a little awkward.

On political correctness, the opposite side uses patriotism, the flag and such as political weapons. In order to win, you have use stronger political weapons because, otherwise, they'll take advantage of perceived weakness. That's pragmatism, IMHO.

Submitted by sdduuuude on January 10, 2011 - 4:39pm.

An alternative view, which presents the downsides of a high-pressure youth can be found here. I don't necessarily buy into the entire message of this, but this movie is making waves in yuppie-parent-land now and this thread reminded me of it:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1437364/

Submitted by briansd1 on January 10, 2011 - 4:45pm.

Allan from Fallbrook wrote:

Black students: "The test is racially biased".

Asian students: "I need to study harder".

I do think that tests are culturally biased. If you watch Jeopardy you will encounter subjects that are culturally biased.

But so what? One can complain about the cultural bias and still find a way to learn and overcome them (which is what Asian students are doing to their credit).

White students from professional families are doing well because they are part of the "establishment".

But there are vast numbers of White students who barely graduate from high school. I believe these are most likely to grow up to become dangerous, disaffected adults in a globalized multi-cultural world.

Submitted by jpinpb on January 10, 2011 - 5:06pm.

flu - thanks for your post. I think it's important to have some balance. I think kids should also have a chance to be kids and socialize. While I can certainly understand parents that want to demand the best of their children, I honestly can't see how calling them names and degrading them can possibly be a good thing for a healthy self-esteem. It is overly harsh, IMO. Getting an A can't be the end-all be-all. No wonder some of these kids are suicidal. That must really wreak havoc on their psyche.

My cousins kids are brats, as far as I'm concerned, yet they're honor students. They play baseball, wrestle, play video games, but they get straight A's. I assure you that my cousin is not practicing the strict studying guidelines that a Chinese mother would. I'm amazed the kids are doing so well, frankly. They are taking hard classes.

Submitted by blahblahblah on January 10, 2011 - 5:09pm.

Americans will always be superior at dancing, acting, and being politicians. Our financial wizards will always be the best in the world at stealing money without going to prison. And American lawyers can file lawsuits and injunctions faster than any Chinese lawyers, that's for sure. American athletes will always win the world championships in baseball and American football. And of course our bombs are the biggest and we drop them with the most carefree aplomb. Who cares about the violin, or doing smart technical things, or whatever? Certainly not Americans, and certainly not when there is so much acting, dancing, football-throwing, politicizing, suing, and bombing to be done. If the Asians want to do wussy stuff like creating technology and giant buildings and dams and whatnot, who cares? The next season of "Dancing With The Stars" will be starting up again soon.

Submitted by scaredyclassic on January 10, 2011 - 5:17pm.

My theory on happiness is that you should have low expectations. You definitely shouldn't expect much of children. Let em grow, see what happens. My wife disagrees. It is often better in life not to do too good a job.

Submitted by Rich Toscano on January 10, 2011 - 5:24pm.

I'm not a parent, so take this for what it's worth. It seems like the goal should be to raise kids in a way so that they will lead happy lives. Hard work and accomplishment (such as school success and shredding violin skills) can help lead to financial success and stability, which is a very important part of happiness. But it's not the only part -- far from it. It seems that these parents are solely focused on that one aspect to the exclusion of everything else.

Again, non-expert here... but I doubt very much that this approach optimizes for happy and well-adjusted adulthood.

Submitted by scaredyclassic on January 10, 2011 - 5:39pm.

Happy? Too high an expectation. Doomed to failure.

Submitted by briansd1 on January 10, 2011 - 5:46pm.

No money, no honey.

No honey, no happiness. Pretty simple, really.

Submitted by Diego Mamani on January 10, 2011 - 6:31pm.

AK, you should have used quotation marks in your post... I thought you had written all that stuff about not allowing your kids to be in school plays.

Amy is a prof at Yale, and so is her husband Jed, a jewish braniac. What's funny is that Jed studied drama for several years at Julliard! For some reason he still turned out OK. (I would like to hear Amy's thoughts on this, and BTW a few days ago I re-watched The Dead Poets Society, where a kid commits suicide when his parents forbid him to be in a school play.)

Something to consider about this article: When you have parents who are high achieveing braniacs with Ivy-league advanced degrees, their kids tend to do well in school too, regardless of their ethnicity, traditions, culture, etc.

She looks hot in the picture taken in a hotel room!

Submitted by bubble_contagion on January 10, 2011 - 7:56pm.

Maybe Americans should outsource their children's parenting to the Chinese. I see a business opportunity here.

Submitted by scaredyclassic on January 10, 2011 - 8:25pm.

If all get a's the a is worthless. Kind of like grade inflation from the student side. The answer to Americas problem is nit for everyone to get an a

Submitted by Eugene on January 10, 2011 - 8:31pm.

As always, there are Chinese mothers and there are Chinese mothers.

The kind we see here in the U.S. are very specific, highly selected, basically the tip of the iceberg.

If you were to see the 'typical', the 'average' Chinese mother, you'd be shocked and horrified.

Suffice to say that as many as 40% of kids in rural Chinese schools never graduate from MIDDLE SCHOOL. They just drop out at some point around the time when it becomes evident that they won't make the cut on gaokaos, usually around the age of 13 or 14, and move on to work on the nearest farm.

Submitted by Eugene on January 10, 2011 - 8:41pm.

briansd1 wrote:

It's no surprise to me to that, in one generation, Hong Kong and Singapore got richer (per capita) than their former colonial masters, Great Britain.

And India is still dirt poor. Is there a difference in values between China and India?

The real reason is that, just like the Chinese people in the U.S., Hong Kong and Singapore are both inhabited by highly selected, most intelligent and hard-working narrow subset of the Chinese people who had the opportunity to immigrate to either. The same thing is happening in Beijing and Shanghai.

But I guess you could attribute that to Asian values too. If you're inherently capable of high achievement, Asian values of your parents ensure that you go far. If you're not, your parents will give up on you, send you to a farm and make another baby.

Submitted by CDMA ENG on January 10, 2011 - 10:14pm.

When I was at ASU they built a new building across from the H wing. It was the new life science building. We quickly dubbed it the death science building because there were three or four suicide jumpers in quick succesion until they locked the building down tighter than a drum.

All of them were asians. None of them were flunking out. It was noted by thier asian friends that these guys were "failures" and deeply ashamed because they were not maintian 4.0s in whatever.

One kid killed himself by slitting his own throat.

I can't imagine that kind of family pressure that would make someone do that.

As for SDDuuuude kids... Man... they are well adjusted smart little kids...

They are proof positive that kids can be kids and do well in life.

CE

Submitted by poorgradstudent on January 10, 2011 - 11:42pm.

When I was a grad student I taught and worked with a lot of Asian undergrads. From what I picked up, most resented their parents at some level, especially their "Asian Dads". I imagine that upon becoming financially independent and cutting the purse strings most will almost never call or visit their parents.

There's a happy-medium to be had. I think most of us know how important being able to relate to people is important for success in business and life. The kind of kids the article talks about often are outwardly extremely successful until college and burn out. Some become successful doctors, the sort of person who is good at their job but viewed as "weird" by coworkers, and in the case of Doctors the kind that has horrid bedside manner.

A good parent is like a good government; it regulates but doesn't micromanage.

Submitted by CA renter on January 11, 2011 - 3:58am.

poorgradstudent wrote:
When I was a grad student I taught and worked with a lot of Asian undergrads. From what I picked up, most resented their parents at some level, especially their "Asian Dads". I imagine that upon becoming financially independent and cutting the purse strings most will almost never call or visit their parents.

There's a happy-medium to be had. I think most of us know how important being able to relate to people is important for success in business and life. The kind of kids the article talks about often are outwardly extremely successful until college and burn out. Some become successful doctors, the sort of person who is good at their job but viewed as "weird" by coworkers, and in the case of Doctors the kind that has horrid bedside manner.

A good parent is like a good government; it regulates but doesn't micromanage.

Good post, and I especially liked the bolded part.

We have a few Chinese friends, and I feel sorry for their kids. They rarely have time to play with other kids (or play at all) because they spend hours and hours doing homework, practicing piano, and attending various activities and classes after school. They have no "free" time, as almost 100% of their day is strictly scheduled.

To be sure, these kids will be successful, but childhood only comes once in a lifetime. Is it so wrong for kids to enjoy being kids during this precious, fleeting time?

Submitted by jpinpb on January 11, 2011 - 7:26am.

As maybe politically incorrect as the article, I'll be somewhat the same. And I admit I will be generalizing. I've noticed that Asians are shy, timid, awkward, socially inept, unhappy, withdrawn and even cold. Sure they thrive in the environment that was pushed upon them, science, bookwork. But I suggest that one needs to have more than that to function in the corporate world. For example, how many connections are made on the golf course?

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