We seem to focus on the wrong questions; the “why” questions. And even worse, the questions that analyze generalized, abstract reasons for why mostpeople or why our society does something.
One of the latest in the long list of articles about how to be better parents – by being a Tiger Mom or a French Mom – is by Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker, “Why are American Kids So Spoiled?”
Of course Kolbert gives examples of permissive American parents that raise nasty, narcissistic, self-indulgent, entitled, spoiled brats who harass, abuse and bully their parents. And then we can analyze why we parents raise them that way, and the plusses and minuses of raising kids permissively; or not expecting anything until they’ve understood the advantages of the behavior we want and they’re willing to put forth the effort to give it. And then we wring our hands at adults we see who are aging but still spoiled brats. And then we feel overwhelmed and helpless because we think our society is going downhill.
Ah, the false assumption that if we can figure out, objectively and dispassionately, what’s wrong, we can reason our way to the correct plan that will work for all reasonable people.
A better question is about what behavior each of us wants to demand from our kids and grandkids in a real, specific moment.
Every moment, we’re training our kids about what behavior is acceptable and what the consequences will be for falling below our standards of behavior – whether that’s disapproval, removal, or something else.
Training is more important than explaining.
My question is about specific individuals, situations and moments in time – what do we want to say and do with our kids at that moment? It’s not a “why” question. It’s a "what" question focused on the present and future, not on the past.
What reasons do we want to give to our kids for our standards and demands, when don’t we want give reasons in the moment, and when is their compliance expected whether or not they understand or agree with our reasons?
What immediate rewards and consequences do we want to have for their behavior?
As opposed to the misbehaving kids, who we’ve all seen, in Kolbert’s examples, I’ve seen many young kids behaving wonderfully in public – toward their parents as well as toward non-family members. Their parents have trained these kids and demanded good behavior from them, and the kids have accepted the standards.
We can usually get civil, polite, helpful behavior from our children and grandchildren if we’re willing to do the training.
We do know what we want and we don’t need the latest research studies to justify it. Also, we don’t need to spend our children’s whole childhood analyzing what’s right or begging them to act decently.
Amy Chua’s article in the Wall Street Journal, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” has gotten enough publicity to make her book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” a best seller. She’s clear that she uses the term “Chinese Mother” to represent a certain way of treating children that may be found in people from many, many cultures.
If many people adopt her style of parenting in order to make their children play at Carnegie Hall that would be a shame. Amy Chua is an abusive bully.
She beats her children into submission and claims that they’ll have great self-esteem as well as becoming successful in the competitive jungle of life because they can accomplish the very few things Ms. Chua thinks are important.
“What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences.”
“Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight “As.” Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best.”
“Western parents are extremely anxious about their children's self-esteem…Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches. Chinese parents aren't. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.”
“Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them. If their child doesn't get them, the Chinese parent assumes it's because the child didn't work hard enough. That's why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child.”
There’s a grain of sense in what she says, but that grain is covered by a mountain of brutality that will be successful in creating only slaves or another generation of bullying parents, not in creating fully human beings.
What’s wrong with Ms. Chua’s ideas?
She lives in a kill-or-be-killed world of desperate striving for the most material rewards of success.
She’s rigid, narrow, and all-or-none with only two possibilities.
She allows only a few criteria for success – Stanford or Yale, violin or piano, maybe ballet. I assume only one or two acceptable careers like lawyer or professor.
She assumes that there are only totally slacking children (Americans) or totally successful children (with “Chinese Mothers”). If you give children an inch, they’ll become complete failures.
She thinks that the only way her children can be successful and happy and honor their parents is to be champions at her approved activities.
There’s almost no joy in their lives. Yes, there’s a moment when her daughter masters a difficult two-handed exercise. But the best that the rest of life holds is the thrill of victory and success at winning. There’s no possibility for joy in doing activities that thrill your soul and uplift your spirit.
Ms. Chua has only one value – compete and defeat; win at any cost.
This is a great and necessary value. It has made our society the first world. But if when the only value, when she ignores all the other equally great and necessary values she becomes inhuman – a barbarian, a torturer, no better than a Nazi or Communist or Fascist.
No wonder she’s aghast at all the personal attacks. She may be a brilliant law professor and accomplished writer but she’s completely out of touch with the world’s great traditions championing other values like great character, individuality, liberty, self-determination, love, beauty, compassion, spirituality and human connection. That’s why people take it so personally. Ms. Chua is attacking our most cherished values; cherished for good reasons. These values make us human in our most fundamental American, western ways.
Ms. Chua represents inhumanity justified by Darwin and Marx. She represents a revival of B.F. Skinner’s way of raising his daughter in a “Skinner Box,” as if she was a pigeon. When she grew up she sued him.
A better approach:
Have you observed your children individually and carefully? One approach does not fit them all.
Which children need you to provide more structure and which will be dedicated and determined on their own? Which children respond better when they’re encouraged and which respond better to having their imperfections pointed out? This is where expert coaching is helpful to design approaches that fit you and each child.
What are your children passionate about so they become energetic and determined on their own? Are following an artists path, playing the oboe, writing “silly” stories like “The Little Prince,” learning to program computers, studying bugs and strange sea creatures, mastering any sport, being a person who inspires others to be the best they can be, dedicating yourself to raising independent and creative children living rich and full lives, being a craftsman who makes great pianos or violins, coaching basketball teams at “minor schools” like University of Connecticut or UCLA to set winning-record streaks, being entrepreneurs like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, making movies, loving children and a thousand other endeavors worthwhile to you? How can you encourage and nurture your child’s dedication and skill in those areas?
Character is critical. All of the world’s great literature points to the deficiencies of social climbers, bureaucrats and people whose only focus is to win at all costs. What would Ms. Chua have created if she could have gotten her hands on the children who became, for example, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Charles Dickens or Alexander Solzhenitsyn? Or great figures in the world from Joan of Arc, Hildegard of Bingen and Mahatma Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr. or Aung San Suu Kyi, to name only five of thousands.
Don’t be a victim of your parents’ ideas about what constitutes success and how to achieve it. You can give your children the tools of the mind, will and spirit and let them create their own lives that they’ll love.
By the way, Ayalet Waldman wrote a somewhat tongue-in-cheek response in the Wall Street Journal, “In Defense of the Guilty, Ambivalent, Preoccupied Western Mom.” In part she defends her children’s choices and her catering to those choices. In part she also defends her selfish desires to discourage her children when their activities would inconvenience her. That’s not the answer either.
All of the poles in this discussion are the wrong places to be – being a wimpy parent or an uncaring, selfish parent or a brute.
Numerous articles, including Sandy Maple’s on parentdish.com, “Teen Insult Web Site Shut Down,” have reported that online free speech has bowed to the pressure of community values. In an effort to stop online harassment, cyber bullying and abuse, a coalition has pressured Go Daddy, the internet host, to pull a web site, “People’s Dirt,” out of cyberspace. Calling it an “insult site” is misleading. The site was forum for anonymous hate mail.
What did it take to pressure Go Daddy to drop the site?
The site was very popular with vindictive and vicious high school students who used it anonymously to publically trash-talk, harass, abuse and embarrass their targets. The combination of slander and defamation on the hate board was illegal, but the anonymity offered by the site protected the abusers.
The Go Daddy hosting service agreement with its users allows Go Daddy to end service for sites whose content includes activities that “defame, embarrass, harm, abuse, threaten, slander or harass third parties.” The contents on the site, including a threat to kill students and staff, racial slurs, claims of promiscuity about named high school students, and accusations against named teachers fit into those prohibited categories.
Go Daddy could have resisted the effort and forced the group to go to court to prove some sort of illegal activity. But this is a much better solution: common cause to stop bullying and abuse. Go Daddy will find other ways to make money.
Every society or community limits complete free speech because of a more important value: The balance necessary to maintain the strong sense of community that enables the people to live together peacefully. Neither end of the scale – complete free speech or complete censorship and repression – yields a society worth living in. Some form of compromise, some balancing of individual and communal desires and needs is always reached in communities that move ahead amicably.
Whether the site will remain offline is still an open question. Other internet hosts may be willing to carry it. Alfredo Castillo, the site's founder, has previously said that if the site was removed by Go Daddy, he would move it to an international host, where it could skirt any American prosecution.
Mr. Castillo is a person who doesn’t care about his community. He’s an individual isolated from his community’s values. He’s interested only in his own desires to make money. Those are some of the identifying characteristics of bullies and sociopaths. Anyone know where he lives and where his children go to school?