Take Away Their (M)TV and Discipline Like Tiger Mom

I had never heard of Amy Chua until the “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” media firestorm erupted – and I’m sorry I hadn’t. 


Photo by Erin Patrice O'Brien for the WSJ

I mean, what kind of parent doesn’t allow her child to have playdates, sleepovers or not go to the bathroom until the piano practice is done to perfection? Well, crazy as this may sound it is pretty much the same type of parenting of yesteryear.  The seemingly beastly-mother’s parenting tactics sound very similar to the methods used by our own parents (and perhaps still employed by parents today) a few decades ago. You know exactly who these mean parents are: the ones who grounded you for misbehaving (no friends); the ogres who didn’t allow you to get up from the table until you’d finished your broccoli; and the same parents that sent you to your room for talking back…without supper!

Were they cruel, child-abusing parents? Well, I think I didn't turn out so badly.

The claws came out last week when an excerpt of the Yale Law Professor's book hit the Wall Street Journal. Mama grizzly bear reared her ugly Western head criticizing the Chinese mom's stern disciplining methods, and the debate continues here. However, since I'm not a Psychologist, let's agree to set aside all psychological matters about socializing, mental abuse, and all that mumbo jumbo regarding the tiger mother's strict parenting. However, I must address those who felt they needed to express their vile opinions about this mother’s account of her child-rearing style last week and accused her of cruelty and child abuse.

I dare say you missed the message or took it personally because she called you a bad Western parent.

The worst behavior came from parents who actually sent death threats to Amy! Who could be so offended they felt compelled to stoop this low? (By the way, great parenting example!) One explanation could be they must be the same ones who’d rather look the other way when their own kids get Cs and yet are allowed to hang out with friends, drink, smoke, and party. Oh, wait.  Maybe their kids actually get As and that's why they're allowed to smoke, drink and get involved in other illegal activities as minors – these A reporting types have been deemed ‘good kids’ by their permissive parents and are therefore entitled? Hmmm.

Whatever the case is, I’m going to get in trouble here, but I have to say I am not at all offended nor do I find fault with how the tigress mom chose to emulate her culture to bring up her kids in a tough, responsible, and productive household.  She is not a professor at Yale and a tiger mom because she could care less about putting forth fruitful and conscientious citizens into this country, is she?

One mom expressed her point of view regarding this extreme parenting style on my Facebook page. Taylor M. Murphy of AGreenThumb's.com wrote: “I kinda like her. My own mother did not allow me to date until I was 18. I never went to over-night anythings. I also was expected to bring home As….and look at me now: Married 20 years, no illegitimate babies, own my own company & work for myself, no drugs, no drama. Thanks Mom.”

Okay. Maybe you don’t have to follow Chua's exact draconian child-rearing strategy, but a good balance might just be the way to stop the lunacy that has taken control away from American parents and given it to their kids. I’ll tell you that I too denied my kids certain friendships and did not allow sleepovers (too often). I also instilled in them a little fear of me – the way it used to be with my parents and should be.  Just ask my husband, he always told me my kids would hate me and leave home as soon as they could. Well, guess what? One did leave the house…to go to college. And we both very proudly waved goodbye.

Our second one (though we're not done with her yet) is also a focused and determined teenager who not only wants to be a good daughter, but a good student. She's very creative, runs her own Art Club at school, and her bubbly disposition is contagious. Does she have friends? Yes. Does she go to sleepovers? A few, and it's not our strict parenting that keeps her away from them; she doesn’t allow herself to waste too much time on superficial pastimes because she's busy participating in sports, plays and other extracurriculars of her choosing (no instruments, unless a child’s accordion counts. This was one of the Christmas presents she requested this year).

Another mother, Michelle Sybert of MuffintinMom.com, wrote this: “…I support discipline, strong confident discipline, but I draw the line at several of the tactics she used, for my own life. That being said, I support her right to parent how she chooses. And denying playmates isn't child abuse.”

Limiting kids from certain superfluous activities won’t kill their self-esteem, much like wearing school uniforms doesn’t impede individuality (tell this to the public school system!). But I digress. If we want to improve the disastrous effects our overly-indulgent culture is having on our less-than-stellar performing youth, then I recommend we all read this mother’s book and take away the lessons (and their MTV) we need to apply at home which sadly can’t be observed in our schools: tough discipline, strong work ethic, and the value of respecting parents and adults over all. (We can start by making sure kids always address their superiors correctly. Yup. Mr., Mrs. or Miss before the name is imperative!)

Then there's the opposite side when it comes to judging our kids and their performance. Hiding the fact that a child is not a star student is quite common in our neck of the woods — their success or failure does reflect on the parents. Tonia Accetta is a British mother married to an American and raising her children in the USA , and my friend, who also wrote to me with this:

“Oh I love this subject. Remember when I was having math issues with my son and I asked around if my friends were having similar issues? All the faces were blank, as if they had no idea what I was talking about.  When I researched the schools data I found that my son had company after all. LOTS! My conclusion is that no parent western or other likes to compare their parenting skills or talk about their children's short comings, so they avoid the topic at all cost. On the other hand, they love to brag about their child or children's achievements. This book has simply pitted parent against parent in saying “if your child is performing poorly, the parents are to blame”. You are now labeled a bad parent. Do not try to schedule a sleep over! In some ways I love the style of parenting that Ms Chua is practicing, but it does cross over some lines with her choice's of punishment and personnel belittlement, which I would never use with my children or any other person or animal in fact. I do applaud her for being honest and in her own way doing what she thinks is best for her children as that is what we all strive for.”

I come from a culture where grown children live at home until they leave to get married. Seldom do Mexican offspring leave their childhood home and go away to college—this is the exception rather than the rule.  It’s a completely different family unit, a very tight one – united — at times too close. Much like it’s starting to happen in the US, kids in Mexico do not become independent and tend to stay attached to the parents financially and even emotionally sometimes after marriage.

Having rebelled against this traditional upbringing, I adopted the old-fashion American way of life and became self-reliant and far too independent, in my view. Nevertheless, it was my choice to make something of myself – not my parents. They were not strict at all with me, in fact. But they used the same type of parenting I mentioned earlier; I sat at the table for hours until I finished my Spinach (actually, I waited until they left the kitchen and then threw it in the trash, but let’s keep this between us). I recall talking back to my father as a teenager and being scolded so badly that the memory of my father’s beady eyes still haunts me. Since television wasn’t a big deal then — three channels were nothing we’d trade for a long afternoon outdoors — and computers were just a word, being grounded from seeing friends was by far the worst punishment I could get.

So you see, some of Mrs. Chau’s tactics aren’t that much different than what our own parents likely employed with us.  It’s the trappings of our current material society, plus the emphasis on this run-a-away notion of “lowered self-esteem” that makes the Chinese mom’s antics seem so outrageous. In my current observations of our Western US culture, especially our pop-culture-obsessed society, those parents who haven’t demanded more of their children have delivered precisely what they thought they were avoiding by over-worring about not damaging their kids'confidence: mediocre kids resulting in mediocre adults.

How do you give your kids that extra kick in the pants to get in gear? Do you allow kids to call adults by their first name? Have you used any of Amy Chua's draconian methods, or have you had success with less demeaning methods?


  1. Anonymous says:

    There are so many angles to this article. It's like house hunters on HGTV, we get to look in other peoples lives with scrutiny.
    I did enjoy the rebuttal in the Wall Street Journal this past sunday by the Jewish mother. If you missed it she was very funny and her children were also very accomplished, but did not have to endure such a strict home life. Good luck to all mothers out there we are all great, thats why we were given our own day!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hi! I read the Jewish mom's retort in the WSJ. It was hilarious! She reminded me of Erma Bombeck. We mothers are so different, yet we can use other's experinces to learn and take away whatever we'd like to use for own families. I admire Chua's guts for letting us into her home to see what it was like. She's certainly ruffleling feathers and may have influenced our culture as a side effect.

  3. Anonymous says:

    As I sit here listening to my daughter practice the piano (and I know she hates it) I have to smile. I'm not a Tiger Mom, I hover somewhere between a Grizzlie Mom and a Grounded Helicoper. But I admire and respect Ms. Chua for her tenacity, drive, work-ethics, and most of all her love for her children. I imagine that she is no different than other mothers, we all love our children. She expresses her love in different ways.
    I find it a lot easier to hand out a compliment than to tutor the kids for hours and help them achieve whatever measure of accomplishments that time brings. Ms. Chua models self-discipline and adherance to her principles every time she tutor them or practices with them, even at the protest of her children and husband. She is personally involved and invested in her children's lives. How many of us can match her level of personal involvement?
    It is difficult to balance helping my children learn all the skills they need to become healthy, productive, kind, and responsible citizens with building their self-esteem and having a good relationship with them. Short term, it may seem like these goals conflict, but in the long run; productive, kind and responsible citizens will have good self-esteem, respect and love their parents for helping them become the good people they are.
    Each parent has to choose what is right for their family everyday, in every instance. It's hard even for my husband and I to agree on the parenting technique appropriate for our children in any given instance. I appreciate Ms. Chua's courage in sharing with us her parenting approach and stories. She is well aware that some of those stories won't endear her to a lot of people. She's given us a lot to talk about, whether we love her or hate her. That dialogue can only help us all become better parents. So don't adopt all of her techniques, but surely, there are some lessons we could learn from her.

  4. Anonymous says:

    You're such a good mom, Tam! I certainly agree with your points, and realize that as time went by, Mrs. Chua started to grow on many. Instead on focusing on her stern tactics, we know see we can pick from her experience whatever works for us. I still believe in firm parenting because too many in our own little slice of paradise have gone soft with their kids to not very good results. Keep up those piano lessons. I'd love to hear her play one day!!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Great commentary to help keep the conversation grounded. The debate over this book and the author's comments have become very emotional. My husband just printed off the WSJ article for us to read (and he doesn't usually print anything if he can find it online). We do like to strike a balance between drawing some clear boundaries and also encouraging our daughter's self expression to blossom. It sounds like you have found a good balance with your kids. Bravo! Keep up the good writing.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Lynnee, Where have you been? Glad you stopped by. Though it's difficult to form an opinion with only part of the information, I had to buy the book to understand what all the hoopla was about. So far, the book is not as alarming as the WSJ excerpt made it sound. We can all sure use some of her discipline (to our liking), but I also see how our current society could use a Tiger Mom-esque attitude with today's entitled kids. A balance is the key, and sometimes we do go heavy on one thing and not enough on another — we have to keep ourselves in constant check…such is a parent's job.
    It looks like you are also on a the right track with your daughter. Good luck!

  7. Anonymous says:

    I agree that a lot of people have reacted very emotionally to this article – and I did too. But I know that a prime reason for anger in me is defensiveness, and I did feel put on the defensive with her tactics. I threw my own hat into the ring on this one at my site Thoughts Happen, with the post What Chinese Mothers Can't Teach http://www.thoughtshappen.net/2011/01/what-chinese-mothers-cant-teach.html because although I can't argue with her success, I felt the tactics were way over the top. Your point about balance is well taken – and everyone has to decide for themselves where that balance point lies.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Balance is a challange, but I agree that we each can learn from the many different parenting methods out there and use what fits our style. I do apprecite that a little toughness is needed these days. So glad you stopped by and shared your views. I'll check out your post too, hope you weren't too mad at her. Lol!

  9. Anonymous says:

    I highly recommend reading my friend's article, who lived it firsthand, for perspective. I imagine many people aren't responding to it as an attack on their “Western” momhood so much as being horrified at her tactics – and yes, there's borderline abuse in there. Here's a quote from said friend's article:
    “And so I learned that achievement meant acceptance. And acceptance meant love. And so I did everything I could to get it. I skipped two grades, entered college at 15 and eventually became the youngest director of a college music therapy program in the United States. I also tried and failed at relationships, even a marriage. And I spent way too much money on therapy trying to figure out why I was so insecure, unhappy and emotionally damaged.”

  10. Anonymous says:
  11. Anonymous says:

    Hi Kara, In a way, Amy Chua's book has brought light to a matter most of us were unaware of. I don't know what her intentions were in opening up her parenting methods to the world in this way, but I think she unintenationally is going to help a few who were at opposite ends of the discipline spectrum — either too leinent or not enough — check their balance meter.
    I know that's what all the media attention to her book and article did for me!
    Thanks for stopping by and also for sharing your friend's post. I have two more blogs to add to my reading list!

  12. Anonymous says:

    I definitely appreciate the healthy dialogue this has opened up!

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