Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Dear Asian America: Forget Chua’s Book, This is Our “It Gets Better” Moment

Guest post by Cynthia Liu, originally published at K-12 News Network

Dear Asian America,

As so many have pointed out through gut-wrenching personal testimony and the horrible statistics surrounding high suicide rates among young APA women–and a high rate of untreated mental illness in our community overall–Amy Chua‘s book hit a nerve. Big time.

But, let’s make this flood of commentary and outrage NOT about Chua’s book, but about the damage a certain kind of patriarchal, homophobic, and authoritarian, high-stakes parenting can do.

Yes, I said homophobic. The narrowness and rigidity of what makes for the Right School, the Right (Ethnicity) Mate, the Right Job…you don’t think it ends there, do you?

Let’s face it, if a parent feels no limits on yelling, belittling, and coercing a kid into high achievement because the ends justify the means, what’s to stop that parent from issuing beatings in the name of the greater good? Because many who harshly discipline their kids say they use corporal punishment for the same reasons–out of love. I’m not saying everyone who experienced corporal punishment is permanently psychically damaged. No. But I am saying that as with any parenting method that is harsh to begin with, extremes of emotional and physical abuse cannot be far behind.


And let’s also face this fact: many in our community may be book smart, but many also have a low Emotional Intelligence Quotient. This ranges from a lack of expressiveness, to parenting that is bullying and insensitive, to social awkwardness and a failure to know how to shmooze.

There’s a dark side to Asian Pacific America. The intensity of immigrant aspiration can feed it just as much as it feeds our other sides.

And there’s also a highly functional, balanced, warm, demanding, and nurturing kind of enlightened APA parenting. One that focuses on each child as a unique person and that is lovingly demanding of that’s child’s best, whether it’s at school, at a sport, in the arts, or as an ethical, caring human being.

Many of us, having had tough adolescences or periods in college where it took a while to sort things out, are now parents. And we’re resolved to improve upon the good and the bad that we inherited. So what does that enlightened APA parenting look like?

I’ll tell you a secret: I agree with Amy Chua on a couple of things. We don’t watch tv in our household. (Dvds, yes, but no tv.) Homework comes first. Pay attention to what the teacher asks for, because you will have to deliver according to the standards they set. You WILL learn a second language. But otherwise? Have fun. Read for pleasure. Go outside and climb a tree, or something. Enjoy traveling when we go to new places, because whiny kids can just as easily sit at home. Don’t you want to draw or paint? Stick with the guitar for at least a year–you’ll thank me when you’re 15. Pick something and excel at it. Pick something you love, and do it regardless of how good you are at it.

If Amy Chua’s failed experiment in implementing 1960s Confucian parenting methods isn’t the way, what is?


I’ve been blogging about this since 2003, when my son was born. At that time, after lots of discussion with my spouse, also Asian Pacific American, we decided that we would try non-violent parenting. So far, it’s worked out well for us. Our son is extremely close to the both of us. There’s a tremendous sense of trust. All our physical contact (including my husband with my son, of course) is hugging, kissing, and other warm expressions of affection. And I really like this. Hands are for Hugging, don’t you know? (Granted, he’s 7 and the teen years are ahead of us yet, so I’ll let you know how that goes.)

But I’m asking you–affluent parents plotting how to get your kindergartener into Stanford, working class parents wondering how to get your kid into Bronx Science–how will we all encourage our kids to excel at being themselves? And do it without breaking them?

We’ve all heard President Obama’s warning that the country that out-educates us tomorrow will out-perform us tomorrow. (I’ve always maintained he’s the first Asian American president, much in the same way that Bill Clinton was the first black president.)

But let’s not go nuts trying to respond to President Obama’s observation.

Here’s our chance to raise our Emotional Intelligence Quotients. This is our “It Gets Better” moment, so to speak. How can we widen what we understand as excellence? Achievement? And happiness? And still equip our kids with whatever skills they need to not only survive, but thrive in an unpredictable and fast-changing world?

Go. (You don’t have to be Asian American to leave a comment.)

Other APA blogs on this subject:

Betty Ming Liu

Rice Daddies: Keith Chow

Big WoWo

Ray Kwong

Christine Lu

Shanghaiist and here

Resist Racism

Racialicious

ChinaHearsay

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Seriously, this is our "It Gets Better" moment? You are either vastly under-estimating what it means to have grown up gay or vastly over-dramatizing what it means to have grown up with Asian parents (full disclosure: I am not the former. I am the latter). I'll set aside for now the specifics of the book - which I haven't read, so I can't really comment on it as I've only seen little snippets - and focus on your assertion that having Asian parents is so bad as to be equated with BEING SOCIALLY OSTRACIZED and unaccepted.

Is child rearing different in America than in Asia? Almost certainly. Is American child-rearing too permissive and coddling? Perhaps. Is Asian parenting to strict and draconian? Maybe. But generally speaking, I'd say that over permissiveness leads to less individual discipline. It might be harder for us to as Asians living in America to separate ourselves from either, but you have only to look at the cultural performance of China, Korea, and Japan over the last quarter century to see that even in their less individualistic cultural environment(versus the VERY individual-based western civilization) that they are individually and collectively performing at a much higher level. Is that "better"? That is, perhaps, a value judgment. But I'd be careful about condemning it as being the same as "bullying".

Anonymous said...

Thank you for compiling such a nice list of links and calling my attention to the response to the article. I was really annoyed at it.

Anonymous said...

Chua seems to be spewing very misleading and potentially harmful garbage. She needs to look at all the available literature on parenting styles and ethnicity before spewing nonsense she has no business talking about. Studies show that Asian American (and Chinese American) students succeed in school *despite* the parenting styles of their parents and not because of it. They have the least parental involvement in their school work and the parenting style that is the most detrimental to school success (authoritarian and permissive as opposed to the most conducive, authoritative). See the book, “Growing Up the Chinese Way: Chinese Child and Adolescent Development”

Chua is a lawyer, not a developmental psychologist and it is no surprise that someone who’s occupation involves speciously distorting the facts and presenting one-sided, superficial arguments to sway others for monetary gain would do this kind of thing. She, I fear, is doing a tremendous amount of damage to parents and especially children of all ethnicities.

She also oversimplifies Chinese parenting styles. Chinese American parents, though tend to be very authoritarian (which as I pointed out is detrimental to school success) is also the most “democratic” and on many studies also tend to be extremely permissive according to research conducted by actual developmental psychologists.

Jimmy said...

When Amy Chua threatens her daughter, who is trying to master a song on the piano, with the removal and donation of her toys, no lunch or dinner, no birthday parties, and name calling, I would consider that bullying. I understand that goals and expectations must be set high, but there are ways to motivate that don't include this type of behavior.

Claire said...

Many people are throwing around the statistic about suicides, but looking further, the suicide rate is even higher for Japanese Americans, who presumably are on average more generations removed from the first immigrant generation. So can one really suggest this has to do with the strict immigrant parenting model?

In addition, I can't even find a direct reference to the source data. A fair discussion would also ask what other factors correlate with being Asian American that could contribute to the statistic being higher than average, such as class, being multi-racial, living in an urban environment, etc.

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