YOur Children

Posted by jcmaziquemd on December 24, 2011

Tiger Mom’s Long-Distance Cub

Amy Chua on how she has handled her daughter’s departing the den for college. Drilling and discipline from afar? No, not even a growl



Zuma Press

Law professor Amy Chua says she and her husband are among the most hands-off college parents they know.

A lot of people have asked me whether I still "tiger mom" my older daughter, Sophia, now that she’s in college. Do I block sleepovers from afar, drill her on schoolwork remotely, monitor piano practice by Skype and make sure that she never watches TV or plays computer games?

Actually, it’s just the opposite. My husband and I are probably the most hands-off college parents we know. We never ask Sophia what she’s going to major in or what she does at night, and we accidentally forgot about parents’ weekend. When we got a few stressed text messages from her about finals, we told her to relax, do what she always does, and she’d be fine. And she was.

Here’s the key to tiger parenting, which a lot of people miss: It’s really only about very early child-rearing, and it’s most effective when your kids are between the ages of, say, 5 and 12. When practiced correctly, tiger parenting can produce kids who are more daring and self-reliant, not less.

Tiger parenting is often confused with helicopter parenting, but they could not be more different. In fact, the former eliminates the need for the latter. At its core, tiger parenting—which, if you think about it, is not that different from the traditional parenting of America’s founders and pioneers—assumes strength, not weakness, in children. By contrast, helicopter parenting—which, as far as I can tell, has no historical roots and is just bad—is about parents, typically mothers, hovering over their kids and protecting them, carrying their sports bags for them and bailing them out, possibly for their whole lives.

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I’ve taken a lot of flak over the last year for candidly describing how I raised my daughters and why I did it that way. But what drives me the craziest may be the charge that tiger parenting produces meek robots and automatons. This just misunderstands what tiger parenting is.

Here’s an example of real tiger parenting for you. When I was 15, my father, a professor of chaos theory at Berkeley, took our whole family with him to Europe for his sabbatical year. For one semester, he threw my sisters and me into a local public school in Munich.

When I mentioned to him that we didn’t speak any German and couldn’t understand the teachers, he told me to check out some language books from the library, and reminded me that mathematics and science employ universal symbols. "This is an opportunity," he said. "Make the most of it." It ended up being one of the best years of my life.

Tiger parenting is all about raising independent, creative, courageous kids. In America today, there’s a dangerous tendency to romanticize creativity in a way that may undermine it. Take, for example, all the people who point to Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg and conclude that the secret to innovation is dropping out of college. In fact, both men exemplify extraordinary hard work, drive and resilience in the face of failure—exactly the qualities that tiger parenting seeks to promote. What Mr. Jobs and Mr. Zuckerberg teach us is that we should apply those qualities to something that we feel passionate about.

But you can’t invent Google, Facebook or the iPod unless you’ve mastered the basics, are willing to put in long hours and can pick yourself up from the floor when life knocks you down the first 10 times.

For most kids, college is their first experience truly on their own. Tiger parenting prepares kids for just that moment. For kids who are used to hearing "You’re amazing, that’s great" in response to whatever they do, it must be pretty shocking to fail at something. Tiger cubs, by contrast, are typically resilient. It’s empowering for them to know that you don’t need to be brilliant to succeed—that hard work can fix just about anything.

I remember my own rude awakening when I arrived at college. In the first class that I attended, the professor started lecturing about the Peloponnesian War. Everyone else seemed to know what he was talking about, but I’d never heard of it. Was it recent, maybe just before Vietnam? In my expository-writing class, I got a B on my first paper. Undaunted, I poured myself into the next assignment, working around the clock—and got a B minus. It was a tough year. But I kept bearing down, trying different things, and eventually I got the hang of it.

[chua_forweb]Lulu Chua-Rubenfeld

No Strings Attached: Harvard student Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld in March

When our kids go off to college, we want them to have the confidence, judgment and strength to take care of themselves. Even critics of my approach to parenting would probably concede that, after years of drilling and discipline, tiger cubs are good at focusing and getting their work done. If instilled early, these skills also help them to avoid the college-prep freak-out that traumatizes so many American families.

But one of the biggest knocks against tiger parenting is that it supposedly produces kids with no initiative or social skills. This might be true in China, where so much of the educational system is still harsh, authoritarian and based on rote learning. But it’s definitely not true in the West, where tiger parenting is done in the context of a society—or, in my case, in a home, thanks to my husband—that celebrates irreverence, independence, humor and thinking outside the box.

If anything, I’ve found that tiger cubs raised in America have really high emotional intelligence. For one thing, they’ve spent their whole lives maneuvering around their crazy, strict parents. For another, they don’t tend to be prima donnas, because tiger parents are brutally honest.

A lot of parents today are terrified that something they say to their children might make them "feel bad." But, hey, if they’ve done something wrong, they should feel bad. Kids with a sense of responsibility, not entitlement, who know when to experience gratitude and humility, will be better at navigating the social shoals of college.

When I’m not the Tiger Mom, I’m a professor at Yale Law School, and if one thing is clear to me from years of teaching, it’s that there are many ways to produce fabulous kids. I have amazing students; some of them have strict parents, others have lenient parents, and many come from family situations that defy easy description.

It’s also clear that tiger parenting means different things to different people. For me, it’s ultimately not about achievement. It’s about teaching your kids that they are capable of much more than they think. If they don’t give up, don’t make excuses and hold themselves to high standards, they can do anything they want in life, break through any barrier and never have to care what other people think.

—Amy Chua is the John M. Duff Jr. Professor of Law at Yale Law School. Her books include "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" (now out in paperback) and "Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance — and Why They Fall."

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