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On Chinese Mothers January 10, 2011

EDIT: It is my understanding that the WSJ article is an excerpt of her essay, so there’s a good chance they raped her meaning with that excerpt. I’m not surprised. The media is always about sensationalizing everything…

I sent this to her Yale email from my UIUC email. Hope she reads it. It’s the longest thing I’ve written in years.

This is the article I’m talking about.

Prof. Chua,

Recently, a few of my friends posted links to your article in the Wall Street Journal on Facebook, and as a first generation Asian-American, I must question the validity of the parenting techniques you have described. They may seem to work for your children, but I contend that they could have done just as well without the necessity that you “pretend” to demean them for motivation. I believe genetics has a lot more to do with why Asian Americans have been so successful compared to other Americans as opposed to the stereotypical strict parenting methods. (By the way, as an undergrad in ECE at UIUC, I’m a fan of your father’s studies.) Of course, all of the evidence you or I could provide for our respective cases is strictly anecdotal. After all, your article only justifies these practices with your own experiences and successful children, while I will also only be able to provide evidence to the contrary with what I have experienced. I can only hope to convince you that there may be better ways to raise kids to be highly successful without so much “tough love.”

What I would like to present to you is a happy medium of the strict stereotypical Asian parents and the typical overprotective western parents that I was lucky enough to experience in my own parents. (Not race-wise. My parents are both from Taiwan)

Not once in my entire life has my mother or father told me that I must get an A on every test, nor have they expected that from me. I’m sure they honestly believed I was capable of getting an A on every test up through high school, but they never demanded anything of that nature from me. They would ask me, “Do you think this is really the best you could have done?” at the sight of a subpar test score, and usually I knew the answer myself. If they had called me “dumb” or “garbage” I would have stopped respecting their opinions a very long time ago. That’s how you get rebellious children abusing drugs and alcohol the moment it becomes available to them in college.

I also need to address this slight jab at sports in addition to your opinion on extracurricular activities as a whole:

“Other studies indicate that compared to Western parents, Chinese parents spend approximately 10 times as long every day drilling academic activities with their children. By contrast, Western kids are more likely to participate in sports teams.”

Any time spent on a sports team could just as easily be spent on practicing a musical instrument, which you don’t speak about in the same negative light. Both lead to lifelong passions. Both take time, effort, and usually money. Yet you gave this statistic as if Western kids participating in sports was a bad thing. If anything, I would say that participation in a team sport was more beneficial than practicing a musical instrument for me.

In eighth grade, my mother had told me, “Perhaps you should try doing cross-country.” I heeded her suggestion, but I can assure you that it was entirely my own choice, and my parents never pushed me to run or to do my training. I stumbled through cross country that year (training was very loose since it was still junior high) and before I knew it, I was in high school. The first day of practice for high school cross-country was in late June, just a few weeks after I graduated from junior high. Suddenly, I was at the bottom of the totem pole: a freshman. The older members of the cross country team were running up to 14 or 15 miles a day. The most I had ever run up to that point? 3 miles. It seemed like reaching the same level of endurance as my upperclassmen would be impossible. After all, they were running 5 times as much as I could. But that summer, I went to every single cross country practice, and by the end of the summer I had gotten to the point where I could run 7 miles some days at a mediocre pace, and such a rapid improvement encouraged me. Still, I was thousands of miles of training away from being anywhere near the Varsity guys, and I knew it. All I wanted to do was to keep listen to my coaches instructions: “Never walk. I don’t care how slow you run. Just try your best, and never walk.”

Fast forward to the end of my high school running career. I was running upwards of 90 miles many weeks. I had run a 4:33 mile. I was the second best guy on the track team’s distance crew. (I was probably about the 40th out of 60 boys on the team my freshman year. The best guy was top 25 nationally. You’d need a little more talent than I had to beat him) My long runs were 16 miles on Sundays, and I ran doubles (doing two runs in one day) a few times a week. How did I get to this point? I spent all of my sophomore, junior and senior years finding ways to improve. At first I went from running 5 days a week to 6 and then 7. And then I began changing my diet and working on my core and upper body strength after my runs. And of course I could always do my training runs faster and longer. I even began sleeping more. (Think of how influential this sport was. It caused a high school student to go to sleep early…) I did this early on because I saw how much work my coach and my upperclassmen had poured into our cross-country team, and I couldn’t let them or myself down. But later, it changed such that all I wanted was to improve myself and see how far I could push my limits. No one forced me to change my lifestyle to become a faster runner. This was the type of dedication that can only come from the true love of an activity. It gave me the confidence to succeed in all other facets of my life.

Team sports teach exactly the same lesson that Chinese parents forcibly impose on their children: hard work leads to success, and the harder you work, the more successful you can be. In fact, the team sports probably teach them more effectively than strict parenting ever could. Multiple psychological studies have been done on the advantages of intrinsic motivation over extrinsic motivation. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motivation#Intrinsic_and_extrinsic_motivation. I know there’s a good chance you look down upon referencing Wikipedia, but I’m sure a psych professor at Yale would be happy to explain it to you better than a paper or article ever could)

This leads into my next point: That you should let your kids pick their extracurriculars. I’m sure while you were reading the bit about my cross country experiences you were thinking “Not every kid is going to buy into their sport like that. Not every person who has run cross country has changed their diet, slept earlier, and overall learned about the values of hard work.” That’s where I think you’re wrong. If you allow you children to choose an extracurricular that they truly love, they will, without a doubt, to pour their heart into it. There’s no guarantee being forced to play the piano could do that if your child’s true desire is to be in theater (the school play).

The success that Asian-Americans seem to enjoy over their fellow Americans is more from their genetics than their parenting. This is not to say that Asians are more intelligent than other races. Their parents, immigrants from Asia, must have needed a certain level of success and intelligence to make it out of their respective countries and into America, especially considering the poor state that most Asian countries were in when they immigrated here. Thus, their children are much more likely to have a set of genes that would make them more intelligent and predisposed towards success. There are millions of poor, unintelligent, lazy workers still in Asia living under the same social norms of parent-child relationship as Asian-American children. That also would explain why we see similar academic success from non-Asian cultures as well. (The Irish, Korean, Ghanaian mothers you refer to at the beginning of your article)

I don’t entirely disagree with you though. When I played the piano, I couldn’t have been nearly as successful without the help of my mother. She let me know when I still wasn’t playing a piece correctly, even when it sounded good enough to me, and then she would sit beside me and have me play the incorrect part until I could do it properly all the time. I wouldn’t have been good enough to perform at Carnegie Hall without her help. However, I don’t believe she ever threatened to not feed me or throw away my toys. I don’t believe that should be necessary with any kid. (It sounds awfully scary. Depending on the kid and age, they could actually believe you to be capable of starving them. That can’t possibly be good for your relationship with someone later on.)

Your husband has an excellent point: “Children don’t choose their parents. They don’t even choose to be born. It’s parents who foist life on their kids, so it’s the parents’ responsibility to provide for them. Kids don’t owe their parents anything. Their duty will be to their own kids.” Your response was, “This strikes me as a terrible deal for the Western parent.” If it’s such a bad deal, use birth control! My parents have shown me that they share your husband’s philosophy. They’ve done everything they possibly could to support me financially, emotionally, and physically. (My father once told me that if he had to sell the house to pay for my college education, he would do it easily with no regrets. That statement has been the source of my drive in college) Because of this, I couldn’t be more thankful for them, and I attribute much of my success to their willingness to let go and have me choose my own path. I strive for myself as well as them, knowing that they went “all in” on me and my sister. (“All in” is a poker term. In case you’re not familiar, it’s where a player places a bet that comprises of all of his remaining chips. You are betting everything you have.) And it certainly helps that they had no influence on what major I chose for college. No one ever told me I had to be a doctor or a lawyer. Instead, I chose on my own, and I am currently studying Electrical Engineering, a field that I love and wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. I wouldn’t be pulling 3 all-nighters a week studying for something I didn’t love.

Finally, I want to make you aware of a crisis that is affecting Asian-American males everywhere: inability to attract girls. Think about how many Asian-American males get dates with non-Asian-Americans. Now think about how many Asian-American females get dates with non-Asian-Americans. The discrepancy is staggering. The reasons for this are low self-esteem, social ineptitude, and stereotypes regarding penis size. The low self esteem and social ineptitude stem from the type of parenting that you condone. Maybe the penis size too. Calling your son names and forcing him to study and get A’s instead of hanging out with friends is just asking for him to be socially inept and suffer from low confidence. You might wonder why Asian-American females don’t suffer this hit in sex appeal. Due to natural selection and man’s previous hunter-gather society structure, women are hard-wired physiologically to be more attracted to men with a more aggressive and confident disposition. On the other hand, this is not true of what men look for in women. Meanwhile, on the social ineptness, we can both agree that females are naturally inclined to be much more social than males. Thus, they would be more likely to overcome the social barriers that a childhood of missed playdates and friends. That said, this Asian male crisis is just something I have noticed. Obviously it doesn’t apply to every single Asian male, but it certainly seems like they have a lot less success with the opposite sex… (disclaimer: I’m lucky enough to have a girlfriend since I never had these parenting and self esteem issues. I’m not complaining just because I don’t get any action :P)

I hope you don’t just delete this email before reading it….


PS: I can understand Asian parents wanting their kids to learn an instrument, but why must it be the piano or violin? It has boggled me for years. The guitar, saxophone, and percussion all require just as much skill, and they’re all well appreciated in the world of music.


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