The Wall Street Journal had a very interesting piece for their “The Saturday Essay” this past week. It reflected on the cultural differences in parenting styles; written from the perspective of Amy Chua – a Chinese mother who is also a professor at Yale Law School. While it is written to contrast mostly American parents, I believe (and so does the author) that the article can be viewed from a completely global perspective.
Essentially, the article divides all the worlds’ parents into Chinese and Western parenting styles. Obviously, these terms are used loosely and you do not have to be of the specific ethnicity to be classified in that parenting style. A Western parent can certainly adhere to the Chinese parenting style and vice versa.
In short, Dr. Chua says that she believes the primary difference between the two parenting models lies in how the child – and, particularly, their self-esteem – is perceived. In the Chinese model, children are viewed to be indebted towards their parents and the parents are not overly concerned with the self-esteem and psyche of the child: they assume the kid will be fine no matter what mom says to them. However, in the Western model, the emphasis is more on avoiding damage to the child’s emotional state. Individuality and creativity are at the core of the Western parenting model. The Western parents want their children to be whoever they decide they want to be. The Chinese parents understand that nothing is fun unless you are good at it, and it takes work to get good at anything, so they emphasize hard work in the child.
According to the article, the Chinese model allows for parents to demand straight A’s or a certain piece of Mozart to be played perfectly. They do this because the parents want what’s best for the child and know that children sometimes need to be pushed in order to reach their fullest potential. They view the demands as doing what’s best for the child, even if the child sometimes doesn’t like it.
On the flip side, the Western model wants children to participate in whatever the child would like to do - be it sports, music, theatre, or school – all while having the support of the parent. Instead of pressuring children into success in selected subjects in their early years (which they come to enjoy later), the Western school of parenting allows the children to more or less make much of their own decisions.
I just viewed this article as a very interesting look into the different styles of parenting, which could be attributed to the different cultures that the parents come from. Both sides claim that their style is best for preparing children to be future leaders - in business, government, and whatever else the child may do. The differences in styles can also help to explain some of the differences in the global economy: much of a country’s economic outlook has to do with how well future generations perform and how those generations function. The Chinese style may tend to create future leaders who are task oriented and calculating, while the Western style likely leads to leaders who are more innovative and flexible. Just by looking at the differences in how the children are raised, one can conjecture how future generations will look.
Clearly, a middle ground between the creative, individualistic Western style and the quantitative, workaholic style of the Chinese exists (as evidenced by the discussion board on the article); it’s just neat to see the contrast in the different cultures in doing the same task.