There have been many articles and best-selling books out lately about the differences in parenting styles between the U.S. and other countries such as China, France and Korea.
Amy Chua of China, started it all with her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. She triggered a passionate debate about parenting by laying out the case for raising kids “with an iron hand.” Her two girls spend hours on homework every day and many additional hours practicing piano and violin. She forbids wasted time, sleepovers, play dates and extracurricular activities. She yells and screams, shrieks and name-calls to enforce things, and gets results. The Asian schools consistently top the charts in comparative math, science and reading assessments.
Studies show that 70 percent of western mothers feel that overstressing academic success is not good for children. Chinese parents feel that academic achievement reflects successful parenting. Study, study, study is crucial for excellence.
Chua does say she’s not really happy and doesn’t enjoy life much. Is she creating little miniature adults, fulfilling parental expectations with no joy or creativity or independent thought? It is worth noting that the highest suicide rate is among Asian-American women ages 15 to 24.
The French response, in the book Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting, is to teach kids both limits and self-sufficiency.
French parents teach patience, to accept “non” as an answer and to adapt to adult routines rather than vice versa. French kids don’t have tantrums, they eat what’s in front of them and can amuse themselves when bored.
American kids are thought to do pretty much what they want. “No” is difficult for our kids to hear.
French parents wait awhile before reacting when their babies fuss in the night; many French babies sleep through the night at very early ages. French parents don’t create different kid-food for their kids; children eat what their parents eat and never snack between meals. French children say, “bonjour” and “au revoir” in public; it’s a way of acknowledging the world doesn’t revolve around them.
It sounds like French parents experience more joy and are less frazzled by parenthood. They love their children as much as we do but don’t see kids as their entire focus, to the exclusion of professional satisfaction, adult leisure time and quality time with their spouse.
In Korea, the emphasis, again, is on academic success. They spend double what the U.S. does on primary education. Matriculation rates are 80 percent higher than for the U.S. high schools, and typically, students spend from 5 a.m. to late evening in studies. Parents strategize from early on to get kids into the best preschool and demand their children attend an elite university.
Korea’s new testing numbers obscure the fact that students generally cannot engage in critical analysis. They know the “what” but they don’t know the “why.” Does this obsession with education lead to counterproductive competition and more studying than real learning?
These books and styles may seem harsh or wrong to us here, but they do hit a nerve. They highlight our awareness of how soft and indulgent we’ve become. Our kids will be competing with these international kids, and perhaps we could use a bit more thought and structure to our parenting techniques.
Recently, attachment parenting here in the U.S. has become the latest technique. Perhaps you read the article in the May 21 edition of Time magazine. This subject requires a whole separate column.
U.S. parenting seems to be all over the spectrum. I do think parents want to raise happy children who will discover and follow their own passions. What we want most of all for our kids is not straight As but the chance to pursue happiness as they see fit.
Martha McClellan has been an early childhood educator, director and administrator for 32 years. She is currently consulting with and supporting early care providers. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.