By Assunta Ng
I don’t need to read “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” to be a tiger mom. My mother was one, and I was a sort-of-tiger-sort-of-sheep parent. I often put on a tiger’s front, but in reality, I carried a gentle lamb’s heart.
To be fair, tiger moms are successful in raising outstanding students. Teachers rather deal with polite and obedient Asian American kids who cause have fewer behavioral problems and dutifully do their homework without being nagged.
The fact is, tiger parents raise the stereotypical model Asian American students who are not only strong in academic performance but also talented musicians and computer wizards. Why? The parents want to make sure their children get into Ivy League schools and are later guaranteed to have high paid jobs such as those in medicine, law, and engineering.
Shouldn’t we credit tiger parents with raising thriving future citizens? Is there anything wrong with setting high standards and expectations for their kids to excel in school?
Nothing’s wrong with that, except that if this is the only goal, it might not be the ideal environment for children to reach their full potential. Some Asian Americans suffer because they were nudged to pick careers for which they had no passion. Feeling trapped and unhappy, it is hard for them to switch careers later in life after they’ve invested years of education. Only a few can make transitions successfully. One of them is Dr. Ken Jeong, who went from being a doctor to being stand-up comedian and comedic actor.
Another looming issue I have seen is that how we are raised affects the perception we Asian Americans have of ourselves. It’s sad but true: Rarely do we think of ourselves as leaders when we are young!
Tiger parents’ methods weaken our desire to be leaders. That’s why Asian Americans fail to be managers or CEOs in the corporate world, even though we are more educated than whites according to the 2010 census.
If we ever want to see an Asian American President of the United States, we have to question the rigid “tiger mom” style of rearing children. We have to adjust certain Asian American cultural values, which keep us from rising to the top. We need to be aware how we should prepare children not to be afraid to lead and willing to take charge when opportunities come.
What tiger parents favor
Tiger parents are long on discipline, but short on praise. Techniques such as shaming and punishment are routine. Harsh criticism has always been applied at home. My parents did that to me when I was little. Although I used much less discipline and little punishment on my kids, I wish I applied more positive reinforcement and affection while raising them.
Grades are not the only thing
Emphasize to kids that learning and effort are just as important as grades. Whenever my sons got a B, they were sad and I was mad.
If I could turn the clock back, I wouldn’t care less if my kids got a few more Bs. As long as they try their best, I will reward them both on results as well as effort. Sometimes, parents should value effort more if it was a tough class. I would rather have well-rounded and balanced kids than just super students.
The definition of success
It is crucial to instill in kids a broader view of the definition of success.
Some kids told me that the only way to make their parents smile is to get good grades or to make good money. Why not teach your children other ways to measure success? Values such as having compassion and helping the less fortunate, the desire to excel and improve, the love of global affairs, being supportive to people who are close, developing creativity, the ability to do and see things when no one else can, and the courage to do the right thing, are just as meaningful and significant as performing well in school and making money.
Another area where tiger parents fail miserably is their inability to help kids discover and develop passions unrelated to school.
Learning is not limited to books and classrooms. Nurturing them with precious experiences is an important part of leadership and character development. Let your children play team sports and join extracurricular activities. Those activities can enrich young people with social and networking skills, organizing strategies, and skills dealing with complex situations. Besides, who wants to befriend a boring fool who knows nothing except studying?
Don’t ever say to your kids, “What can an English degree do? You won’t get a job with that,” or “You should consider computer science, you’ll make more money.”
Bill Gates Sr.’s wise parenting
Bill Gates Sr., father of the very successful founder of Microsoft, wrote in his book “Showing Up for Life” that his family played a lot of games together while raising his kids.
This instilled in Bill Jr. the importance of having fun and bonding with the family. It also helped Bill develop a quick, flexible mind. Both father and son were Boy Scouts for a strong foundation of leadership and personal training. Bill Sr. never forced his son to study. Instead, he and his wife Mary M. Gates mentored their son to develop a love for books and knowledge of diverse fields rather than getting high grades. They inspired their son to find “treasures” in the local library and discover the joy of learning. Their goal was to broaden their son’s mind in learning, curiosity, and intellect rather than follow a road map for tough parenting.
Is music for everyone?
Even though music training benefits youth in creativity and self-discipline, it is not for everyone. I have one son who hated music classes. The other wanted them.
My older son refused to learn the violin and piano no matter how hard I tried. While I did pay for a few violin lessons for my older son at the age of 3, I also resented the norm that the mom had to accompany her son to music lessons so she could learn the skills to help him practice at home. Ironically, we felt happier when he dropped out of violin classes.
I learned since then not to force my kids to take music classes. I never suggested to my younger son to have music lessons. Inspired by the violin’s melody and his high school’s mentor, he decided to join his school orchestra. Our family was elated and supported him by attending his school’s performance and paying for his violin lessons.
No two kids are alike. Their interests and personalities are different and what parents should do is to develop their passion and strengths. I once wrote in my column during the 1990s that the worst thing a parent can do is compare her children. It is divisive and hurtful and doesn’t serve any purpose. Many parents, and those from the younger generation, applauded what I wrote.
If you want your kids to be potential leaders, the No. 1 thing you need to do is build their confidence in everything they do. (end)
Part 2 next week: How to develop confidence in children.