Posts tagged ‘tiger mother’

November 12, 2012

All Kids Can Thrive: A Call to Action

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, by Paul Tough

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York; October, 2012.

 

There’s a good reason that everyone is talking about this book. It’s an unflinchingly honest look at the failings of a society where too many children are growing up without the tools they need to create meaningful and fulfilling lives for themselves. As Tough writes, ‘The biggest obstacles to academic success that poor children, especially very poor children, often face [are] a home and a community that create high levels of stress, and the absence of a secure relationship with a caregiver that would allow a child to manage that stress.’ (p. 195)

And it’s not just poor kids who have problems due to high levels of stress and insecure relationships with their parents. Tough also reviews research on kids who grow up in affluent families and communities, and offers some startling conclusions. Simply put, rich kids have many of the same problems as those experienced by poor kids. Both groups are more likely than middle class kids to experience low levels of maternal attachment, high levels of parental criticism, and minimal afterschool supervision. Furthermore, wealthy kids have higher levels of anxiety and depression, especially in adolescence. Reviewing the findings, Tough writes, ‘The emotional disconnection that existed between many affluent parents and their children often meant that the parents were unusually indulgent of their children’s bad behavior.’ (p. 83)

In spite of Tough’s dire analyses of how bad things are for far too many children in far too many communities, How Children Succeed is one of the most encouraging books I have read on this topic. He weaves thoughtful stories of real children, teenagers, and adults into current research findings on child development and resiliency, coming up with recommendations that promise to transform society if we pay attention to them.

He describes research on executive function—emotional and cognitive self-regulation, which affects attention, impulsivity, self-soothing, anger management and other skills involved in coping with stress and challenge. These are skills that children growing up in poverty are a lot less likely to have. ‘The reason researchers who care about the gap between rich and poor are so excited about executive function,’ he writes, ‘is that these skills are not only highly predictive of success; they are also quite malleable, much more so than other cognitive skills…If we can improve a child’s environment in the specific ways that lead to better executive functioning, we can increase his prospects for success in a particularly efficient way.’ (p. 21)

Environmental risks like family turmoil, chaos, and crowding have a big impact on measures of children’s stress, but only when mothers are inattentive or unresponsive: ‘High quality mothering, in other words, can act as a powerful buffer against the damage that adversity inflicts on a child’s stress-response system…Good parenting—being helpful and attentive in a game of Jenga—can make a profound difference for a child’s future prospects.’ (p. 32) Tough concludes that parents’ responding sensitively to infants’ cues has a long-lasting effect on children’s prospects, leading them to be more curious, self-reliant, self-confident, calm, and better able to deal with obstacles.

Although ‘character’ means different things to different people, there are several qualities that can be thought of collectively as ‘character’ that have been shown both to be important to success and well-being, and also teachable: bravery, fairness, integrity, humour, zest, appreciation of beauty, social intelligence, kindness, and gratitude. Tough reviews successful attempts to teach these qualities—not as ways to impose middle class ideas of morality, but rather as ways for all kids to experience personal growth, achievement, and fulfillment.

Parental warmth and nurturance are the most important factors leading to infants and young children thriving. Later on, as children enter adolescence, one person who takes them seriously, believes in their abilities, and challenges them consistently to improve themselves, can make all the difference.

Tough concludes that ‘The most reliable way to produce an adult who is brave and curious and kind and prudent is to ensure that when he is an infant, his hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis functions well… First, as much as possible, you protect him from serious trauma and chronic stress; then, even more important, you provide him with a secure, nurturing relationship with at least one parent and ideally two.’ (p. 182)

As a child gets older, Tough continues, he needs ‘more than love and hugs. He also need[s] discipline, rules, limits, someone to say no. And what he need[s] more than anything is some child-size adversity, a chance to fall down and get back up on his own, without help.’ (p. 183) Children need support in learning how to manage failure, and in order to do that, they need to experience failures they can cope with. This is what Carol Dweck writes about in Mindset: kids need to learn how to see failures and setbacks as opportunities to learn.

It’s also, in some ways, what Amy Chua writes about in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. An important difference between Tough’s recommendations and Chua’s description of her own parenting is that Tough emphasizes the importance of support, warmth, security, and nurturing. I think their goals are probably similar, though, that kids build their self-confidence on a solid foundation of achievement rather than the shifting sands of other people’s opinions or attention.

Tough’s recommendations for going forward are radical, but doable. He says we need a coordinated system that might start with comprehensive pediatric wellness centers like Nadine Burke Harris has established in Bayview-Hunters Point, in San Francisco. We might continue with parenting interventions that help parents establish secure connections with their infants. We might implement early childhood education  programs that have shown dramatic positive results. We also need to provide supports at school and outside of school for kids as they move into adolescence, as well as the adults in their lives. Science demonstrates that society can make a difference to kids’ outcomes. This book provides a call to action for thinking about how to do that.

 

Links

http://www.paultough.com/the-books/how-children-succeed/

http://nadineburke.com/users/dr-nadine-burke-harris

 

 

 

August 21, 2012

Kids Really Do Need Time to Rest and Reflect!

Tiger Mothers and other parents who are ambitious for their children’s academic success, take heed! Your child isn’t necessarily being lazy when she tells you her brain needs a rest. There’s some interesting new research showing that overtraining without ample time for rest and reflection reduces learning:

http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/early/2012/08/08/rspb.2012.1423.full

July 31, 2012

Review: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

I loved Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. I read it only because two reviewers have compared my work with Joanne Foster to it. One described our work as an ‘antidote to the Tiger Mother’; the other commented that we provide a good balance between the Tiger Mother approach and laissez-faire parenting. We write about how parents can instill the good habits of mind that lead to high-level achievement over time—Amy Chua’s focus—while respecting their children’s individuality and nurturing their independence—which she decries as Western nonsense, at least in the first 3/4 of her book.

I loved the tongue-in-cheek self-deprecating tone of Tiger Mother, and found parts of it amusing, and other parts poignant. I also had the normal Western reactions to the verbal abuse Chua heaped on her daughters, and to the list of rules at the beginning. I was appalled that young children would be subjected to such draconian regimentation—three hours piano practice seven days a week, no free time for play, ridicule for anything less than first place in anything, no permission to participate in school plays or other extracurricular activities, and more. Over the course of the book, though, I came to like Amy Chua and her family. I found it interesting to read about their attempts to resolve the seemingly-impossible conflicts between the absolute brutal authority of a Chinese Tiger mother, and the kind, caring parenting of a Western Jewish father, in the context of a liberal American culture. Daughters Sophia and Lulu came through as wonderful personalities in their own right, making large contributions (eventually) to Chua’s development as a parent.

Chua is clear at the beginning of the book that there are lots of non-Chinese people, including many Westerners, who implement what she calls Chinese parenting practices, as well as some Chinese parents (mostly 2nd generation, and living in the United States, she says) who parent in what she terms Western ways.

Although not Chinese, I was born in the year of the Tiger myself, and admire Chua’s commitment to her children gaining self-respect and confidence through hard work and achievement, rather than hollow platitudes and praise. I also like her focus on perseverance, practice, and accomplishment, and agree with her that those are the most satisfying and self-esteem-building goals in the long run. I don’t like her attitude, however, that free play is a waste of time, her lack of respect for children’s individuality, and her disregard for children’s need to discover for themselves what it is they want to invest their time in. I found her status consciousness deeply troubling, including her belief that top-level prizes and awards matter so terribly much, and that anything other than Ivy League acceptance is embarrassing.

Chua makes some good observations about the differences between Western and Chinese parenting. For example, she writes “Western parents try to respect their children’s individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they’re capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits, and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.”

These are not mutually exclusive values and attitudes, however. It’s quite possible to respect children’s individuality, and also support the development of good work habits. It doesn’t require a whole lot of yelling, pressure, and fighting, either, which (in my opinion) Chua’s home had way too much of. Finding that balance is about parents being flexibly responsive to their children—a concept that Chua would have an impossible time accepting, I suspect—while simultaneously setting age-appropriate rules and boundaries. One thing a parent has to give up if she’s going to achieve this balance is the demand that her children place first in everything the parent values—in Chua’s case that meant all the ‘important’ subjects at school, plus piano and violin, at extraordinarily high levels.

More than anything else, I think Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother provides a cautionary tale for high-achieving over-scheduling status-conscious parents. Lulu in particular, with her fierce need to assert her own will, forced her mother to back off, and let her children begin to create and live their own lives. To the extent that this book is about Chua’s growth as a parent, I applaud it.

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