From the playground to Internet, bullying runs rampant. Now it appears in the form of blaze-away bestseller Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (Penguin 2011). The author and mother of two, Amy Chua, takes pride in raising her girls the Asian way: no sleepovers, playdates, school plays, TV or video games, no grads less than an A, etc. “What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until your good at it. To get good a anything you have to work, and children on their own never want o work, which his why it is crucial to override their preferences”. And while “Western parents” ask their kids to try their best, Chinese use put downs like “your lazy” and “your classmates are getting ahead of you” as well as order to get As.
To punish her daughter Lulu for not practicing till she got the “The Little White Donkey” right on the piano, it’s not so much that she threatened to take toys to the Salvation Army or to burn a stuffed animal or that she couldn’t use the bathroom or drink water, but that she told her to “stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic”. By working her daughter to the bone to get it right, Chua explains that this builds self-esteem.
While Chua has tried to hide behind disclaimers (“Retreat of the Tiger Mother”) that this is “ironic and self-mocking” (“I find it very funny, almost obtuse”) or some form of exaggeration since, we know better. Do we use a dash of cultural relativism and let this Chua off the hook or call this for what it is: bullying. I don’t want to add more to the huge wave of negative response—“Parents like Amy Chua are the reason Asian-Americans like me are in therapy”—but would like to mention the huge research in the biological science—social neuroscience and cognitive development research—that tell us otherwise.
It’s simple. It’s universal. Given that we are the only species that grows so much ab ovo, we require a massive force-field of nurturance and protection to grow healthy and balanced emotion and cognitive systems. Indeed, it is precisely the protected environment of childhood that allows us to develop faculties of reasoning (deduction, induction, abduction), judging (distinguishing, separating, ordering, classifying), evaluating (good/bad, right/wrong, tasty/unsavory, attractive/repulsive), as well as our emotions, our motivation (or will, or will-power), and our intentionality (our capacity to plan, to have an action and its result in our mind before materializing it as an entity out there in the world).
The proof’s in the pudding: while you might make it to Julliard with your piano playing, goodness knows where you might have gone if you’d been given a parent/child environment where the draconian is not the rule; where it is the stamp of love and acceptance and not avoidance and anxiety that opens up the desire to explore world outside in unlimited ways.
Why on earth would we want to clip wings and create children that formulate only limited theories of love and physical and biological world outside? Why in the world would we want to create unimaginative little people who become big bullies?
As Alison Gopnik so nicely puts it in her wonderful book, Philosophical Baby: “There’s a kind of immunity about a happy childhood. Change and transience are at heart of human condition. But as parents we can at least give our children a happy childhood, a gift that is as certain as unchanging, as rock solid, as any human good.”