Are Chinese Mothers Better?

A very interesting and controversial article recently came out in the Wall Street Journal stating Chinese mothers are superior.  Objectively, I evaluated the article and thought there were some valid points. From my experience, there is something to be learned from Asian mothers. Considering a best selling book in China is titled, A Good Mom Is Better Than a Good Teacher.

As an educator, I learned much from the parents of my students. For example, after a school event, in which students were showing their work, one of my Asian parents pointed out how so many of the parents were gushing over their child’s project, even if the work wasn’t remotely well done. The Asian mother told me she would never do that with her child because her daughter would think a half-effort attempt was OK and then she wouldn’t try harder the next time.

After reflecting on that thought, I came to agree that false compliments don’t build self-esteem, rather, they hurt self-esteem. Other experts and studies have also supported the concept of specific encouragement instead of feel good, unearned compliments. In later years I made sure I gave my students and my own child sincere and specific compliments on their work and if the work was not their best effort, then I let them know that too. Throughout my career, I took what I learned from the parents of my students and incorporated those ideas into my own philosophy of child-rearing and teaching.

Amy Chua who wrote the book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother states in her article, “What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences.”

This quote meant something to me, because years ago I had a fourth grade Chinese student state on the very first day of his gifted class, “You don’t need to worry about me keeping up in my other classes, I have to make all A’s so I can go to an Ivy League college.” That little boy is now grown up and at an Ivy League college. The mother set her expectations for her son while he was very young and my student met those expectations.

Naysayers will state, “Ok, so Asian parents get their kids to succeed, but at what cost to the child?” The answer to that question is one only their children can answer. Amy Chua is one of those children, so whether or not we agree with all of her thoughts, she is qualified to answer the question. Her opinion seems obvious in the title alone, Why Chinese Mother’s are Superior.

While I can see why this article and Amy Chua’s book have many parents up-in-arms, it is still a fascinating read. I feel grateful and fortunate to have worked with diverse students and families. I have learned a lot from those experiences and hopefully, they have benefited from their experience with me. Asian or Western, all children can benefit from high-expectations from their parents and teachers. As the 19th century English poet Robert Browning said, “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp”.


Amy Chua is a professor at Yale Law School


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