Amy Chua had her 15 minutes of fame and I’m hesitant to give her another second. But the issues she raises in her distorted way about parenting are also relevant for organizations.
My long time colleague, Julie King, a Bay Area expert in parenting, has weighed into the Chua controversy with her own take on the parenting issue.
Julie states some key ideas about not only how to parent but why certain parenting styles produce better people. She critiques Chua’s use of blaming, shaming and punishment as misguided as well as ineffective.
Parenting is directly connected to work issues. Bad parenting, such as blaming and punishment, creates employees who then act out their early childhood trauma at work by becoming dependent, defiant, fearful and distorting of advice or direction. Unfortunately, blaming and punishment are key tools in most managers’ arsenal, which perpetuates employees’ parenting trauma, and for some employees, those who can’t leave, creates new trauma.
After a lengthy career dealing with this issue, I can report that the workplace literature clearly shows that positive reinforcement works better than anything else in parenting or at work. (Click here to see my blog post)
The following is Julie’s piece in its entirety. Pay attention to Julie's example of working with 5 year olds at the end of her article. The approach she uses works just as well at any age.
By Julie King
I was horrified when I read the Wall Street Journal excerpt of Yale Law School Professor Amy Chua's new book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.
As a teacher of parenting, as well as a mother of three children and a Yale Law School graduate, I was distressed that Chua seemed to be advocating the use of shaming (she calls her daughter "lazy" and "pathetic"), and threats and punishment (she tries to force obedience by threatening to throw out her daughter's dollhouse and then denying her dinner).
Having since read the book in its entirety, I see that the excerpt is quite misleading.
The book is not a treatise on the best way to parent. It is a memoir of Chua's experience, describing her journey from strict adherence to the principles of "Chinese parenting" as she understands them, to a crisis point with her daughter in which she is forced to question and ultimately retreat from her original orthodoxy.
I found the book thought provoking, but also, ultimately, deeply disturbing in the assumptions it perpetuates. I worry that parents will be seduced by the book's implication that this approach is necessary to produce the exceptional accomplishments stereotypical of Asian children.
I fear that some parents will not pick up on her tongue-in-cheek style, and what is worse, accept her either-or assumption that the only alternative to such strict parenting is to give up on our kids and let them play video games all day.
There is a third way, combining empathy and respect with high expectations and clear limits, that does not fit Chua's dichotomy of "Western" versus "Chinese" parenting.
It is possible to maintain rigorous standards without shaming, using threats or punishing; but many of us were raised with all three, and don't know what else to do when the kids resist.
Yet, I have worked with literally hundreds of parents, as well as teachers, who successfully adopt this new way.
Here's a small example of an alternative approach that encourages perseverance and high standards: A participant in one of my workshops, who was both a mom and a teacher, told us about a project she was required to do every year with her 5-year-old students.
The project was very challenging, involving complex thinking and a lot of difficult, detailed work, and during the many years she had done the project she was never able to get more than one or two kids to complete the challenge, despite her best efforts to use positive feedback ("Nice job!" "You’re doing great!" and other encouragements).
But after our session on praise, in which we explored the importance of describing what we see, or describing the effort of a child, rather than passing judgment on how or what a child has done, she tried her new skills out on the children doing this same project that year:
"I see how hard you are working!"
"You have been concentrating hard for a long time!"
"Looks like you are really using a lot of brain power to try to figure this out."
To her amazement, not one of the children gave up, and even when recess came, several insisted on continuing the project until they were able to complete it.
Adopting a new parenting approach is not easy, and we won't get it "right" all the time. But the payoff is not only a child living up to his or her true potential, but also a person who is humane, principled, and committed to making the world a better place.
We should settle for no less.