Children of the Immigrant Experience: the “Asian Parent” (pt.1)

Part IV of the Children of the Immigrant Experience series. (If you haven’t read any of the previous posts about this topic, I recommend reading them first before this one).

chinese exam

Song dynasty emperor receives a candidate of the Imperial Examination. A long tradition of upholding the importance of education and excellence has created what we call “Asian parenting” today.

Disclaimer 1: I procrastinated on purpose before arriving at this topic. It’s a big topic, a controversial one, emotionally-charged, and pertains to my own specific immigrant culture. I worry that I may sound traitorous or unpatriotic, so I will try to remain as neutral as possible.

Disclaimer 2: I will be generalizing in this article. I’d just like to put it out there that I’m aware of this, but I feel only qualified to talk about “Asian parents” because that’s what I’ve been exposed to, mainly. I’m aware that this type of parenting is represented in other cultures as well.

Almost everyone is familiar with the concept of “Asian-style” parenting. “Asian parents” exert a type of rigorous, strict, tough love on their children by marching them to way too many extracurricular and academic activities with impossibly high expectations in each. Perhaps you’ve read the shocking Wall Street Journal article by Amy Chua (author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother) that caused quite a stir a few years back. Or, perhaps you’ve even read my high-school student’s response to it.

I’ve matured from that angry high-schooler since. Now, I can see both positive and negative aspects of “tiger-parenting.” And this two-part post will explore each.

Children of immigrants have praised Tiger Parenting. The Korean at the popular blog Ask A Korean wrote an article defending it, and he has his good reasons. I myself have come to the conclusion that tiger parenting is fraught with pros and cons, and that generally, the cons outweigh the pros. Now, I don’t know anything about parenting (I’ve only been on the receiving end of it) but I have had a lifetime of observation towards so-called “Asian Parents.”

I’ll talk about the cons today, and do a follow-up post on the pros soon after.

Con #1: Irrelevance

387px-Cellist_celloMy first critique of Asian Parenting is that the academic or extracurricular focuses Asian parents typically force their kids into are simply irrelevant. For example: classical music. Every other Asian parent wants their kid to be the next Lang Lang or Yo-Yo Ma.

Why this obsession? Perhaps a generation ago, when Asian countries were economically and culturally subordinate to western countries, proficiency in classical music was considered a mark of “classiness” or education because it was “western”. Perhaps a person who knew a thing or two about classical music could succeed in the western-dominated international society.

Then, within my own lifetime, knowledge of classical music was an extracurricular activity that could get you into the best colleges and universities. And perhaps that was true…but if every third kid on the block can play the piano, why make yours play the piano too? He’s not going to stand out. Why not let him master the electric guitar, learn how to scuba dive, or get a rock-climbing instructor license instead? Parents of Asian culture, eager to “save face,” may want their kids to be piano geniuses because “everyone else is doing it.” But that doesn’t exactly work in today’s society anymore.

If you’re going to push your kids to be amazing at something that sets them apart from the herd and gives them a competitive edge, please diversify and aim for well-roundedness! Learning piano is nice, but so is learning Swedish, how to build a table from scratch, or spotting edible plants in the wilderness.

Con #2: Approach

asian grading scaleThe approach Asian parents take to push their kids (strict, firm, unforgiving) is construed as cruel by many (just read Chua’s article on how she would deny her kids food or toys if they couldn’t perform perfectly). I disagree with this methodology because often times it is too much, and bordering on cruelty or child abuse! (However, you’ll see “approach” in the pro section as well, but more on that later…)

The main critique I have against the Asian parenting approach is that it takes the fun out of things. I know that in order to succeed in something, you have to give some blood and sweat––but not to the point where the activity is not fun anymore. Taking out fun leads to disinterest in the activity, and disinterest automatically leads to poor performance.

As a music teacher, I see this all the time. My most successful music students are those that actually enjoy the process of learning music and the challenges it poses. Students who were clearly forced into music are easy to discern: they’re disinterested, lazy, and have no aptitude as a result.

Con #3: Living Vicariously

scumbag asian parentThis is by far the worst incentive to “tiger parent.” I’m talking about the parents who force their children into something because they couldn’t do it in their childhood, or the type of parents who use their children’s achievements as a means to brag to other parents. I’m sure this exists in all cultures and ethnicities as well.

I’ve encountered my fair share of these types of parents in my childhood. In my opinion, these under-confident, under-achieving individuals are just pushing their kids to feed their own insecurities and reputation. And it’s not fair to force your kid to do something just because you couldn’t do it yourself. Of course, a parent may have had their dream of becoming a pianist dashed because they lived in poverty as a child, but that is no reason to force your unwilling, unmusical child to become a pianist himself.

Worse are the parents who use their kids’ achievements to feed their own reputations. What they’re doing is not about the good of their children at all, but about their own selfish needs.

So that’s my response to “Asian” or “Tiger” parenting, as a child of immigrants––the con side, at least. Luckily, I was not a victim of tiger parenting. My parents were probably more pushy than others (I was kept very busy as a kid and went to many lessons). But at the end of the day, it was my choice to pursue the things I wanted to pursue (and hey! I got to choose what to pursue!) And that’s probably why I’m successful at those things today.

Please stay tuned for pt.2 of this post by following! Or, read the previous posts in this series.

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3 thoughts on “Children of the Immigrant Experience: the “Asian Parent” (pt.1)

  1. The specifics unique to asian parents aren’t touched upon here but there are definitely some. Each culture has a specific style of looking at the parent-child relationship as well as the ideation of the self (I suppose Confucius had something to say about that, not that I would know) in addition to rigorousness of demands, amount of support/independence or lack of talked about above. So, each culture has its own devils. As a child of such parenting I honestly can’t say I know anyone else with this specific parenting style and it’s probably good that I can’t find any. X)

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  2. “My parents were probably more pushy than the parents of my non-Asian counterparts.”

    As my favourite Economics professor often says: “assume nothing”. I know you probably don’t mean to, but generalizing your “non-Asian” counterparts is just as unfair as generalizing “those nerdy Azns gawd”. Perhaps this is a bit of a sore spot for me, but people seldom realize that these pros and cons are applicable to the parenting styles of many other cultures, as the parenting styles of many other cultures are quite similar. In Eastern Europe, parents are just as involved in their children’s lives, and encourage their children to excel in academics and extra-curricular activities. When I was growing up, I too, was enrolled in numerous activities from classical guitar, to math, geography, and French tutoring, to swimming. I too, was expected to receive top grades in high school. There was a lot of leniency, though, which I’m sure is also the case with a lot of Asian parents!!

    Overall, the term “Asian parent”, I realize, suits the purpose of your post, but also alienates a vast number of immigrant children.

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    • Thanks for the comment. As a result of it I’ve edited the post a little and added those disclaimers.

      I’m specifying Asian parents in particular in this post because I only feel qualified to talk about Asian parents, but the term “tiger parent” could probably pertain to many cultures as well or, to generalize in our context, other non-North American immigrant cultures.

      A few aspects of “Asian parenting,” though, are unique to East Asian cultures (I think). Such as Confucius doctrines (will talk more about that later).

      Again, I’m aware that I’m generalizing to a high degree in this post, but the point is, there are people who parent this way, and I think readers can recognize these people.

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