Thursday, January 27, 2011

Scandinavian Curling Parents!?!?! Let's Have More Of Them!

The Asian tiger mom that Amy Chua portrays in her new book may seem like just one more species in the genus Extreme Parent - the counterpart to the hovering American Parens helicopterus or the Scandinavian Curling Parents, who frantically rush ahead of their children, sweeping their paths clear of the tiniest obstacles.
The common characteristics include an obsession with a child's success, a reflex to treat kids as extensions or reflections of oneself and patterns of conduct that impartial observers might class as insane if not criminal, if not both. In Chua's case, this famously includes prohibiting grades lower than an A, TV, playdates and sleepovers, and warning her pianist child that "if the next time's not PERFECT, I'm going to TAKE ALL YOUR STUFFED ANIMALS AND BURN THEM." In the case of the classic Western helicopter parent, it starts with Baby Einstein and reward charts for toilet training, and it never really ends, which is why colleges have to devote so many resources to teaching parents how to leave their kids alone. 
But it is the differences between the Tigers and the Choppers that help explain the furor Chua has caused, at least in the U.S. Tigers fixate on success, defined as achievement in precision-oriented fields like music and math; Choppers are obsessed with failure and preventing it at all costs. Tigers operate in a culture of discipline; Choppers, in a culture of fear. Tigers view children as tough, able to take the abuse; Choppers view them as precious, to be raised under glass. Their fury at a bad grade is more likely to land on the teacher than on the child.
And if Chua appears to sentence her children to slave labor, Western parents enshrine their children and crave their friendship. "The thing that impresses me most about America," observed Edward, Duke of Windsor, who knew something about indulgence, "is the way parents obey their children." There is something bracing about Chua's apparent indifference to her daughters' hostility, especially for parents who have learned that even if you let your teenagers spend 50 hours a week on Facebook, they'll still find reasons to hate you. (My favorite title of a parenting book: Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall?)


  1. Chua has taken a lot of heat, but her own child-rearing is a lot more nuanced and complex than how it's been painted in the media.

  2. I know I'll get eviscerated for this, but what do parents have to do with college students? I just ignore the fact they even exist. Most of my students are adults, or pseudo-adults, living on their own.

    How their parents fucked them up doesn't enter into it for me. I'm daddy until the final exam.

    Go ahead. I know I'm an asshole.

  3. Will, if you're an asshole, so am I.

    I can't count the number of students (Asian, mostly) who have emailed or told me their parents aren't going to settle for anything less than an A, or B if their English is really bad. I shut them down fast. And if one of these parents contacts me, I don't care if they're tiger, helicopter, or curler, it's fucking spam as far as I'm concerned. It's bad enough I have to deal with questions and bullshit not related to the course content with the students, so I sure as hell won't entertain it coming from their parents too.

  4. I had a student (of southeast Asian descent, if it matters; I don't think it does) whose father promised him a new car if he got a 4.0 for the semester. This led to his plagiarizing from (basically, excerpting) an essay in the Atlantic for his final paper. He could have gotten at least a B on the basis of his own writing (he chose an essay that was, in fact, responsive to the assignment, and the excerpting was well done), and knew it; his response to his father's "encouragement" earned him an F and a note in his file instead.

    And no, I don't want to hear from any of their parents. If I think a student is a danger to him/herself or others, I'll contact a Dean, and let the Dean decide whether to contact the parents. And if a parent contacts me to say that his/her kid is unconscious, delirious, or otherwise so seriously ill/injured as to be incapable of communicating with me, I'll thank him/her for the information and ask that the student get in touch with me when (s)he is ready to resume work in my class.

    As someone raised by a widowed single parent with a demanding career whose parenting style leaned heavily toward mostly-benign neglect, the whole Extreme Parent phenomenon bewilders me. I was pretty much in charge of my own education (and applications) by junior high school, and I managed pretty well. I could have used someone to tell me to stop studying and go to bed now and then, but that's about it. I realize that approach won't work with every kid, but the point is to make them independent adults, preferably sometime well before the parent is a senior citizen who needs help him/herself, right?

  5. What does this have to do with us, you ask? I think it's obvious: we have to deal with the consequences of helicopter parenting, often. They seem to have forgotten that the object is to prepare children for life, independent of their parents. So many college students seem SO immature, so needy, so unready for the real world, and WE, their professors, are expected to do more and more about it, and all the while heaven forbid you damage their precious self-esteem by giving them honest appraisals of their performance, or even telling them "do your own homework."

    Well, I won't do it. Raising someone else's kids with methods appropriate for hothouse flowers isn't my job, and it shouldn't be.

  6. P.S. Say what you will about Tiger parents, at least they don't get in our faces when their children fail. One reason for this is because they recognize that how their children do is at least 51% their responsibility.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.