Monday, January 10, 2011

Two Riveting Articles on Parenting

SUNDAY'S OP-ED PIECE in The Wall Street Journal, "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior" by Amy Chua, was a magnet for diverse opinion.  Surprising, given that title . . .

Her thesis is that Chinese parents and Western parents may want similar things for their kids, but they go about it entirely different ways.  Here are two key paragraphs:

Chinese parents can get away with things that Western parents can't. Once when I was young—maybe more than once—when I was extremely disrespectful to my mother, my father angrily called me "garbage" in our native Hokkien dialect. It worked really well. I felt terrible and deeply ashamed of what I had done. But it didn't damage my self-esteem or anything like that. I knew exactly how highly he thought of me. I didn't actually think I was worthless or feel like a piece of garbage.

As an adult, I once did the same thing to Sophia, calling her garbage in English when she acted extremely disrespectfully toward me. When I mentioned that I had done this at a dinner party, I was immediately ostracized. One guest named Marcy got so upset she broke down in tears and had to leave early. My friend Susan, the host, tried to rehabilitate me with the remaining guests.

Chua, a professor at the Yale Law School, goes on to argue that Western parents are obsessed with preserving a child's self-esteem and so tend to coddle, whereas Chinese parents believe that self-esteem comes with practice, perseverance, and performance. Obviously, her essay--which is a distillation of a forthcoming book--is grounded in ethnic generalizations, but it does highlight different parenting styles.

But, differing parenting styles not only cut across ethnic lines but extends to economic lines as well.  A disturbing story on National Public Radio's Morning Edition on Monday points to alarming differences between how poor and affluent parents interact with their kids.

In an epic (and seemingly groundbreaking) study that has taken around 27 years to complete, researchers document disturbing traits between how and how often rich and poor parents talk to their children:

But in the end, the finding that most struck people, Hart says, was not about the quality of the speech — how often rich versus poor parents asked questions or positively affirmed their children — but about the quantity. According to their research, the average child in a welfare home heard about 600 words an hour while a child in a professional home heard 2,100.
"Children in professional families are talked to three times as much as the average child in a welfare family," Hart says.

And that adds up. Hart and Risley estimated that by the age of 4, children of professional parents had heard on average 48 million words addressed to them while children in poor welfare families had heard only 13 million. It was no wonder that the underprivileged children they saw at their preschool could not catch up and often lagged behind once they went to school. They simply weren't getting the experience with language provided to their peers.
 Again, politics and parenting merge.


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