Ms. Chua makes the case that Western parents, with their emphasis on self-esteem, free expression, and individuality, produce soft, coddled children with substandard achievements. Chinese parents (as well as others who parent with Asian or “old world” values), Chua argues, understand that a strong foundation can help guarantee their children’s success, and therefore take on the weighty responsibility of ensuring their children’s academic and extracurricular achievement – whatever it takes.
“Western parents are concerned about their children’s psyches,” she writes. “Chinese parents aren’t. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently….That’s why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child,” Chua writes.
All of which Chua’s two daughters experienced. Chua recounts the time her then-seven-year-old daughter Louisa couldn’t master a piano piece and tore the score to shreds when Chua forced her back for more practice. “I taped the score back together and encased in a plastic shield so that it could never be destroyed again. Then I hauled Lulu’s dollhouse to the car and told her I’d donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn’t have “The Little White Donkey” perfect by the next day…. I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hannukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years…. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent, and pathetic.”
But in the end, Lulu did it, snuggling with and hugging her mother afterward, and wowing other parents at a piano recital a few weeks later.
Chua’s lesson: “[A]s a parent, one of the worst things you can do for your child's self-esteem is to let them give up. On the flip side, there's nothing better for building confidence than learning you can do something you thought you couldn't.”
Undoubtedly, many readers will find Chua’s approach to self-esteem-building and parenting a bit unorthodox, to say the least.
For example, she recalls the time she called daughter Sophia “garbage” when she was acting “extremely disrespectful.” Chua was immediately shunned when she mentioned this at a dinner party, upsetting one guest so much she broke down in tears and left early.