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The “Ethical and Right Way” of Raising Children

The Motivation behind being a ‘Tiger Mom,’ a blog by Cam Tran

My ethics students at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo are required to write a blog on a topic of deep interest illustrating their knowledge of ethical reasoning. The following is a blog by Cam Tran, one of the best blogs I received this term.

I was first introduced to the article “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior” published in the Wall Street Journal, an excerpt of the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua, in my senior year of high school in 2011. While reading this article, there was no surprise that I related to it as it reflected much of my Vietnamese background and how my mother has raised me or having known someone who was raised that way. This feeling was mutual with the other students that were raised by Eastern or Asian parents, however, the students that were raised by Western parents were outraged that a parent could be so harsh and cold to their own child, claiming that they were essentially torturing and making the child suffer, as parents are supposed to be loving and support their child.

While the students raised by Asian parents tried to explain that Asian parents are essentially showing their love and support by pushing their children so hard, the other students remained unconvinced and continued to be in shock and disbelief that parents could be so heartless to their children. I was taken aback by all the negative reaction and even slightly offended that others would think that my mother did not love me. Because I have only known this way of my mother raising me, I suppose I had naturally assumed that the Asian culture of raising children or “tiger moms” was well known to most people. But much to my error, not only was there backlash in my situation but across the nation, there was shock and criticism against the author Amy Chua, making me question which is the best and most ethical way to raise a child?

For an ethical perspective of child-rearing in the Asian culture, we can look to the ancient Greeks who believed that the quickest way to the pursuit of happiness is by living a life of virtue. For a tiger mom to be virtuous, she must serve her purpose in life, which is pushing her child to be the best that he or she can be. Essentially, as a tiger mom, she has an obligation to enforce a strong work ethic in her child to help him or her on the path of achievement. Likewise, for the child to be virtuous, he or she must fulfill the obligation by working hard to meet the expectations the parents have set. Conversely, for Western parents to be virtuous, they have the obligation of letting their child pursue passions and follow dreams, and therefore, instilling less of a work ethic.

To an outsider, it might seem that Asian parenting may lack moral motivation as the parents place a slightly higher emphasis of non-ethical values that relate to self-interest, such as wealth and power, over ethical values, such as integrity and honesty. However, Asian parents actually use the ethical values as a vehicle to get to the non-ethical values because they want their child to be happy and not lead a life of suffering. Asian parents’ primary goal is their child’s happiness but they believe that a focus on achievement is the best way to achieve this happiness. It is paramount through a child’s adolescence because when the child grows older he or she is able to be happy by enjoying the wealth and success that comes with said achievement. Asian parents have more of an authoritarian parenting style, instilling self-discipline and work ethics into their child as they do not want them to go through the same hardships as they had to go through.

Chua’s style of raising her children can be seen as a means to an end, not an end in itself because there is more of an emphasis on grades than actually learning the material. But the logic here is that if one fully learns and understands the material, then getting a high grade in the class should come easily. Asian mothers believe that success and achievement reflects good parenting, therefore, if a child did not do well in school then parents were not doing their job effectively.

Asian parents believe the only key to success is hard work and persistence. Even if one has no talent or is not gifted, if hard work and all of one’s effort is put into a task, it could be done and done so successfully. But with hard work comes practice. Research shows that practice is needed to become more proficient at a mental task because it helps it become more automatic so the motor skills in a brain become less active, allowing it to shift to areas with higher level of thinking and reflection. Practicing is crucial for excellence, so Asian parents seem to push their child to practice more and for a longer time, whether with a musical instrument or studying a subject, because they want their child to be his or her best self. Asian parents push their child to practice more on the musical instrument because they know that once the notes are learned, it enables for a more in depth exploring of the emotional content of the piece of music and therefore allow it to be fun and enjoyable to play. This is especially shown when Chua pushes her daughter to correctly play a piano piece “The Little White Donkey.” There was much resistance and strong words exchanged between the two but once her daughter was able to play the piece correctly, both felt accomplished in their task and from this, her daughter learned that if she practiced and put enough dedication into something, she will be able to achieve it.

While Asian parenting can work effectively, as Chua’s eldest daughter is now attending Harvard, some children may rebel to strict discipline and come to resent their parents. Likewise, Western parenting can be very successful because of the freedom the parents allow, which permits the child to learn and grow from mistakes and perhaps instill a work ethic in his or herself. Personally, I’m glad and thankful that my own mother followed a strict discipline while raising me through my adolescent years. Reflecting back, I would not have minded if she was even stricter and pushed me harder because it has really made me who I am today; someone I’m proud to be. While my mother was not the essence of a tiger mom and certainty not as harsh as Chua was with her kids, by any means, she raised me with a firm hand. Even though I strongly disliked it since I did not understand it as a child, I now fully appreciate all that she has done and sacrificed for me and see that everything was out of love wanting the best for me.

Cam Tran blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on June 18, 2013