What's wrong with Asian Tiger parenting

We tiger parents


Essay by Sabine Beppler-Spahl

The "tiger mother" Amy Chua has been heavily criticized for her uncompromising parenting style. This is not compatible with Western ideas. Sabine Beppler-Spahl explains that the Chua method is more similar to the current educational ideal than many would like

There is hardly a subject that makes the emotions beat faster than the question of how children can be brought up and brought into an educated state. At one point, however, there is consensus: the parents are largely responsible for success or failure in school. Since the spring of this year, the debate about how parents should best promote their children has been through the bestselling title by the American Yale professor, Amy Chua "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (German: “The mother of success“) Get new momentum.

Chua is a lawyer and the daughter of a Chinese-born physicist who emigrated to the United States. Her book is the story of her family, the focus is on the upbringing of her two daughters. Her style of upbringing, which she calls Chinese, is characterized by extreme severity. She demands perfection from her children. The girls have to excel at school and are also made to be winners musically. When the younger daughter was seven, her mother forced her to practice a difficult piano piece well into the night. Chinese mothers, according to Chua, would never accept if children had a lower grade than “A”. Then it is necessary to poke through textbooks until the material is in place (1).

The intransigence and uncompromising ambition that Chua expresses seems to many of us - including me - untimely and daunting. Nevertheless, the “mother of success” has become one of the most read books in recent months. Is this because the initial astonishment quickly gives way to identification with the author? I also used the tiger mother method, in a weakened form (sufficient for German standards), on my son. At home, the educational emergency broke out some time ago. My son, 10 years old, has to apply for a Berlin high school or secondary school in the next six months. Yes, oh dear - just a few months ago he was at war with spelling. There was a threat of a five on the certificate. From then on it was called, in the style of the tiger mother, to work through learning aids and to practice, practice, practice - if necessary also against the resistance of the child. Just like Chua, I can tell of quarrels, frustration and success - my son improved by two grade points.

Am I the only mother who professes to have used the Chua method? Of course not. Much has been speculated about what makes the book so successful. The answer is simpler than we think: With her work, the author hits the nerve of a global middle class that raises their children in the big cat style more than she likes to admit. What Chua describes is not the Chinese style of upbringing, but a pronounced variant of "intensive parenting", as practiced by a better-off class worldwide. We do not notice this, because the term “Chinese” parenting style encodes this correspondence. . The image of careless, western parents who leave their children to their own fate is just as much a cliché as that of the strict Chinese mother.

No, the genus big cat mothers stands for an ideal of upbringing that is known to all of us. It is characterized above all by one thing: the high expenditure in the form of parental time or parental money that is put into promoting the children. It starts early. Books such as “Supporting babies in a playful way” or “Of the 10 leaps in the mental development of your child during the first few months” are right at the top of the Amazon sales ranking. It continues in kindergarten age when the three-year-olds have to be registered for early musical education or “baby English”. Later we drive our schoolchildren to afternoon activities in order to enable them to have a “meaningful leisure time” and, if necessary, pay hundreds of euros for private lessons. A study by the Bertelsmann Foundation from 2010 found that German parents spend between 942 million and almost 1.5 billion euros on tutoring every year (2). This does not include the time parents spend themselves to help with homework. Mothers and fathers who cannot remember having received much more than brief inquiries from their own parents spend hours at their children's desks. This “intensive parenting” is not limited to a few families, but has become the standard model by which we all have to measure ourselves. Even the discount grocery stores, which regularly stock learning books for all grades in their product range, provide a sign of their spread.

In the book of the tiger mother, this ideal of an upbringing characterized by intensive support for parents is reflected in an inflated and distorted form. Through the astonishing openness with which the author describes how she identifies, almost pathologically, with the success of her children, she also shows us the limits of this upbringing. Unfortunately, the weaknesses debate persists with the superficial. The younger daughter, Lulu, rebels so violently against the mother that she is afraid of losing her child. Of course, the "Chinese" drill is primarily responsible for this, which sometimes works, but at best creates small robots that are incapable of independent thinking. We recognize the usual stereotypes of the Asian mass people.
If you throw away the Chinese ballast, the book opens your eyes to your own weaknesses. For me, the question is not what is wrong with the supposedly Chinese model, but rather whether the system of intensely supportive parenting is not the real problem. Since when have parents been directly responsible for the formal education and school success of their children? Of course, parents have a responsibility and of course it helps if good framework conditions are provided for learning. Parents may also make it clear to their children what is expected of them, but shouldn't school learning take place first and foremost in school?

The separation of the parental home from formal learning has a long tradition, even if this is currently being weakened. Even in classical antiquity, the education of sons was left to teachers (3). In modern times, adolescents were sent on a journey to learn the craft - including that of their own father - from a stranger. The Bildungsroman Anton Reiser from the late Enlightenment describes the hardships that were accepted for it. The reason was not only that children and young people should have a broader horizon than the narrow world of their own house and yard could have allowed them. It is likely that parent-centered education was unsuitable as a model of society. Parents and their children are far too closely connected emotionally to reliably build a constructive student-teacher relationship. In countries where parents teach their children to drive, the argument that develops is notorious. When the Australian newspaper Sydney Morning Herald published a study in February of this year that almost half of parents were nervous, anxious or irritable during driving lessons, this should not have surprised anyone (4). So why should parents shine as homework helpers or home tutors?

No debate about education - whether in a positive or negative sense - can do without a reference to the central role of parents, and that demands a high price even where it is more harmonious. Who can blame parents when they no longer see the dividing line between their own needs, those of their children and those of school? Do little Tim's school grades reflect the child's or the parents' achievements? In our age of intensive parenting, the answer is far from clear. If Mahmood writes a five, not only he but also mom and dad will be rated. From the first day of primary school on, parents are told that their children's performance is closely related to how much help they receive at home. No wonder that more and more parents are getting too involved in the school affairs of their children, appearing more and more often as their children's lawyers and even increasingly going to court, as we learn from the press (5). Recently I caught myself saying to my son, "We still have homework to do."

For me, the help that many parents give their children has a bland aftertaste. On the one hand, this ties up the energy and time of countless adults who have long since learned to read, write or do arithmetic. Those who spend hours doing exercises with their children have fewer opportunities to read their own books. And what signals do we send to our children by giving too much attention? How should we teach our children that only their own performance counts when it has become a matter of course to be permanently by their side? Above all: where does the help stop and where does the cheating start? The English sociologist Frank Furedi, who also coined the term “intensive parenting”, suspected a few years ago that this was the basis for the widespread practice of plagiarism. Everyone blames the Internet for this trend, says Furedi. The Internet makes plagiarism child's play. But this does not explain why so many honest students get the idea to pass other people's work off as their own. Where, he asks, are there clearer signs of the normalization of cheating than in our schools? (6). Even children in the first grades come to class with well-dressed presentation folders or homework that their parents have given more than a little help with.

The parents are not to be blamed for this alone. In a desperate attempt to improve school results, parental care for their children is even manipulated into substitute teachers. The topic of parental help with homework was raised amazingly openly at a parents' evening at my children's school. She also wants to give grades for her homework, according to the math teacher. She knows that some children work on the tasks with their parents at home. That is okay, because, according to the teacher, why shouldn't hard work be rewarded? Whose diligence? When my son started school, I thought I would do well to leave his education to the professionals. After only three months I was summoned to school: I absolutely had to practice reading and writing with him. As a boy, his motor skills and reading skills must be particularly encouraged. Much of the learning, I was told, takes place at home. But when so much learning takes place at home, where is the special role of the school?

Instead of looking at how our schools can be strengthened so that they can offer comprehensive education to everyone, the debate is going in the opposite direction. Without further ado, a problem is redefined to be solved and we find ourselves in the vicious circle of parents arming and the disappearance of school teaching sovereignty and authority. Intensive parenting, with all its weaknesses, is declared to be the ideal solution. Parents who do not want to or are unable to join this path will unquestionably become "problem parents". On the homepage of the German education server we find an article by Zeit editor Martin Spiewak. Why, according to Spiewak, do the statistics show that the German-Turkish youngsters fail disproportionately often at school? His explanation: “Because many migrant parents cannot offer their children much more than goodwill. Neither reading hours in German nor stimulating literature in the bookcase, neither a desk nor money for tuition, neither support with housework nor role models in the family ”. According to Spiewak, they are quite simply "the" wrong parents "for their children". (7)

That is correctly observed. These children would undoubtedly have more chances if they grew up in a household that better corresponded to the ideal of intensely supportive parenting. The reference to individual responsibility is also not unsympathetic. Nevertheless, the image of the "wrong parents" or "problem parents" seems to me to be unreflective and unsatisfactory. Can good parenting be reduced to a single criterion? When asked whether and to what extent parents are committed to their children's school careers? Parenthood is overloaded by the fixation on the school career and gets into trouble. When problems are mentioned in connection with inadequate “parental performance”, it is insinuated (?) That it is not enough to be a mother or father, to offer your children a family, to look after them, to register in the sports club and to send them to school. No, anyone who does not ensure that the children are successful, master the Pythagorean theorem, the capitalization of substantiated verbs and the rules of healthy eating is the wrong dad for the modern German child.

Parents undoubtedly have the task of preparing their children for an independent life. But most parents can do that better than they are allowed to do today. It is they who teach their children important rules of living together and show them how to behave and where. When parents are supposed to be teachers, career advisors or personal trainers in addition to this educational role, parenting comes under a lot of pressure.

The ideal of our time is intensive parenting, in which the demands on mothers and fathers are constantly growing. Because the image of the mother reading aloud and helping with homework can never be transferred to all parental homes, the state has to step in with education vouchers. It's been a long time since raising children was seen as a normal part of our lives. Anyone who emphasizes how complex and difficult the task of parents is, can enjoy great approval. You have to learn everything, just not how to raise your children, is a popular phrase of our time. Youth researcher Klaus Hurrelmann even demands a parents' license. In fact, parenting is not a high science. Billions of parents raise their children successfully and time and again a new generation is growing up without the world perishing. Maybe it's time to let parents know that they can be a little more relaxed. In times of intense parenting, very few mothers will be willing to experiment and leave their child's education to school, but Chua has at least given us the opportunity to think about new ways.