Micromanaging Parents

by Krishna on January 11, 2011

Amy Chua is clearly insane and I am lucky I had way better parents:

What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a child starts to excel at something—whether it’s math, piano, pitching or ballet—he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more.

Read the whole thing. In the past, I wouldn’t have cared much about such essays, but just under a year ago, my son was born and I (like all parents) have become very interested in reading about child development, especially those child milestones. Many baby experts write their advice around how to make it fun for children to learn. So it came as a rude shock that the Wall Street Journal published Chua’s article, though I found it comforting that most of the commentary (including byChinese bloggers) was critical of the article and Chua’s behavior.

It is illuminating to draw the parallels between what Chua advocates and the normal behavior of micromanaging bad bosses. There is very little difference, except maybe that employees can leave a bad job faster than a child can escape its rotten parents. Both the bad parent and bad boss use fear and insult as weapons. They are focused on their goals without any consideration of emotional damage. And they justify their behavior using strawmen (such as the totally oblivious “Western” parents) and excuses (“I am only doing what is best for the child/project”).

As always, there is an useful point in these justifications. Micro-managing can yield some results, even if those results are accompanied by damage (visible or otherwise) that is ignored. Also, if you are a parent who has completely given up trying to influence your child, that is not a good place to be. But the answer to an extreme is not the opposite extreme. It is moderation and understanding what works.

The best way to understand this parenting behavior is that it is all and only about the parent. From what I have observed, all such parents have little concern for their children beyond their usefulness as bragging instruments. “My kids got top scores” or “my child is great at chess”. It is extremely pathetic sometimes. And sometimes horrible, when the child doesn’t match up to the parent’s expectations and then they resort to threats, bullying, comparisons with more intelligent children, public humiliation and so on.

More in my next post.

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