US parents quake at the roar of the 'Tiger Mother'


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The Independent US

The nation already has its soccer moms, hockey moms, and even Sarah Palin's merry band of Mamma Grizzlies. But a new brand of pushy parent is suddenly the talk of Middle America: the no-nonsense "Tiger Mother."

Amy Chua, a little-known law professor at Yale University, coined the phrase last Saturday, in a newspaper article outlining her extraordinarily robust attempts to raise high-achieving kids. Within hours, she had become a media sensation.

Her new book, a parenting manual called Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother shot to number six in the Amazon sales charts. Her article, headlined "Why Chinese Mother Are Superior," is the week's most read article in the Wall Street Journal. It has generated a quarter of a million "likes" and six thousand reader comments, most of them hostile.

Chua has meanwhile been touring the US chat-show circuit, and radio news bulletins, and cropping up in newspaper editorials, having sparked a furious debate over the rights and wrongs of what she calls touchy-feely Western parenting.

The daughter of Chinese immigrants, Chua's book outlines the hard-line philosophy towards child rearing. It lists "watching TV," playing computer games, taking part in school plays, and "getting any grade less than an A," among the many things children should never be allowed to get away with.

Also forbidden in her household is "playing any instrument other than the piano or violin," "not playing the piano or violin," and failing to be "the number one student in every subject except gym and drama."

In a society which has slipped consistently down the world rankings for academic achievement in recent decades, at the same time as parenting standards have become ever more permissive, Chua's book has struck a raw nerve.

Some call her a borderline child abuser; others say that her "tough love" approach gets results and should be widely copied. Plenty of others say that it advances a dangerous stereotype, at a time when America is increasingly paranoid about the rise of China.

Chua, 48, is happy to take the controversy on the chin, if only because it helps sell books.

In one passage of her parenting manual she talks about shouting at her daughters Sophia, 18, and Louisa, 14, almost daily. They were dubbed "lazy" and "garbage" when they didn't get full marks on homework.

If they failed to complete 90 minutes of music practice each night, Chua would set fire to their teddy bears and threaten to donate their dolls houses to a charity store.

With her husband, a fellow academic called Jeb Rubenfeld, she tells how she decided to bring the girls up in the Jewish faith, but force them to learn fluent Mandarin, a language that neither parent speaks (Chua's native tongue is Hokkien Chinese), from a live-in coach.

She talks with particular nostalgia about her efforts to teach Louisa a particularly tough piano solo. "I used every weapon and tactic I could think of. We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn't let Lulu get up, not for water, not even to go to the bathroom. The house became a war zone, and I lost my voice yelling."

Invited onto NBC's Today programme this week, she said that her methods worked: both girls are "straight A students". In a small concession, she has therefore allowed them to learn tennis.

"I wish I hadn't been so harsh with them at times, but if I had it to do all over again, I think I would basically do the same thing, with small adjustments," she said. "I think there are many aspects of Western parenting that some Asian parents find horrifying."

Others aren't so sure. High suicide rates among Indian and Chinese immigrant children have been blamed on pressure to succeed, and there has been dissent about "Tiger Parenting" from within the Chinese community.

"My first reaction was, 'Is this a joke?' I kept waiting for the punch line," Frances Kai-Hwa Wang, 44, a second-generation Chinese American mother of four from Michigan told the Associated Press. "Her methods are so crude. The humiliations and the shaming. The kids will hear that voice in their heads for the rest of their lives."