Do western parents know how to bring up their children?

Last night I went to see Amy Chua, author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger mother and Justine Roberts, Co-founder of Mumsnet. They debated the topic: ‘Western parents don’t know how to bring up their children’. They were accompanied at the intelligence squared debate respectively by Theodore Dalrymple, the author of ‘Spoilt rotten: the Toxic Cult of Sentimentality.’ And Frank Furedi, author of ‘Paranoid Parenting’. It was a fascinating insight into the world of two different parents doing their very best to bring up their children the best way they know how.

Asian and Western parenting styles

Both speakers were eloquent in their struggle to know what was best. They did not claim to have all the answers and admitted that their parenting styles were based on trying to bring out the best in their children using very different methods. Both of them acknowledged that the other had important points in their parenting style. I admired this acceptance that theirs was not the only way of parenting.

Amy attracted a great deal of negative press with her book. But said she was surprised at the impact of the book. It was written purely as a memoir of her experience as a Chinese mother.

Choosing ‘happiness’ or ‘success’

Amy said that if she had to choose between her children being happy or being successful she would choose happiness…it was a no-brainer. That was a big shock for me. I have tried to imagine the early years of her children Sophia and Lulu. I still struggle with the accounts Amy has written of the battle of the wills. Where Lulu especially was made to practice her violin for hours on end. Amy summed up her wish for Western parents to believe in their child more than anyone else and not let them give up even when they want to. To help children see that they are capable more than they think.

Pros and cons of parenting styles

Justine, on the other hand, was advocating balance. She said a happy childhood is one of the best gifts we can bestow on our children. Justine quoted that of British teenagers 7/10 were very satisfied with their lives. She cited the mental and psychological harm parental stress caused in Korea –a tiger nation. Where the biggest killer of the 17-24-year-olds is suicide.

Justine argued about the importance of preparing our children for the future. Plus, encouraging creativity, imagination, critical thinking and social skills. She strongly argued for authoritative parenting, encouraging our children to have manners, being diligent and help around the house. But accompanied by warmth and reasoning. 

Her biggest wish was for children to have a strong sense of themselves with confidence in their own worth. It struck me that both of them wanted a way to motivate their children to want success. Amy would do this through pressure and persuasion, Justine through building up their self-confidence and esteem. Equally, both wanted the children to be happy. Amy felt they would be happy when they mastered skills and Justine when they were confident in themselves.

Motivating children to work hard

At the end of the debate I was left feeling that Westerners and Asians have a great deal to learn from each other. I also wanted Amy and Justine to adopt the practices of ‘Descriptive Praise’ and ‘Reflective Listening.’ These are tools which can motivate children and encourage cooperation willingly. Both skills are foundations of the parenting courses run by The Parent Practice and The New Learning Centre in London. Parenting is challenging, but the more children are on board with parents’ values and expectations, the happier everyone will be in the family. Which has got to be good news!

child behavioural expert
The author:

Elizabeth O’Shea is a parenting specialist child behaviour expert and one of the leading parenting experts in the UK.

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