Why Neither “Chinese” nor “Western” Mothers are Superior – part 1

A new book on parenting, Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, is creating quite a stir.  An excerpt from this book was published last month as an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal entitled provocatively, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior” (WSJ, January 8th, 2011).  Ms. Chua argues unabashedly that the “Chinese model” of parenting characterized by strictness, discipline, denial of indulgences like TV and video games, and high expectations for student achievement in academics and music, is superior to the “Western model,” which she describes thusly:

“I’ve noticed that Western parents are extremely anxious about their children’s self-esteem. They worry about how their children will feel if they fail at something, and they constantly try to reassure their children about how good they are notwithstanding a mediocre performance on a test or at a recital. In other words, Western parents are concerned about their children’s psyches. Chinese parents aren’t. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.”

This article presents a stark antithesis between these two approaches causing the reader to ponder which is better, the demanding Chinese (or Asian) model or the permissive Western model.  Advocates of the former, like Ms. Chua, criticize Western parents for being too lax, raising children who accept mediocrity and are not prepared for the demands of the adult world.  Critics of the Asian model respond that parents are too stern and cause children to experience too much anxiety, raising children who resent their parents for suppressing their individuality and who lack creativity and social skills.

There is, though, a third way of parenting that integrates the strengths of each of these poles, while rejecting the excesses of each.  Such a model is presented in Scripture and is both traditional and contemporary at the same time.  In contrast to the Western model, in which preservation of a child’s self-esteem is preeminent and parents submit their authority to the whims and wishes of children, the Biblical model establishes the authority of the parent and the necessity of discipline:

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth” – Ephesians 6:1-3

“Correct your son and he will give you rest; yes, he will give delight to your soul” (Prov. 29:17)

“Chasten your son while there is still hope, and do not set your hearts on his destruction” (Prov. 19:18)

“Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of correction will drive it far from him” (Prov. 22:15)

“He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly” (Prov. 13:24)

Children are commanded to obey and respect their parents in the same way God obliges everyone to obey and honor him.  In the moral order He has established, parents wield His authority over their children, and are thus His representatives in the family.  We live in a culture in which parents need help from a British “Supernanny” because of the ensuing chaos from having abdicated authority in their home.  Parents are commanded to discipline their children, both verbally(“chasten”) and physically(“the rod of correction”) The accepted norm in our homes and schools is not to correct children, but to praise them, whether deserved or not.  We are culturally adverse to physical discipline (spanking) because we believe pain is evil and wrongly associate it with “abuse.”

The authority of parents and obligations to discipline are corollaries to what Scripture teaches about the nature of children.  All people are born with a self-centered disposition, what the Bible calls a “sin nature,” passed on from parent to child originating from our first father, Adam:

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).

From this inherent corruption of the heart springs the maladies of human existence.  Thus, Jesus teaches, “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly” (Mark 7:21).

Consequently, children do not have to be taught to act selfishly, for this is their nature, but trained to act righteously.  Thus the necessity of discipline arises from the truth that all are born in a corrupt, fallen state.  This view of children contradicts the prevailing cultural views that children are born innocent, or at least with a “blank slate,” and thus corrupted not from within, but by external influences.  If children are innocent then discipline is unnecessary and only risks damaging their self-esteem.

This teaching would seem to support the Asian model, but there is more to the biblical picture.  I will continue this line of thought in my next post, contrasting the Asian model with biblical parenting.

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