Tiger mothers, laissez faire parents, and productivity in society

Editor’s note: This article was originally posted in January 2011.

In light of all the uproar about Amy Chua’s book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” what impact do you think parenting has on how productive we are as a society? Does the extremely strict parenting outlined in Chua’s memoir lead to more productive adults—or does it increase adult psychosis?

In my work with children and families, I have seen the neglectful and sometimes abusive extremes of parenting; and I have witnessed the consequences of those extremes as these children become adults. The excessively strict parent who limits the social interactions of their children and places adult-like demands on them (demands their children’s brain are not ready to handle) can lead to abnormal rebellion and difficulty in relationships. On the other extreme, laissez faire parents can be so boundary-less, children have no idea where they begin and their parents end. This can lead to low self esteem, poor boundaries and an unremitting need for attention. Were not talking well balanced folks here…

I agree with some of the sentiments that as a country we have become too lax in our parenting. A Time Magazine, January 31, 2011 article, “The Truth about Tiger Moms,” references some of the not-so-glowing trends in math and science scores of U.S. students. Who are the bogeymen in these trends: too much television, ribbons for showing up, passing kids just to pass them, cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, and more. Or is it just plain lazy parenting?

On the other hand, I do not believe the quasi-abusive dominatrix is what we want to hold up as the standard of good parenting. At a recent business forum, an economist spoke of how Japan has seen a deterioration of the mental and physical health of its population and a lowering birth rate. The economist claimed this was a consequence of being a very demanding society. His premise was that as other countries, like China, industrialize, they will experience similar trends.

Parenting and managing have many parallels. In parenting and at work, there must be a balance between discipline and appreciation; and between unconditional acceptance and conditional reward based on a job well done.

Many of the eastern cultures talk about balance, the Yin and Yang we must have in order to be healthy. Western medicine has also shown us that in order to build resilience in children they must be exposed to things that challenge them physically and mentally. Without those challenges they will not grow up to be resilient adults; and in the business world we need adults who do more than just survive change and the demands placed on them. We need employees who can thrive.

P.S. “Parenting with Love and Logic,” by Jim Fay and Charles Fay, Ph.D, is a wonderful book on parenting. At The Village, we periodically have classes teaching the Love and Logic approach to parents—most communities have similar classes.

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