Colorado Srpings, CO
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
"No cultural parenting approach is superior to another; one shoe simply does not fit all children," states Gary M. Unruh, MSW LCSW, forty-year veteran child psychotherapist, father of four, and grandfather of nine.
Professor Chua, author of the essay "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior," makes many good parenting points in her essay, but some of her points can damage children who are not highly resilient.
Professor Chua believes Western parents are too anxious about their children's self-esteem. Unruh responds, "Thank goodness we are. All too often a child's individuality is not adequately developed. Dr. Spock made that point in his 1946 groundbreaking book Baby and Child Care. He shook American parents out of their punishment-only approach and put the spotlight on the rest of the story: a child's individuality or self-esteem.
In America the parenting pendulum has clearly swung too far away from the necessity for firm limit-setting in our attempt to make sure self-esteem is adequately established. Unruh elaborates, "The toddler mentality of 'do it my way' proves children are not born with good behavior and need discipline to acquire appropriate behavior. Balancing discipline with establishing individuality is essential; that's the parenting sweet spot. Even though it's hard to pull off, with practice, the rewards are gratifying."
Currently our society is trying to kick the parenting pendulum out of the over-permissiveness position and move it toward the hard-knocks, tough-love position. Chua's hardnosed performance-only approach brings an "about time" chorus from many Americans. Unruh cautions, "Beware of going too far toward the tough-love approach and excluding the establishment of a child's individuality. Doing that will increase the risk of poor mental health, as evidenced by the alarming increase in bullying and the fact that suicide has become the third leading cause of death in 15-to-24-year-olds. For individuality to emerge, children need to feel understood, especially during conflict."
Focusing only on performance means the parenting pendulum has swung dangerously too far in the wrong direction, as evidenced in the sad Tiger Woods story. Professor Chua's performance parenting gets into the danger zone when she advocates the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish, and shame the child.
Every mental health worker in America has witnessed firsthand the possible high-risk consequences of this shaming approach, which often results in depression, anxiety, and drug addiction. Unruh warns, "Being firm with children is a must, but using a parenting board with the sharp nails of stupid and worthless to achieve top performance is overkill. There are a lot more effective ways for parents to show children they mean business."
Superior parenting is balanced parenting: It means training a child to behave and perform well while at the same time supporting the child's developing individuality.
After many humbling parenting experiences and forty years of clinical experience, Unruh has arrived at this conclusion: "It all boils down to addressing a child's two basic needs—(1) to feel understood, especially during a conflict, and (2) to learn good behavior. I've seen it over and over again in my practice. When parents attain this difficult but achievable balancing act, behavior improves and a child's individuality flourishes. That's true success! And maximum performance has the best chance of happening—just in case you are raising a future Michael Jordan."
Here's the conclusion Unruh draws from Professor Chua's essay: "Performance-only living does not translate into guaranteed successful living. Successful adults are children who have grown up to be comfortable in their own skin and have learned from their parents the benefits of sticking with a task through thick and thin."
Colorado Srpings, CO