Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

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Posts Tagged ‘Wall Street Journal

“Why Chinese mothers are superior” sounds like a lot of sports parents

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Burning up the mommy blogs and parenting sites is a Wall Street Journal piece by Amy Chua called “Why Chinese mothers are superior.” I had to admit they were, at least by the description she gives, because the night before I read the piece my 11-year-old daughter had a sleepover.

A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it’s like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I’ve done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:

• attend a sleepover

• have a playdate

• be in a school play

• complain about not being in a school play

• watch TV or play computer games

• choose their own extracurricular activities

• get any grade less than an A

• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama

• play any instrument other than the piano or violin

• not play the piano or violin.

I think you could sub “baseball” or “volleyball” for “piano” and “violin,” and make whatever substitutions are necessary to turn a Chinese mother into a sports parent — or any parent so obsessive about their child’s success that they are strict beyond belief, lest anything take anyone’s eyes off the prize.

I think you can also find justification given by the intense sport parent in this passage from Chua’s piece:

What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a child starts to excel at something—whether it’s math, piano, pitching or ballet—he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more.

On some level, she probably is right. A child usually is not going to play piano for hours a day, or hit the batting cage for hours a day, or do whatever for hours a day that does not involve some level of enjoyment — unless they’ve done it for so long, and they’ve gotten so good at it, that they respond to the praise they’re getting for doing it so well.

Alas, being the “Chinese mother” is a tricky strategy. For every Ichiro Suzuki that seems to respond well and thrive to the parental-obsessive treatment, there is an Andre Agassi who does well but resents his father, or a Todd Marinovich who advances to the highest level and falls apart, or skads of others kids we never hear of who just burn out. And I’m not talking just sports. Unfortunately, as a parent, we never know whether we’ve pushed too hard or not enough until it’s too late to undo the damage — and the guilt you might feel as a result.

Chua details a confrontation she had with her 7-year-old daughter over trouble she had playing a certain piece on a piano, a fight that escalated into screaming fits (by the daughter) and threats of eternal punishment and withholding water until she learned to play the piece (by the mother). At one point, when Chua’s husband (who is not Chinese) tries to step in, she responds:

“Oh no, not this,” I said, rolling my eyes. “Everyone is special in their special own way,” I mimicked sarcastically. “Even losers are special in their own special way. Well don’t worry, you don’t have to lift a finger. I’m willing to put in as long as it takes, and I’m happy to be the one hated. And you can be the one they adore because you make them pancakes and take them to Yankees games.”

I’m amazed he can take them to Yankees games. He must sneak them out.

Anyway, the 7-year-old learns to play the piece, she’s joyful she can, she loves her mother, dumb-ass dad admits she’s right, and all is well.

There are all these new books out there portraying Asian mothers as scheming, callous, overdriven people indifferent to their kids’ true interests. For their part, many Chinese secretly believe that they care more about their children and are willing to sacrifice much more for them than Westerners, who seem perfectly content to let their children turn out badly. I think it’s a misunderstanding on both sides. All decent parents want to do what’s best for their children. The Chinese just have a totally different idea of how to do that.

Western parents try to respect their children’s individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they’re capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.

Unlike many who have commented on Chua’s piece, the fault I find is not in her individual parenting methods. They’re her kids, and that’s her business. I don’t doubt that she loves her kids and wants the best for them — and I don’t doubt that either from sports parents who also might seem overbearing on first, second, third and fourth looks.

But I do find fault with this either-or at the end of her piece. To me, good parenting combines the best of both the “Western” and “Chinese” scenarios she lays out. You can encourage your kids to pursue their passions while also reminding them that many others are pursuing the same passion, and showing them what they have to do to make their passion into a viable future, thus providing a nuturing environment AND giving them work habits and inner confidence no one can ever take away.

Now, I need to step away to have my kids turn off their video games and go to bed.

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Written by rkcookjr

January 9, 2011 at 10:53 pm

A prof brings the crazy on youth sports

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The beauty of the Wall Street Journal editorial and commentary pages is that you know there’s going to be some sort of what-is-killing-America craziness: you just don’t know who is going to be today’s culprit.

Today’s culprit: soccer.

3014377716_193a4e7747OK, on the count of three, I want everyone to say, “Death to America!”

The writer is a Wabash College religion and philosophy professor named Stephen H. Webb, and the article is actually pulled from a partnership with the religious journal First Things. It is published by the Institute on Religion and Public Life, which essentially is a vehicle to further the reach of neocon Catholic priest Richard Neuhaus (who died in January) and his like-thinkers. So it’s no wonder its content fits so snugly with the Journal’s editorial page.

webb-sThe defender of freedom (pictured at right — it’s nice to see he’s done well since playing Haverchuck on “Freaks and Geeks”) sees soccer as a threat (and he says he’s not kidding) for four reasons:

1. You can’t use your hands. “Indeed, soccer is a liberal’s dream of tragedy: It creates an egalitarian playing field by rigorously enforcing a uniform disability.” Wrongo, prof. The ultimate liberal’s dream of tragedy is swimming, where we get in touch with our pre-evolutionary fishy selves.

2. Sports should be about breaking kids down before you build them up. Webb uses baseball as an example, though he never gets around to how soccer builds you up before its breaks you down (wait — didn’t he in point No. 1 say soccer already broke you down by enforcing a uniform disability?). “When I was a kid, baseball was the most popular sport precisely because it was so demanding. Even its language was intimidating, with bases, bats, strikes and outs. … The boy chosen to be the pitcher was inevitably the first kid on the team to reach puberty, and he threw a hard ball right at you. Thus, you had to face the fear of disfigurement as well as the statistical probability of striking out.” Note to prospective students of Webb’s class: be prepared to dodge a high, hard crucifix to the chin.

3. Soccer is a European invasion of death and despair. “Americans would never invent a sport where the better you get the less you score. Even the way most games end, in sudden death, suggests something of an old-fashioned duel. How could anyone enjoy a game where so much energy results in so little advantage, and which typically ends with a penalty kick out, as if it is the audience that needs to be put out of its misery?” He’s way off here, mostly because, as the great Indiana band MX-80 notes in “Facts Facts,” lacrosse is the only truly American sport. So it’s closer to accurate just to stop at “Americans would never invent a sport.”

4. Finally, and this should be no surprise coming from someone teaching at an all-male college (the school newspaper is the Bachelor — it should have a rose across the nameplate), soccer is for girls. “Girls are too smart to waste an entire day playing baseball, and they do not have the bloodlust for football.” Wait, didn’t Webb say in point No. 2 that baseball is so great because it’s demanding? ” Soccer penalizes shoving and burns countless calories, and the margins of victory are almost always too narrow to afford any gloating. As a display of nearly death-defying stamina, soccer mimics the paradigmatic feminine experience of childbirth more than the masculine business of destroying your opponent with insurmountable power.” If Webb thinks soccer is the equivalent of childbirth, then he needs a little more education on the subject. First lesson: passing a soccer ball through his pecker.

Webb concludes his article by undermining everything he says above. Or maybe what he says above is reflects his own frustration that he and his family seem to enjoy hands-free terrorism.

Soccer is the perfect antidote to television and video games. It forces kids to run and run, and everyone can play their role, no matter how minor or irrelevant to the game. Soccer and television are the peanut butter and jelly of parenting.

I should know. I am an overworked teacher, with books to read and books to write, and before I put in a video for the kids to watch while I work in the evenings, they need to have spent some of their energy. Otherwise, they want to play with me! Last year all three of my kids were on three different soccer teams at the same time. My daughter is on a traveling team, and she is quite good. I had to sign a form that said, among other things, I would not do anything embarrassing to her or the team during the game. I told the coach I could not sign it. She was perplexed and worried. “Why not,” she asked? “Are you one of those parents who yells at their kids? “Not at all,” I replied, “I read books on the sidelines during the game, and this embarrasses my daughter to no end.” That is my one way of protesting the rise of this pitiful sport. Nonetheless, I must say that my kids and I come home from a soccer game a very happy family.

What the hell? Do you love soccer, or hate it? As Stephen Colbert says, pick a side, we’re at war! Then again, this is the sort of wishy-washy conclusion you might expect from a guy who co-founded the Christian Vegetarian Association yet was kicked out because he copped to eating meat.