OK, so I feel a bit suckered on the Amy Chua/Chinese mothers bit. She actually relented, as seen here, and in the end, did not fully raise her children the way she described in her Wall Street Journal essay written, I am sure, to pique interest in her book.
But just to complete our end of this discussion, two Mom's College Cram Course panelists had some thoughtful comments on the issue.
From Kim Cook. "The only observations I'd offer after 20 years spent parenting two very different kids is that a single approach doesn't work for every kid. I was a pretty laid back mother except on issues of character. While they were exposed to the higher arts - classical music, good films, great books - we also let them absorb popular culture as much as was reasonable. My belief was that to become a well-rounded, well-adjusted person it was just as important to have an understanding and appreciation for the world they live in. They were 'hip' to everything their peers were 'hip' to, so they felt in sync, part of the pack. That was good for their confidence. I think this helped her become a social leader. For my son, it gave him the groundwork for a future career in new media and graphic design.
Then Kim talks about some periods during parenthood that I know we have all lived through: the words that should never have been spoken, the anger that seemed not to match the issue at hand.
"The few times during their childhood when I was not on my game, when I lost it and said things I shouldn't have, when I got into virtual spitting contests instead of taking the higher, more mature road, were times I wish I could take back. A house full of resentment, frustration, anger and bad vibes as a parent and child engage in corrosive arguments, like Amy describes in vivid detail in her accounting of the piano incident, is a bad place to be for all involved. Yes, you might get what you want out of the child by the time you've crushed their spirit, but is all that poisonous air worth it?"
And Kim also points out a parental activity I am sometimes guilty of: interference when the playing out of the problem or action is probably the best learning tool.
"One technique I really like, and wish I'd used more of, is letting the consequences of an action play out rather than rushing to 'fix' it either pre-emptively or afterwards. It's one of the hardest things as a parent to do - let your child stumble - but from what I've seen that's the best way for a lesson to sink in. I think it's good when kids 'own' their actions, good and bad - life itself can be the best lecturer!"
Barbara Rosamilia sees both sides of the issue. "I think the Chinese have a proven approach to parenting and it seems to really work,although I think there is a middle ground. I certainly would not call a child a name, as Amy suggested she did. However, I really like the concept of the kids owing the parents. I think so many Western kids believe they are entitled to a college education and they do not appreciate how much it costs."
And here's what I think. Children and teens must learn to make decisions on their own, in order to become responsible, caring adults. And yes, they must learn about consequences -- something difficult to do if everything is mapped out. And we all need a balance of work and fun, especially as the race to college heats up. We need to know how to guide, not torture; we need to remember how to enjoy time together, not turn each moment into a lecture or litany of reminders.