David Brooks: Amy Chua Is Too Nice to Her Kids

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Amy Chua's column last week in The Wall Street Journal extolling the virtues of "Chinese Mothers" has generated plenty of backlash, the majority of which centers around the fact that Chua's parenting style--with its emphasis on good grades at the expense of friendship, free will, and mastery of non-piano musical instruments--seems kind of, well, mean.

Hence the reason we were surprised to see David Brooks criticize Chua for "coddling" her kids in his latest New York Times column. How does demanding absolute academic perfection from one's children in every subject save gym and drama meet any of the accepted definitions of coddling?

Brooks explains:

[Chua is] protecting [her children] from the most intellectually demanding activities because she doesn’t understand what’s cognitively difficult and what isn’t.

Practicing a piece of music for four hours requires focused attention, but it is nowhere near as cognitively demanding as a sleepover with 14-year-old girls. Managing status rivalries, negotiating group dynamics, understanding social norms, navigating the distinction between self and group — these and other social tests impose cognitive demands that blow away any intense tutoring session or a class at Yale.

Yet mastering these arduous skills is at the very essence of achievement. Most people work in groups. We do this because groups are much more efficient at solving problems than individuals...Participating in a well-functioning group is really hard. It requires the ability to trust people outside your kinship circle, read intonations and moods, understand how the psychological pieces each person brings to the room can and cannot fit together.

This skill set is not taught formally, but it is imparted through arduous experiences. These are exactly the kinds of difficult experiences Chua shelters her children from by making them rush home to hit the homework table.

In conclusion, overprotective parents must embrace austerity and they must embrace it now.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.