Why American Parents Are Inferior

[Note: If you don't immediately recognize the satire here, read this first.]

Is there more to life than this?  Amy Chua and her fellow Chuanese parents had better hope so...

A lot of people wonder how American parents raise such fools. They wonder 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 boys, Marco, Nico, and Leo, are always allowed to do:

  • run into the street (looking both ways before)
  • crawl under the dinner table during dinner
  • blow bubbles in the milk with a straw
  • fart (extra credit if it’s in the bath tub)
  • tell us parents when we make a mistake
  • do stunt jumping on our trampoline
  • confiscate all the pillows, cushions, sheets, and blankets in our house to make a fort
  • climb trees and buildings
  • run away during a piano lesson if the music’s B-O-R-I-N-G

Even when Chuanese (a peculiarly superior subculture of the Chinese race) parents think they’re being nice to their kids, they usually don’t come close to American parents. For instance, my Chuanese friends who consider themselves loving parents let their children play once a week for a half hour. For an American parent, it’s the everyday play grind that gets tough.
Despite our squeamishness about cultural stereotypes, there are tons of studies out there showing marked and quantifiable differences between Americans and Chuanese, or Asians more generally, when it comes to parenting. For instance, suicide is the leading cause of death for young people (15-24 years old) in Hong Kong, South Korea, and Japan. Here in U.S., Asian/Pacific Islander American females have the highest rate of suicide among females between 15-24 years old.


Here’s Marco doing a crazy trampoline trick he made up himself. What kind of parent would let their little kid do a thing like that?

American parents foolishly believe that nothing is more important than happiness. In addition, though, they believe that children have an innate desire to accomplish worthwhile things in life and to be creative. To accomplish these things, though, you have to be happy. This often requires aimless, enjoyable activity – i.e. free play. While playing, children may seem to accomplish nothing, but with patience and some adult guidance, American parents claim their kids can channel their joy of playing into very productive, creative results – a virtuous circle of happiness and accomplishment.

American parents can get away with things that Chuanese parents can’t. When I was young, my parents let me read only what I wanted to read, rather than read that boring stuff that my teachers assigned to us. So, I never read any children’s literature, which upset my teachers. My choice was to read nothing but baseball material – the sports pages of newspapers and baseball player biographies. As a result, I learned to read quite well, and I taught myself how to calculate batting averages and ERAs by the end of second grade.

As an adult, I do the same thing with my boys. My oldest son Marco (6) hated his piano lessons which were forced on him by my Chinese mother-in-law (!). The video below shows his first recital playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, which was a complete disaster. A Chuanese mother like the eminent Amy Chua would have locked Marco in a padded cell with a piano for a week after that until he mastered a Bach fugue (good for math skills!!!). Instead, I told him he could play any music he wanted, and I helped him discover subversive 1960s folk rock (good for drug-enhanced soul searching :-( ). Now, he’s practicing every day, playing tunes like “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Puff the Magic Dragon.”


Here’s Marco’s disaster in his first piano recital. After this, I hugged and kissed him, then we played bouncy ball.

The fact is that American parents can do things that would seem unimaginable—even legally actionable—to Chuanese (especially those charming Communist Party dudes across the Big Pond). For instance, two years ago, I completely renovated my front and back yards to make them into outdoor family rooms. Now, these yards look nothing like those of my neighbors, and kids come over every day to play with abandon. Neighbor parents complain that their kids are playing far fewer educational video games and are creating secret clubs with secret rules that have nothing to do with school.

I’ve thought long and hard about how American parents can get away with what they do. I think there are three big differences between the American and Chuanese parental mind-sets.

First, I’ve noticed that American parents are extremely concerned about their children’s happiness. One of the fundamental ideals of American national culture is “the pursuit of happiness.” Keep in mind that happiness is a tricky concept. Americans tend to define it in terms of their own subjective inner state. On the other hand, Chuanese define happiness, to the extent that they permit themselves to acknowledge it, according to an objective, socially-defined benchmark (e.g. a grade, a test score, mastering a difficult-but-unappealing piano piece).

Paradoxically, while American happiness is about an inner state, it manifests itself most when one feels that he or she has made a significant contribution to the lives of others. In other words, it is an inner state expressed best through a selfless dedication to others. Often, but not always, our economic system rewards us for enhancing others’ lives.

Because American parents understand this subjective nature of happiness, they also understand that they can’t tell their children where to find happiness. They can facilitate this search, but ultimately, American parents’ job is to help their children find their own path. If these parents are successful, their children will live happy lives, fulfilled by the positive impact they have on the people around them.

Chuanese parents are only focused on how their children measure up to objective social standards, and believe that their children’s happiness will take care of itself if they meet these standards. Usually, Chuanese children are rewarded economically for meeting these standards, but if they happen to make a positive impact on other people’s lives, it’s a mere coincidence.


Amy Chua won’t let her girls do anything musically other than play classical violin or piano. Meanwhile, Marco just invented a new dance for Talking Heads music. Which kid would you rather be?

Second, American parents believe that their kids owe them nothing. I love my boys. I mean, I LOVE my boys. When I try to get them to do something – yes, push does come to shove sometimes, and I can yell pretty loudly – the focus is on how they can learn to live happy, successful lives. It’s not about me. It’s about them and their life. What kind of person do you want to be? What kind of impact do you want to have on the world? My job is to help them create their dreams, and then to help them to achieve them. If I can do that even decently well, they’ll LOVE me too. I’m not worried.

Third, American parents believe that their children do their best when they are doing what they want. Of course, I don’t want my kids to be axe murderers or drug addicts. Deep down, I don’t think most kids want to do something like that, either (excepting sociopaths like Jared Loughner). We American parents have faith in the innate goodness of our children, so we view our jobs as helping them get in touch with that goodness, and then helping them go wherever it propels them. I have aspirations for my boys as high as Amy Chua does for her girls, but I believe that they’ll get there (or not) according to how well I help them find the fire in their own soul, and then channel that fire.

Here’s a story in favor of this seemingly foolish American approach to parenting. My son Marco is a decent reader for a kindergartener, but he’s far from the best in his class. Amy Chua would be quite disappointed in my wife and I – after all, we both were top readers when we were his age. We haven’t even considered calling him an idiot and locking him in his room until he can pass a reading comprehension test on a Harry Potter book.

Instead, our energies have been focused on helping him find his intellectual passion. So, every time he voices a bit of interest in something, we scurry like madmen trying to set up his deep dive into the subject. We buy lots of books and other items, take him to special museums or parks, and talk up the subject for as long as he’ll listen. The first three or four times we tried this, we failed to spark any significant interest.

Just now, though, I think we’ve found something that really gets him excited: geology. Last weekend, we took him and his brothers to an ancient seabed two and a half hours from home that allegedly had fossils from sea creatures millions of years old. We climbed over a fence with a “No Trespassing” sign and searched around there for an hour. The boys were getting mighty cranky.

Then, finally, I found a fossil of an ancient clam. It was dramatic, to say the least. Marco saw that and went wild. He found at least a dozen others on his own.

This week, I’ve purchased about eight books on various aspects of geology. He’s been pleading with me to read them to him every night. He’s beginning to understand that my reading to him will not nearly satisfy his curiosity in these geology books, so he’s going to have to learn how to read them himself.

In addition, I bought some geodes at a toy store. Now, I’m about to buy some bigger ones from an online store that specializes in them. Every morning and evening, Marco can’t talk about anything but fossils and geodes. I’m now thinking about taking him on a trip to a dinosaur excavation site this summer.

It’s hard to say how far Marco will go with this interest in geology. Ultimately, that’s not my wife’s and my decision. It’s his.

If, or should I say when, he loses this passion, my wife and I will keep listening closely, ready to pounce again. What we absolutely won’t do is force him to dedicate long hours to something he can’t justify pouring himself into.

Of course, he won’t be passionate about everything he encounters at school, but I firmly believe that, once he pursues a couple of intellectual passions (the more, the better!), he’ll recognize for himself the connectedness of all academic subjects.

For instance, let’s say he’s still crazy about geology five or ten years from now. While English literature might not captivate him, he might realize that a strong command of language – reading and writing – are absolutely essential to his dreams of making geological discoveries. The historical context that certain works of literature provide might also prove very useful to understanding the history of geological discoveries.

Ultimately, though, my wife and I have little control over all this. We’re just counting on the probability that Marco will find these passions for himself, and that they’ll propel him to learn, to be happy, and to be fulfilled in life.

But we might be wrong. He might be someone who only responds to Chuanese abuse. Left to make his own choices, he might be a “B” student in life, or worse (YIKES!!! the Chuanese out there gasp in horror.). He might never be truly happy. He might never find a way to make a positive difference in people’s lives.

That’s the chance we’re willing to take. We’re foolish American parents. We put our faith in Marco’s own pursuit of happiness, even though we don’t really know what’s inside him. I can’t wait to see how he and all those other children of foolish American parents turn out. In the meantime, we’ll have an awful lot of fun with Marco every step of the way to adulthood. Heck, when we look back, we might all conclude that the journey was the reward. Sadly, I can’t say the same for Chuanese parents.


Here’s our back yard on Halloween night, 2010. It was like a rave for toddlers and elementary school kids. Very Un-Chuanese…

Bookmark the permalink of this post.

26 Responses to Why American Parents Are Inferior

  1. Perla says:

    Thanks for the satire. I hope everyone gets the humor of your title!

    In seriousness, I think as a country, we are past the Industrial Revolution and so we’re more laid back and less pushy about our children achieving and succeeding.

  2. Bobby says:

    This article and the entire chain of thought about this and the previous article somewhat sadden me.
    It’s true, we can simply stand on the sidelines and attempt to push our children towards whatever their idea of happiness is, but as the author stated, happiness is a somewhat ill defined thing and it’s difficult even for grown adults to find happiness.
    What disturbs me most though is the somewhat simple idea that children who are pushed will be UNhappy.
    Also, it seems as if there’s no room for middle ground. People like to simplify things in to “us and them”.
    I’m asian and was raised in a high achieving family (father – PhD, mother – Masters, brother – PhD, sister – MD). My parents rarely praised us, and there is the expectation that we bring honor to the family name and to take care of our parents when they get older.
    Does that make me unhappy? Not at all. I take quiet pride in my work and learned to realize that my parents displayed their love in a different way. That they don’t just preach what they say, they do it. They worked hard, came from humble beginnings and lived the American Dream of becoming rich through hard work and dedication.
    As for self esteem, I gained my self esteem from my academic achievements. You may say that pushing your children to work hard only pays off academically, but when you’re number one in your class, or even number two or three you can take some pride in that fact. And it parlays well into successful societal rewards such as acceptance into a prestigious college or honors.
    And all that aside, there is a middle ground. I watched TV and played video games, had sleep overs, and never fully learned a musical instruments. But my parents had high expectations for me and pushed me hard, which allowed me to discover the full extent of my own abilities.
    Children need guidance. They don’t have the full knowledge of the world. They may not realize that following a career in acting or sports may lead them to a lifetime of rejection and failure. The child that wants to be an astronaut we can encourage, but what about the child that wants to be a cowboy? Or an alien?
    I know I’ve rambled, and believe me, I have a lot more to say, but I’ll end it with this: Control and expectations and freedom are all points on a spectrum from which we can choose. Mrs. Chua may come off as arrogant and raise our hackles, but it doesn’t mean her ideas lack merit. Try not to fall victim to the urge to simplify matters into black and white, and attempt to learn from the good and leave the bad of ALL knowledge and methods, regardless of the messenger.

  3. Li Pinyang says:

    Of course this sort of attitude is why America is a debtor nation with the Peoples’ Republic of China holding the strings. Hope your children have lots of fun now because they’ll be wage slaves to the Chuanese for all of their adult lives. Enjoy!

  4. RobertH says:

    To those who seem to have a problem with Mike’s message: Mike has solid science on his side.

    Unlike Chuan (and her followers), he’s not just making it up as he goes. Read any recent research and findings about how children (and adults) best learn and succeed, and you will realize that the Chuanese model is not what childhood experts, or really any experts, recommend. To the contrary, they recommend exactly what Mike is preaching.

    To read some of those findings, go to the homepage of this site, where you’ll find dozens of articles to get you started. Otherwise this debate will become an exercise in futility.

    Way to go, Mike! I have always raised my kids exactly as you described and they are doing great (yes, even academically, for you doubters). :-)

  5. Amitrapalani Pattacharya says:

    Li Pinyang

    - US is a debtor to China, simply because the US knows how to have fun, the Chuanese only know how to work. Perfect match – US enjoys the fruits of Chuanese labor. The Chuanese teach their children how to slave even harder and the Western reward the labor with IOUs. Who’s the fool here?

  6. Esther says:

    I feel like I neither completely agree with Amy Chua, nor do I completely agree with this very laissez-faire approach.

    I grew up in a household where my parents were extremely academic (dad-law school, mom-masters) and thus, emphasized the importance of getting high grades. I was still allowed to watch TV (though for a limited time) and hang out with friends after school, but they expected As, not Bs.

    I’m extremely glad that they pushed me because there were times where I came home with an A- or God forbid a B, and my parents were furious, and I wished that I had “Western” parents who would have no problems with a B. Instead, my parents told me that this was not good enough, that I did not try hard for this grade and that I needed to put in more hours this semester so that I could improve.

    Bs weren’t good enough because we were better than that. That was where it was coming from: this is unacceptable because this is not your best. That conviction was oddly self-esteem boosting because my parents were telling me that I was capable of excellence in any subject that I wanted to succeed in. I did not like math in school, but I still got As in the subject, and that gave me the confidence to be able to excel in things that I didn’t want to do.

    I know that I would not have been the person I am today without my mom pushing me to work harder in school because there was a time period where my mother was living in a different country (for work related reasons), and since my dad was working full time, me and my brother was free to do whatever we chose. Our choices weren’t that great. We chose to watch TV all day, to play computer games all day and got away with just finishing our homework and assignments. I got a B average, and my father was furious. Then, my mother came back, and she pushed me hard to study and restricted my TV watching time, and my marks tremendously improved. I’m sincerely thankful that my parents raised me the way they did because they instilled in me a hard work ethic, a ‘stick-through-it’ attitude, and ‘nothing is impossible if you try hard’ attitude. Thanks to their strict parenting styles in part, I will be enrolling in Columbia Law School this coming school year.

    The thing is, there are so many more options open to you in the future if you study hard in order to get those As instead of those Bs. Sure, a 10 year old could care less about wanting to go to Harvard or Princeton and would rather like to be a singer or a geologist. But when he is 15, he may wish to get into some of these hard to get into Ivy League schools. But if he has not acquired the knowledge he was supposed to have mastered at age 13/14, it becomes that much higher to get those straight As needed for entrance into those sort of schools.

    Without even talking about Ivy league, what if he loves to draw and wants to become an architect later on? If he was never pushed to work hard in math or physics (because he had no interest in them) he will never learn that if he had tried hard in those subjects, he could do well as all success is based on how much effort and time you put into it. I have a friend whose parents are more laissez faire, and she had wanted to become an architect. However, in the end, her marks in physics were just not good enough and she couldn’t enroll into the architectural program. Now that is being without choice and freedom.

    I don’t think either of these two approaches is completely the right answer. Me and my brother have amazing memories of great vacations, building snow forts in the backyard, hanging out with friends after school, and the like. But the thing is, kids don’t know everything, and they don’t know what their aspirations will be later on. It’s the parents’ job to push them to work hard so that they will have the freedom to pursue their aspirations later on.

  7. RobertH says:

    What most American parents, not just those of Asian ancestry, don’t understand is that the nose-to-the-grindstone approach is not the only route to success, including academic and professional success. In fact, modern research suggests that contrary to public belief, this approach does NOT maximize a person’s potential. One reason is that the old model of learning, which was developed in the early 20th century, is based on an outdated, mechanistic view of the mind known as behaviorism.

    The basic idea behind behaviorism is that like lab rats, children, and later adults, will work harder and better if they receive external rewards (e.g., good grades, money) and punishments (bad grades, less money). This view of human motivation is unfortunately completely wrong, it turns out, and has long been abandoned.

    Modern science paints a very different picture of the human mind, one that is much more complicated. Here is one interesting finding to ponder:

    The capacity of humans to learn and perform other challenging tasks is at its maximum when they are in a state that is called “flow.” The key feature of flow is that in this state, we are motivated not by external rewards, but rather do the activity for its own sake. When athletes set records, they usually aren’t motivated by money or even fame, but rather because they love what they do. A great runner loves to run, a great swimmer loves to swim. The same applies to academic activities, Nobel prize winners are not motivated by winning prizes, they simply love to make new discoveries and share them with the world. No amount of money can buy an Albert Einstein or Richard Feynmann. Same for great musicians, entertainers, and any other creative person.

    The only activities in which humans show a positive correlation between effort and reward are PURELY MECHANICAL in nature. A factory worker will work harder and faster if paid more. A brick layer will lay more bricks if paid more. And so on. This is where humans are, like the model of behaviorism posits, a lot like rats.

    “What does this mean for how we raise our children?” you might ask. Well, putting it bluntly, it means that parents need to decide whether they want their children to behave more like rats or like humans. The rat approach works to a point, but the farther away our economy moves from mechanical work – and this is precisely where we are headed – the less the returns will be. That’s the basic reason why millions of manufacturing jobs have disappeared. It is also the reason why only the most creative companies and professionals do well nowadays. Just cranking out widgets – whether cars, architectural plans or legal briefs – is no longer good enough. Only the best, most innovative products and services survive. And innovative behavior cannot be bought.

    Here is the simple beauty of Mike’s approach to parenting: He is raising his kids in a way that encourages them to find their own passions and talents. Contrary to what we have been led to believe by behaviorism and other invalid models of human behavior (e.g., the religious idea that children are born as sinners), children are not at all lazy by nature. If allowed, they will actively engage with whatever environment they are, and eventually they will each gravitate towards one or the other aspect of life that they find fascinating. In Marco’s case, this is geology right now (he’s of course still young and this may well change at some point), for my 8-year son it is herpetology (which is also likely to change at some point).

    Someone might object that these are just infantile predilections that will have no value – academically or professionally – later on. But they do. The reason is that our kids are learning at a very young age that complicated, challenging fields like geology or herpetology can be incredibly rewarding – intrinsically rewarding, that is. Our kids love to learn because they actually want to know stuff, not because they are rewarded or punished by us, their parents. Fast forward 10 years, and there is an excellent chance that our kids will be creatively engaged in SOME challenging field, whatever that may be, that they will find intrinsically rewarding and at which they will, because it puts them into a state of flow, excel. And even if that excellence does not translate into heaps of money and fame, they will at least be happy with what they are doing.

    There are tons of excellent, readily accessible books, on these topics, some of them linked on this site. To add just a few:

    “Emotional Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman

    “Play” by Stuart Brown

    “The Element” by Sir Ken Robinson

    “Unconditional Parenting” by Alfie Kohn

    “In Defense of Childhood” by Chris Mercogliano

    If anyone reads any or all of these books, you will have a much better understanding of what is really going on and, hopefully, will feel validated and encouraged not to raise your children as “rats.”

    Robert

  8. Mike_FB says:

    Esther -

    I’m attracted to the term “laissez-faire” in other contexts (e.g. economics), but I don’t actually think it fits the approach to parenting I described in this article. Laissez-faire would be totally hands off and inattentive. However, I can tell you that what I do is very involved and time-consuming.

    The way I like to compare “Chuanese” parenting and my approach is controlling vs. facilitating. Chua micromanages what her kids can and can’t do, how they do it, and when. Of course, this takes enormous energy and time commitment.

    I don’t micromanage that stuff, but I do an awful lot to the side of my kids to nudge them in certain directions (e.g. to play outside creatively, to discover rocks, to want to read, etc.). Of course, one could say that in some sense, I’m controlling, too, but I afford my kids an awful lot of latitude as well. In theory, my approach should enable my kids to exercise their own resourcefulness, decision-making, and creativity. On the other hand, the cost is that they are certain not to push themselves as hard to do distasteful things as Chua’s kids would be.

    Are you familiar with “Reggio-based” preschools? I’ve been thinking of calling this parenting approach “Reggio parenting.”

    Does this make sense?

  9. Mike Lanza says:

    Esther -

    I’m attracted to the term “laissez-faire” in other contexts (e.g. economics), but I don’t actually think it fits the approach to parenting I described in this article. Laissez-faire would be totally hands off and inattentive. However, I can tell you that what I do is very involved and time-consuming.

    The way I like to compare “Chuanese” parenting and my approach is controlling vs. facilitating. Chua micromanages what her kids can and can’t do, how they do it, and when. Of course, this takes enormous energy and time commitment.

    I don’t micromanage that stuff, but I do an awful lot to the side of my kids to nudge them in certain directions (e.g. to play outside creatively, to discover rocks, to want to read, etc.). Of course, one could say that in some sense, I’m controlling, too, but I afford my kids an awful lot of latitude as well. In theory, my approach should enable my kids to exercise their own resourcefulness, decision-making, and creativity. On the other hand, the cost is that they are certain not to push themselves as hard to do distasteful things as Chua’s kids would be.

    Are you familiar with “Reggio-based” preschools? I’ve been thinking of calling this parenting approach “Reggio parenting.”

    Does this make sense?

  10. ab says:

    I was troubled by this comment:

    We climbed over a fence with a “No Trespassing” sign.

    How are you teaching your children to respect rules and regulations and other people’s property and space if you do not set an example. Perhaps there is a reason that there is a fence with a no trespassing sign on it.

  11. Mike Lanza says:

    ab – Yes, this is an interesting issue. I can tell you that many parents know about this place and go there (scaling the fence) to collect fossils without a problem. I would never do this at a place that I did not hear about from at least one other person.

    Of course, I don’t want my kids to be lawless hooligans, but I also don’t want them to be mindless rule followers. I’ll give an example of what I mean by the latter. In Tokyo one late night years ago, I was amazed that people would stand at a crosswalk where they didn’t have a walking sign, even though there was no car in sight. Of course, I just walked across the street, and that caused many people to start walking, too.

    So, I want my kids to think about the underlying logic behind all rules and, in some cases, ignore them when the logic fails in a particular context. One might call this “questioning authority.” I’m a big believer in questioning authority all the time. As a tech entrepreneur, I can tell you that, if you always listen to people who say you can’t do something for one reason or another, you’ll fail miserably. Great entrepreneurs are prudent rule breakers.

    So, back to this No Trespassing situation, I probably should have had a discussion with my boys about the sign before we scaled the fence. If we had had that discussion, I would have told them that many people had scaled this fence previously without incident, and that we should make *sure* to not do anything that the owner would object to (e.g. destroying property, taking anything of value, invading the privacy of people there).

    If the purpose of a No Trespassing sign seems to be solely to avoid the possibility that the trespasser does not get hurt and sue the owner, I totally ignore this, and I would advise my kids to do so as well (once they are mature enough to intelligently discern this). Morally, I take responsibility for my own actions when I enter someone else’s property. I won’t sue. If I get hurt, it’s my problem.

    The bottom line is that I’m *sure* we didn’t harm or bother the owner in any way (nor did we do anything that could possibly have bothered the owner), and we had a life experience (finding millions-years-old fossils!!!) for my boys. I’d make that choice to scale that No Trespassing fence every time.

  12. RobertH says:

    I’ll let Mike explain why he felt that trespassing was justified in this particular instance.

    But I suggest you make the following important distinction:

    Following a rule is not the same thing as understanding and respecting that rule.

    Many, and perhaps most, people follow rules not because they understand, much less respect them, but rather because – like rats (see my previous post) – they fear punishment of non-compliance. Conversely, many people who generally understand and respect rules don’t follow all of them.

    Again, the question for us a parents is: “What do we want to teach our kids?” To follow all rules whether or not they make sense to them? Or to try and understand the reason for each rule and then make an informed judgment about whether or not the rule makes sense and should be followed?

    Needless to say, I have opted for the latter. And, you know what, my kids have never once gotten in trouble at school or anywhere else. This i not because they happened not to get caught, but because they haven’t broken any of the rules that really are important (not stealing, cheating, hitting, etc.). But they also know by now that not all rules are valid and that some of them are downright wrongheaded and should be questioned and, sometimes, even disregarded. Public trespassing rules unfortunately sometimes fall into that category.

    Another benefit of this approach is that I and Mike can turn our backs without having to be concerned that our kids will start acting up. They have learned to comport themselves appropriately not because they fear punishment, but because they understand what the limits are and why they are there. I have found this to be true since my kids were very young.

    Again, the perception that the human mind works on the behaviorism model seems to be the problem. We are not rats, when will people start to understand that?

    Robert

  13. RobertH says:

    Mike,

    I obviously wrote my last post before you posted yours. Isn’t it funny how alike we think about these issues?

    You couldn’t have explained the specific problem with public trespassing rules any better. They are mostly there for the protection of the public and, sometimes, it’s OK to ignore them. There is one particular place, a wash in the local mountains, where I go with my son all the time to look for reptiles. There is a huge NO TRESPASSING SIGN, and he was at first extremely (and still is a bit) hesitant to go in anway. But I explained the situation to him – including that we (well, I) could theoretically get in trouble for it – and now he’s beginning to see it in a different light. The wash is a wonderful place to look for wildlife (not just reptiles), and in the “old days” I am sure there was no fence and kids were climbing all over that place. Then, liability reared its ugly head and city governments battened down the hatches. You know the rest …

    That hasn’t made my son oblivious to all trespassing signs and rules. He understands perfectly well that it’s not OK to enter people’s private property without permission and even that there is certain public property he needs to stay away from (sometimes even it’s technically permitted to be there, e.g., a dangerous intersection).

    Rules of traffic, as you mentioned , are another great example. I have always taught my kids to cross the street when it’s safe, not when the light is green or there is a crosswalk. That’s how kids learn to navigate traffic in Europe (I was one of them).

    It was very rewarding for me when my daughter, now 11, made a list of what were in her mind the 10 most important rules of traffic for pedestrians a few years ago. Rule #1 read: “Always check that cars are actually stopping before crossing the street – the little green man isn’t going to save you.” Rules 2-10 were all equally insightful. As a result, I now feel comfortable with my kids playing out in the street, walking the neighborhood and taking the local bus sometimes. I know they won’t just walk or run without first checking for cars, no matter what color the light may be.

    Nonetheless they are, at this point, still reluctant to walk on a red light, and that’s OK. The important thing is that they know that, in the end, it’s just a rule, a rule I might add that has contributed to the deaths of thousands of kids that were not taught that the “little green man” won’t save you.

    Keep the excellent posts coming :-)

    Robert

  14. concernedparent says:

    Interesting. In other words, people have no right to their private or public property and ask people to not go on that property. You can conceive of no reason why either public or private property owners may not want you on their property except for your safety and concern over a lawsuit.

    Can I come into your house and help myself to your property, after all I am not going to hurt myself and sue you?

    Perhaps the fossil site is a research site and they are trying to prevent theft. Did that not occur to you? You want fossil hunting next to a premier marine biology center. Who owns the land and what right do you have to ignore their wishes?

    Your assumption that signs and regulations are for your own interpretation is ludicrous at best and the death knell to civilized society. You are teaching your children to do what they want irrespective of other people’s wishes. If I belong to a cooperative organic farm with a sign that says no trespassing. Do you have the right to pick my tomatoes?

    By your logic, you do, and I strongly and I think most people would agree with me.

  15. Mike Lanza says:

    concernedparent – Hmm… I can certainly think of other reasons why a property owner might not want me on his or her property. I never made the assertion that I couldn’t, in general. I just couldn’t think of any in this particular case.

    In addition, as I said, there’s a long and established history of parents hopping the fence with their kids at this site, and no one has, to my knowledge, caused any problems. The two different parents who recommended that I do this have hopped this fence multiple times without a problem.

  16. concernedparent says:

    I got it, so if Joe and Jack do something, then it is OK for you to do it to.

    I hope you are as understanding when your children’s friends start experimenting with drugs, alcohol and sex.

  17. Mike Lanza says:

    concernedparent – I said at the outset of my first reply to you that I want my kids to think through the underlying logic behind rules. Is there some underlying logic underlying parents’ prohibitions of drugs, alcohol, and sex? There damn better be, and they damn better communicate this clearly to their kids. The kids I worry about are the ones who only know rules, but have no value system to independently evaluate rules in their own mind. I worry because, once they come to skirt around one rule (and they probably will – that’s what the teen years are all about), all the other rules come tumbling down as well. However, if they have some sort of independent moral code, they can fall back on that when they start contemplating getting around rules.

  18. zenparent says:

    The real issue isn’t trespassing or not. The debate is understanding the difference between Risk-taking vs Recklessness.

    I strongly believe Mike’s son, at 6, knew that it was an adventure with some mischievousness. As long as Mike and his wife pay attention that he will not translate this experience into an entitlement, it’s just all childhood. He will have a story to tell his own children one day.

    Life’s just a journey with stories to tell one day….

  19. RobertH says:

    We talk to our kids drugs and alcohol all the time, and when they are old enough, we’ll add sex to the equation. But rather than giving them some sort of “just say no” talk, we explain to them why many people – and teenagers – drink or do drugs (e.g., they are mentally ill and can’t find satisfaction and happiness in any other way; one wonders how could that could be with the Chuanese approach taking over …. ), why alcohol and drugs are bad for you (brain/liver damage, NOT because it’s illegal, which alcohol isn’t anyway), and, most of all, what alternatives there are to “get high” in a healthy way (e.g., sports, music, and later, you guessed it, sex).

    Is that a panacea and will my kids definitely never experiment with those things? Maybe not. But at least, my kids won’t NEED to do drugs or alcohol to feel happy because they will have other, better ways of achieving that. Kids of Chuanese parents, on the other hand, are going to be extremely prone to substance abuse, should they not succeed in pleasing their parents. They will have nothing left to take joy in. Their parents and their version of success are everything to them and they have disappointed them. Can you imagine what would feel like?

    If you read up on the pertinent literature, this is exactly what clinical psychologists are already reporting all over the country. An epidemic of overscheduled, overachieving teenagers with eating disorders, depression, and all sorts of sad mental conditions that used to be virtually unheard of. All courtesy to the Chuanese model of parenting and also schooling.

    Robert (an unconcerned parent ;-) )

  20. Jeffrey_Jochim_FB says:

    lol the funny part is that “chuanese” can be implied to mean sichuanese. in chinese, words are often paraphrased/abbreviated to one or two syllables. and for sichuan, “chuan” is the abbreviation for lack of a better term

  21. kbunde says:

    I was offended by the first article. SO judgmental that by hypercontrolling your children somehow you are BETTER parents.
    I was raised by parents who said we expect your best & nothing less. I had a 3.8 avg (GASP!), college scholarships–and a healthy social life. Now I have a job I LOVE that greatly impacts the lives of children. Wish it paid more but it does pay the bills & I have a schedule that works well with my family.
    I have the same expectations of my children–education is important, respect others, and make good choices. Proud to say I have 3 great kids who all do very well in school (straight As by THEIR choice).
    What if I don’t LIKE to play piano or violin (didn’t). Just BECAUSE I am good at something does NOT mean I will enjoy it. I am a very good writer–HATE it. DD looses herself in it–would an Asian mother support her desire to be a journalist knowing it is her LOVE? DS is a sports FANATIC and a quiet charisma–people are drawn to him. Would an Asian mother support his sports broadcasting/marketing path (in which internships MIGHT be more valuable than college–SHOCK!)
    Our children know our expectations–but we don’t feel the need to pressure them into following our dreams, but instead their own.
    I don’t judge parents who do things differently than you, but still raise upstanding citizens–and I won’t judge you.

  22. kbunde says:

    Mike, sorry I got on my soapbox–
    LOVE LOVE LOVE your article!;-)

  23. Niecy_Williams_FB says:

    I had to get in on this—
    Just the title of her book is a disgrace to a lot of American mothers;especially to a African-Native American/Divorced-Single parent, like myself. Who’s ancestors had given their last penny or life to educate their children.

    I can say that I have never enforced harsh punishment on my kids because they didn’t please me. I have giving to them positive advice and encouragement.

    As a single parent I got to see two of my kids grow to be happy and productive people. One of them started college at 14 and stayed on the Presidents/Honor Roll all through school. She will graduate in a few months as a Fashion Designer and the Asian employers are all over her;especially the Asian males(she’s not interested) with them because they want to tie her down with marriage and babies. Eventually, she’ll settle down with the right man in the future. Maybe an Asian guy but he’d better know that she’ll never let him knock the kids around . My other kid is a professional Hair Stylist and can design hair like nobodys business. She’s going back to school to get her Business Degree on her own sweet time. She’s another one that would never knock her kids around or let anyone else do it. I’ll be the grandmother and you’ll get your butt cut off for messing with my grand babies.
    Both of my girls are in their early 20′s, living free and single. I do not expect them to take care of me because I’m older now. What is due to me is respect!!
    With all said, I didnt have to belittle my kids infront of their friends or call them bad names behind closed doors. Sure, I paid a lot of money buying instruments and dance clothes that they had no interest in after a few months. But I gave them a chance to explore and decide on their own. I tell them all the time how proud that I am of them and I can’t stop expressing how much I love them every day.

    Down with the mother tiger and up with the fluffy blow fish!!!

  24. Nerdmom says:

    Umm, that Marco kid is going to do great things. Hopefully an American version of Cirque Du Soleil, that trampoline ball trick was OFF THE HOOK!!

  25. Nerdmom says:

    I’m not kidding, I watched it with my son like, 5 times.

  26. Mike Lanza says:

    Jean -

    Thanks for bringing this up. First, I should tell you that I’m actually very tough on my kids, Marco in particular, on being polite and courteous to others. Almost every week, I give him a time out for being impolite and/or force him to make a special apology visit to someone.

    So, why did I say that it’s OK to run away in the middle of a piano lesson? Well, first, I should say that I exaggerated. It’s not OK to run away in the middle of a piano lesson. However, our case is particular because his piano teacher is my Chinese mother-in-law who has definite Chuanese tendencies regarding piano lessons. My wife *hated* having piano lessons from her when she grew up, and she and I agree that we would not force any of our kids to take piano lessons if they hate it.

    We’ve told my mother-in-law this, and she has agreed to try to make piano “interesting” to Marco. Now, she couldn’t give a crap whether Marco likes his piano lessons, but she’s trying to accommodate my wife and me. As I allude to in the article, I’ve helped Marco find music that he likes, so he’s OK with piano lessons now. My mother-in-law is accepting of the loser non-classical music he’s playing, at least for now.

    What my wife and I need to work on with Marco is polite ways to stand his ground when an authority figure tries to muscle him into something and he feels he has a right to resist. As you can imagine, this can be a difficult situation for a 6-year-old to navigate. How does a kid that age successfully resist a Chuanese piano teacher who’s also his grandmother?

    So, I’m totally OK with him resisting if his grandmother pushes him hard on piano lessons, but we have to work with him on his politeness.