Can Asian parenting survive in workplace?

Can Asian parenting survive in workplace?

Summary: By now, most of you would be familiar with Yale Law School professor, Amy Chua, and her infamous essay about the merits of Chinese parenting.In the article, Chua describes how her two daughters were never allowed, among other things, to have a playdate, be in a school play, get any grade less than an A or play any instrument other than the piano or violin.


By now, most of you would be familiar with Yale Law School professor, Amy Chua, and her infamous essay about the merits of Chinese parenting.

In the article, Chua describes how her two daughters were never allowed, among other things, to have a playdate, be in a school play, get any grade less than an A or play any instrument other than the piano or violin.

Her views have created a huge stir in the blogosphere, with one describing her style of parenting as "paradigmatic child abuse" while another asked if she could still be hauled up by child protective services.

Personally, I think Chua's intention was misunderstood. The tone of her essay was meant to be self-deprecating and she clearly stated she wasn't championing one style of parenting over another--she was simply describing her own. Chua's biggest fault was probably that her sense of humor in the essay didn't come off...paradigmatic.

I do wonder, though, if the Asian style of parenting as Chua describes, will be effective in the workplace. Or is it an employee-inspired lawsuit waiting to happen?

One of the key responsibilities department managers have is to guide and groom their junior team members. However, the art of training is not easy to master when you're dealing with different personalities, unequal level of skills, and yes, egos.

Today, it seems increasingly difficult to critique the work of younger post-Internet workers who are often deemed to have inflated egos and are overpoweringly confident.

They like to take the shortest route and demand the biggest rewards, at minimum effort. And because of that, not every Gen Y employee can handle the work demands as well improvements they'll need to carry out to get the rewards they seek.

And not every worker, regardless of age, can take criticism well. So should managers go as far as Chua did when pushing their charges to achieve the best results possible?

In her essay, Chua wrote that Western parents are more concerned about their children's psyches and self-esteem. Chinese parents, on the other hand, aren't. "[Chinese parents] assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently," she said.

But, the human ego can be extremely fragile. Pushed to the limits like Chua did with her younger daughter when she struggled to master a piano piece, workers could very well crumble and throw in the towel. Unlike the young Chua who cannot choose her parent, employees can choose to quit or the company may have to deal with a staff mutiny.

But while employees will probably enjoy having managers who are so hands-off that they never fuss over any work their team members submit, without the relevant feedback and post-mortem, how can workers know where they've gone wrong and improve? More importantly, how will they know if their work can stand just as well against others in the open market?

In a letter she wrote in defense of her mother, Chua's elder daughter said her upbringing wasn't about achievement or self-gratification. "It's about knowing that you've pushed yourself, body and mind, to the limits of your own potential."

Just enough is never enough.

I think that should be the primary objective of any workplace: to encourage and help employees realize the fullest of their potential, even if it may sometimes mean pushing them to their limits.

And how managers do that is a constant learning process. Mistakes will be inevitable along the way.

Just like parenting styles, there really isn't a right or wrong answer because every family is different and every child-parent relationship unique. Likewise, every worker is different and how you manage each one will also be different.

And while Chua's style of parenting probably stretches the definition of tough love to an extreme, it clearly still involves genuine love for her child. At a book signing in San Francisco this week, she admitted about her child management skills: "If I had to do it over again, I would do the same thing, with some adjustments." Hindsight is always twenty-twenty, isn't it?

Topics: Asean, Emerging Tech, IT Employment, Social Enterprise


Eileen Yu began covering the IT industry when Asynchronous Transfer Mode was still hip and e-commerce was the new buzzword. Currently a freelance blogger and content specialist based in Singapore, she has over 16 years of industry experience with various publications including ZDNet, IDG, and Singapore Press Holdings.

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  • My first son was subjected to traditional Singaporean Chinese manner of upbringing, tuition classes, music lesson, calligraphy, kungfu training, and not to mention harsh words amounting to insult(trust me, it gave me pains whenever I need to say them). Amazingly, he learn to overcome them, and grown to be very confident, and strong hearted. He is filial and take care of the family. My nephew grown up with western encouraging method (as I have mellowed a bit). His lassez faire manner got him drifting, and ill-mannered. Need consolation words too often.
  • The Bible teachers, "Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them. "

    We all know very well that the children would need discipline every now and then and hence the contention is this: What exactly is discipline?

    Off the google definition: To discipline thus means to instruct a person to follow a particular code of conduct "order."

    The thing about discipline in the strictest sense is to put in order, what is in disarray in a child like the lack of respect, have no manners etc. In this sense, Western encouraging method do meet this criteria so long it right a wrong in a child. I have also seen bad mannered chinese children running rampant in our Chinese Culture society in the library, in the quaint cafes (it is good family are banned there if the parents do not know how to discipline) and the worse place of all, the bawling of a child in the MRT train. In all things, do things in moderation; to effect a change, understand the degree of action.

    But as each child is different, so would the manner on how one should approach the issue of discipline. I grew up with a cane chasing my buttocks but I do learn more when people do share with me what is their expectations and why certain things are done. Each approach has to be administered at the right time and at the right degree but the way I see it is that Amy Chua is doing it in such a way that it defeats the purpose of raising the child to become a thinking adult.

    In a workplace that is now very knowledge based, a worker that is unable to think for him or herself would only be useful for a period of time. An organisation, that is able to harness the potential of each and every employee's experience and knowledge would gain the most in a competitive environment. But if the way we raise our child is to only dictate to them what is perceived as 'right', then how can we improve things at all?

    Despite the fact that Asian students trump the academic arena, we are still seeing innovations coming from Western countries notable in science, medical and in the arts. If western art is so bad, why in the world Amy Chua has to force her children to learn the violin and piano since western influences is that bad. Knowing a score well doesn't beat creating a new score that gains popularity.

    We asians have much to learn in terms of how SOME westerners is able to perform despite not aceing the exam sheets. We really do lack something here.
  • Why am I not permitted to 'Like' this article?
  • Sometimes different cultures look at education in different ways, thus we get different views and outcomes, if anyone has not seen it I would recommend watching the short animation video of Sir Ken Robinson, where he gives his views on the education system in general. In my view what he has to say applies to any and all systems of education today.
  • hi scott2010au,

    the "Like" feature has now been turned on. Thanks for your feedback :)

    Eileen Yu
    senior editor, ZDNet Asia
  • Thanks to all involved.