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Mon, Jan 17, 2011
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'Tiger' parenting not for Singaporeans
by Joy Fang

The tough, no-nonsense "Chinese" parenting style promoted by Yale Law School professor Amy Chua in her controversial memoir has sparked debate about the virtues of Asian parenting in the United States in the past week.

However, all Singapore parents my paper spoke to say Prof Chua's authoritarian way of discipline does not represent their parental methods. A street poll conducted by my paper in Orchard Road found that all of the 25 parents surveyed, who are aged between 24 and 54, disagreed with her methods.

For lawyer Terence Yeo, 35, a father of a four-year-old son called Jonavon, Prof Chua's model is "too harsh and rigid and didn't leave room for flexibility".

"Parenting requires a little bit of discretion, depending on the situation," he said. Still, he thinks that the liberal Western parenting model does mollycoddle the children and could lead to "ill-bred adults".

Mr Yeo and his wife Michele Lee, a 36-year-old head of operations in a talent- and financial- management company, believe that "if you spare the rod you'll spoil the child, but caning is not our first resort".

"We try to speak to our son first and explain why he should do certain things," he said, adding that even if they do discipline, they affirm and let him know that they love him.

Part-time tutor Katherine Hor, 36, said that she was "a product of harsh parenting" and decided that she won't practise it on her two children, aged four and seven.

Recalling her own childhood, she said that her mother used to whip her with clothes hangers when she could not meet her expectations.

"My mum was called up by my principal once because I went to school with cane marks on my face. Because of their parenting style, my brother and I were very rebellious and hated our parents."

With her kids, Ms Hor said she sets clear boundaries and will withdraw privileges such as not allowing them to go for the next family outing if they misbehave.

Conversely, she is generous with praise when they are obedient; and encouraging when they need assurance. She feels that today's parents must focus on children's self-esteem and character development rather than just making sure they excel academically.

Polytechnic student Ernest Chin, 23, is another Singaporean who knows what unyielding parenting is like.

His father imposed strict curfews on him even when he was in junior college. He must be home by 5pm every day, and, if he was late without a valid reason, his dad would order him to get out of the house.

Every Sunday, when he was in primary and secondary school, his father would force him to wake up at 6am to go for a 5km jog. If he didn't get up, he would be caned, he said.

And his dad never tried to understand him or talk sense with him, said Mr Chin, who is estranged from his father.

"He always said to me: 'When I say one it means one. You don't question my authority. I am the breadwinner of the family and it's for your own good'," he said.

He added that the curfew rules also apply to his younger sister, 21, a pharmacist, who "stays home most of the time and doesn't have many friends".

He feels his father does not love him, and "treats me like a subordinate instead".

Dr Adrian Wang, a consultant psychiatrist at the Gleneagles Medical Centre, said harsh parenting can be harmful if the child already has low self-esteem.

"Constant hammering and telling them they are not good enough can worsen anxiety and make them even more insecure," he said.

Strict parenting and having high standards for your child need to be balanced with love and nurturing, he said.

Mr Nicholas Gabriel Lim, executive director of psychological-services provider iGrow, said regimental parenting might lead to children either becoming very submissive or overly rebellious.

"There is a lot of hurt, resentment and anger within these children, and which they may or may not understand or express appropriately," he said.

Parenting is about preparing the children for the future, where they can be independent people and care for themselves, said Dr Carol Balhetchet, director of youth services at Singapore Children's Society.

But children taught to follow authority blindly will not be able to develop their own personality, ideas, and individual wishes and needs, she said.

"Most children want to please their parents and not upset them. So it's sad when parents abuse their position of power to bully their child into obedience," she noted.

my paper polls 25 parents


All 25 disagreed. But they said instilling a sense of excellence and discipline is very important.

Mr Poh Yeang Cherng, 42, a coach and a parent of three kids, said: "There are many different approaches to parenting. It boils down to the child's personality, and the parent's approach should be tailored to the child."


Nine felt that there are parents here who are like her. Teacher Wincy Tsang, 30, said while Prof Chua has "mixed up excellence with perfection", she believes that a mother has to strive for excellence for her kid.

Hence, she thinks that Prof Chua's requirement that her daughters have three hours of piano practice daily and must score A is not that extreme.


Fourteen felt that such methods are outdated.

Civil servant Haslindah Mispan, 51, who has four children aged between 16 and 26, said forcing the child to do something he or she does not want to do could "leave long-lasting, negative effects".

Parents need to "enable the child to think and subsequently decide for himself or herself", she said.


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More stories:

Okay to be kiasu for your kids
To be or not to be a Chinese mother
Hey, Ju, don't be bad
Spare the rod, teach the child
So what if S’pore parents are strict?
Discipline = Rod, love and patience
Gently does it
Strike balance between hard and soft discipline
Caning sends the wrong message
Age-old method instils respect in kids

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