Tiger Parenting

Sharing tips from parents of successful students with other parents and their students, who aspired to greater academic achievement, was a favorite highlight at parent-teacher conferences. A physician with several children in our school simply stated that he reminded his kids, “The difference between an A student and a B student is that the A student simply put in more time.” Also, one most accomplished student had the habit of scheduling/predicting how her evening study time would be spent, and she would try to work more quickly-while maintaining focus-than her plan. Yet, another student always utilized every possible second between classes to whittle away some of her homework, or she would gain a few pages in the current novel she was reading. Her other secret to success was that she would quit and go to sleep at 10:00 p.m.; and if her work was not complete, she rose early before dawn to finish it before school. Success leaves clues! One common denominator among all students I recall though was that their parents always came to conferences; this shed light on some parenting tactics for me too. Obviously, their students’ achievement was important, and their taking time to be present, analyze, and work with teachers was testimony to that.

Education Week published, “Study: Parents Influential in Academic Success,” Michele Molnar, author of the blog, quoted co-author of the study, Toby Parcel, professor of sociology at North Carolina State University, “The effort that parents are putting in at home in terms of checking homework, reinforcing the importance of school, and stressing the importance of academic achievement is ultimately very important to their children’s academic achievement.” Two of my recent reads, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua and Top of the Class: How Asian Parents Raise High Achievers–And How You Can Too, written by two Korean-American sisters of immigrant parents, underline attributes of Asian parents and give up some of the secrets to the statistically high achievements of Asian students. Coincidentally, Roy F. Baumeister, co-author of the willpower book I’d recently blogged about, mentioned that in terms of IQ the Asian students tended to score slightly below Caucasians, but the sisters’ book, published in the middle of this decade, referenced an overwhelming 43% population of Asians attending our own local Northwestern University! There’s definitely a higher rate of acceptance to Ivy League institutions, education, and income levels of Asian students relative their representation in the general population. I delved into these books to try to find out why. If interested, the former is a better read (active voice, more dramatic, and intense), but both books contribute pragmatic counsel for parents who want to take an active role in channeling their students’ progress in academics and other personal growth skills.

It’s not that I’ve been a negligent parent, but when I related some of the books’ anecdotes with my husband, he said, “Why didn’t you use this with our other kids? You’re too late!” All I could do was shrug and state that Tiger Mother was only published in 2011. Alhamdullilah, all of my offspring are still in secondary or post-secondary institutions; but while the elder two are sailing well on their own, my high school senior and freshman could use the savvy strategies I’d acquired through reading.

Somehow I find myself becoming like one of the matronly mothers of The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, minding my children’s business, coyly giving orders while fully expecting compliance and fealty. Yet, since being late in starting this initiative, I am getting resistance and head butting attitudes from merely insisting on an additional three pages of pre-Algebra meant to decipher where learning gaps occurred. Never to concede, I have drafted, in typical Asian strategy, my children’s other siblings and even their friends for reinforcement. Collectively, we expect achievement with our efforts and a little pressure. It is just a matter of time and persistence in working until progress breaks through neural log jams. Our sacrifice and dedication is a family issue, and our sons’ performances will be our own, as we strive to find strengths and talents, fortify weak areas that potentially could cut short the trek toward a career.

To sum up nuggets of wisdom the books gave me are the following:

  • Don’t be a wimp! Insist on excellent effort in performance, whether in academics, chores, sports, habits, and conduct.
  • Expect to invest monumental time in practice, patience, and persistence.
  • Lead by example; for what you value, you must also strive to learn and discriminate degrees of quality to fine tune performance.
  • Spare no expense when the value is justified. Spend time and money when the long term return on investment is expected. Eliminate or minimize unproductive time wasters.
  • Offer short term rewards for significant achievements by communicating them when motivating the student to work more, and celebrate successes.

My perspectives have been altered a bit, as the authors have managed to contrast typical Western parenting with Asian parenting, and through this filter I found my senses and directives sharpened. Remanded to take the final step to put the dish in the dishwasher drying rack, even my husband has had the whip cracked and quickened to self-monitor that his dinner plate goes in the right place after he washes it. Formerly laissez-faire, now I am drilling a bit more precision into my family’s habits, and I have heightened my own discipline in expectation for better outcomes. True to the ayah, “Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change themselves,” (13:11, al-Rad The Thunder). We want to match with more fidelity our potential in hope that we can improve by using our given gifts and capacities.

Mindful of our upcoming elections, America needs to foster greater excellence and overall performance in education for all Americans  to avoid more hardship. It is wise to prepare our populace for the higher demanding and rewarding luxe jobs versus the lousy jobs that offer little satisfaction and income. May every soul realize that they have work to do that can better our world.

As the weather around here has blocked progress in my golf (maybe I can play 9 early before thunderstorms tomorrow), I have returned to the gym to lift weights. Evenings typically net some brisk walking, and my annual physical seems to be passed with flying colors. Weight is down fifteen pounds from a year ago; thyroid meds have stabilized so that I do not require naps—as long as I sleep eight hours at night—and my bone density seems to be holding up well.

The next challenges are to try to compete with Riad in a free online Spanish course, and we are immersing ourselves in reading about Energy and opportunities in the Green Movement. As our youngest two are still undecided in their careers, it may be that these industries are to the future what Plastics meant to the 1960’s. We want to research and guide them to fulfilling careers, if we perceive a match for their aptitudes and interests. Our senior is president of his school’s environmental club, and he has long shown interest; even when I sponsored our high school ecology club, he sat in on meetings while in 3rd grade; subhanAllah.

Eid al-Adha is this Friday, and I feel the blessedness of these days of Hajj. May all sincere and wholesome dua’a be answered, and purity be your reward. Peace! Eid Mubarak!


Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney

With our society placing heavy value on intelligence and self-control, this book contributes insight to some aspects of willpower. Did you know that self-control consumes energy, and heavy application of it can deplete our reserves? Have you noticed that having to make a lot of decisions can also exhaust you? Teachers and administrators take note!

I saw a guest appearance of the author/researcher, Roy Baumeister, at Elmhurst College last week, and he presented a quote that President Obama made which specified that he only wears blue or grey suits because it is less complicated. As president, he has so many other important decisions to make. His quip made sense in light of Baumeister’s work. Life is so complicated and with many distractions and temptations, Baumeister found that people could keep their energy reserves if they just systematized life to the point where they have to make fewer decisions.

It strikes me as pragmatic to use this knowledge in so many realms. For example, limit the choices for breakfasts and lunches so you don’t get too rattled and are better able to focus on more important matters. Keep options few for family, students, and staff so they too are able to make choices with ease.

Baumeister described that Willpower is like a muscle which can become fatigued, but it can also be strengthened through practice. Willpower has been associated with better living and longevity. After all, those who do not partake in vices are also able to avoid the consequences of them. Think, for example, of overeating, using drugs, alcohol, not controlling one’s temper, and gambling, etcetera.

What value is self-control? Well, consider if all those diet, self-improvement, promises, and New Year’s resolutions all came true! It seems some people have more innate ability to control themselves versus others, but the practice of self-control can generate stronger willpower too.

Remember the classic psychology experiment by Mischel whereby children were tempted by a marshmallow? Youngsters were put in a room with a marshmallow and told that the adult would be back soon. They had the option to eat the marshmallow while the adult was absent, or they could delay and receive two if it was still there upon the adult’s return. Some children chose to wait and others ate the marshmallow; but the most amazing thing is that when tracked many years later, the children who exhibited more self-control still had the same tendency and were generally more successful in a range of attributes. It is rare to find such a reliable indicator that has predictability value.

Baumeister and other psychology associates used a different methodology and studied a couple hundred adult subjects in Germany, and concluded that there was definitely a lot of resisting of urges. Some may say this was bad science, but it did prompt some modicum of reference in his book of the historic development of mankind and generation of a theory about Energy and Will. Differentiation of American and European social psychology versus that of Germans as a consequence of the World Wars was considered, and I had my own pondering about what might be possible if researchers studied a variety of ethnicities or cultures? A social scientist may note the polar reactions of some residents of New Orleans during hurricane Katrina compared to the conduct observed of some Japanese people in the nuclear event of Fukushima. Why such varied reactions of social groups? Baumeister’s work will certainly sire new horizons of inquiry.

Baumeister cites that as a society we are slipping in our ownership of Willpower, and he states that social scientists are quick to relegate blame for individual problems as beyond the individual’s control. It is easier to blame people’s problems on poverty, the education system, and government rather than personal responsibility, such is the current trend.

Is it any wonder then why people feel they have no control or power over anything? How detrimental is this to our society? What impact will this perspective have on the upcoming election? How do we inculcate a “can do” or personal empowerment mentality in ourselves, our dependents, and in America? These are my musings, and I’d greatly appreciate feedback and a continuation of this thread of thought.

Back to Self-Control: According to previous work done by Baumeister and his associates, the ability to self-regulate was correlated with a wide range of favorable traits and outcomes that could be generalized as “success.” Conversely, those who were ranked as having poor self-control had a greater likelihood to have trouble with the law, alcohol, drugs, financial and marital problems. The benefits of self-control have been made clear.

At this point, I’m not done reading the book, but want to share before this blog becomes a book itself! As the weather has derailed my putting practice a few days, I’m sad to think that golf season may be over for me until I attend the ISNA West Coast Education Forum, January 18-19, where I hope to escape to do some desert golf after the conference! At least it is not snowing here…yet.

Also, I sense my own willpower is a bit frail, Nadia and I have started doing the popular Insanity workout, but we are only into the 3rd day. Without the habit being strong yet, changing seasons, and feeling the pain of missing old patterns, I hope my own willpower is fortified by continued reading.