Cold approach stirs parenting debate

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 February, 2012, 12:00am


A video clip showing a young boy running in the snow while wearing only underpants and sports shoes has spurred another round of heated debate on the mainland about how to raise children.

Hundreds of thousands of people have watched the clip, posted on the internet by the four-year-old boy's parents. They forced him to run in the snow in New York last month while on a family holiday as part of a programme designed to make him stronger. Seventy per cent of internet users accused the parents of abusing their son, but most of the others supported them, saying it was a good way to motivate the child, the Modern Express reported.

The boy's father, a Nanjing businessman, has been dubbed 'Eagle Dad' for his tough parenting style, joining 'Tiger Mum' and 'Wolf Dad' as controversial role models.

Some insist that the traditional Chinese approach to parenting, which features a lot of spanking and criticism, is best. In such a setting, children are told to obey a strict set of principles, to never challenge adults and are not encouraged to think creatively. Beijing's Wolf Dad said his three children were accepted by Peking University because he followed the old adage 'spare the rod, spoil the child'.

Some parents, perhaps as a result of their own suffering at the hands of stern parents - fathers in most families - prefer a more relaxed Western-style approach to child-raising that relies on praise and encouragement.

Some families, usually the very rich, meet their children's every material demand, providing over-the-top protection and shielding them from any hardship. The mainland media have nicknamed such children the 'Strawberry Clan' because they look wonderful but are very fragile and lack resilience in the face of life's frustrations.

But there is also another group of mainland parents, like Eagle Dad, who borrow from Japanese or South Korean examples and subject their children to tough physical training.

Even in one family, opinion is likely to be divided - and not just between the mother and father. Thanks to the mainland's one-child policy, most children are brought up carefully and 'cherished as a pearl on the palm' by six people - their parents and two pairs of grandparents. In many families a six-way battle of words breaks out on how best to instruct their sole descendant.

Regardless of which parenting philosophy they adopt, one common feature of mainland families is the intense focus on child-raising and high expectations of future success. That's why parenting handbooks are top sellers in mainland book shops and why parents with successful children are routinely lionised by the media.

Twenty years ago, the average parent did not devote so much time or thought to their children and would never have considered that parenting skills could become something that should be learned.

The Eagle Dad in Nanjing has started taking his son to classes at a local primary school, saying the four-year-old has an IQ of 218 and can easily handle any subject at any primary school level.

Dr Li Yan, from Shanghai Normal University, said it was hard to judge his methods as every child was an individual and what worked with one child could not simply be copied for others. She urged anxious mainland parents not to exert too much pressure on their children and to let them grow 'naturally' - doing what they are supposed to do at their age. It was more important, she said, that children live happily.

There has been speculation that Eagle Dad posted the video clip online to promote a book on his approach to child-raising, and he already has some followers.

A mother, inspired by the video, forced her six-year-old son to strip to the waist and stand for hours in a cold train carriage travelling from Nanjing to Guangzhou, China News Service reported.