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My Take
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 September, 2012, 3:56am

The other side of parenting extremes

Jane Luu is definitely not a tiger mum. As the only female winner of the Shaw Prize, the American-Vietnamese astronomer is every Asian parent's dream.

A Stanford graduate with a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a top researcher at Harvard, she has helped discover more asteroids than you can count with your fingers. But her pièce de résistance was as co-discoverer of the Kuiper Belt, a ring of debris at the edge of the solar system that has revealed much information about the conditions when the universe began.

Luu, in Hong Kong to receive the prestigious science prize, says she got to where she was now because her parents, besides teaching her French, left her alone to pursue her interests as a child.

Her parents were poor and never went to college. Luu was shocked when told about what education was like for an average child in Hong Kong - constant exams, heavy homework, the idea that children must learn two musical instruments to be admitted to an elite school, and that they must follow an academic path set by their parents.

"The main thing is that you find what you like to do," she says. "When you do, you're going to be good at it. You're going to think about it all the time. You'll be interested, you'll work hard and then you'll be good at it.

"That's the hard part: finding what you want to do."

Well, it helps if you happen to be a maths whiz like Luu. But if your kid is clueless and just wants to play computer games all day, it might help to instil a bit of hard discipline.

I would dearly love to watch Luu, the mother of a six-year-old daughter, debate parenting with fellow Asian-American academician Amy Chua, author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Chua (in)famously wrote that children must never be allowed "to attend a sleepover; have a play date; be in a school play; watch television or play computer games; choose their own extracurricular activities; get any grade less than an A; not be the No1 student in every subject except gym and drama; and play any instrument other than the piano or violin".

Chua and Luu represent two extremes. As a parent, I would recommend combining both. Discipline when you must, free them when you can.


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I don't think Jane Luu was actually talking about discipline but about allowing children to follow their own interests and not be subjected to constant assessment and premature decisions about their career paths. I have arrived in Hong Kong recently after seeing my daughter through to university in the UK and I have am sad to see that the culture of cramming for exams is even worse here. In London, students were told to make up their minds about subject and career choices far too early, with the result that a number of my daughter's friends dropped out of courses at prestigious universities, realising after all that law or whatever was not for them, or that really they wanted to be a doctor and had to retake all their exams as they hadn't taken sciences because they were very good at other things. Other friends had parents that were determined that one child was going to be a doctor, her sister a scientist etc and so the poor children were forced to do subjects they didn't enjoy and unsurprisingly failed at. Parents - it's your child's life, not yours. Just because you wished you had been a ballet dancer is no reason to ferry your child ceaselessly to extracurricular dance classes. And stop trying to bask in their reflected glory, boasting about their exam results as if they were dogs in a dog show. It's just pathetic.
True. More than agreed with Alex. I mean there is always a need to discipline children when they do things wrong (value system), but also let them have options whenever possible such as books, habits, and extra-curricular activities. Taking a middle path is always better than going to extremes!
Lenient parenting style work well when the kids know what s/he want to do and have strong sense of internal control. For most kids, however, a Balanced parenting style which nurture, discipline and respect the child usually is the best.


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