My Take

The other side of parenting extremes

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

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.