The Feedback of “Tiger” Moms and Women in Computing

Earlier I noted that feedback to children is associated with larger cultural debates. Amy Chau, a Yale Law Professor, prompted much discussion when she bragged that her children have never had a sleepover or play-date, do not choose their own extracurricular activities, and are expected to be the best student in every subject, except gym and drama. They must also play a musical instrument, provided it is the piano or violin. Chau notes the following cultural divide:

I’ve noticed that Western parents are extremely anxious about their children’s self-esteem. They worry about how their children will feel if they fail at something, and they constantly try to reassure their children about how good they are notwithstanding a mediocre performance on a test or at a recital. In other words, Western parents are concerned about their children’s psyches. Chinese parents aren’t. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently. [Chua2011wcm]

Researchers have also found differences in the way parents approach the performance of their children. In one study, Chinese and American mothers’ responses to their 4th and 5th graders’ performance were observed in the laboratory. In a break between tests, children were reunited with their mothers. While American mothers spent the time talking about something else, Chinese mothers were more likely to say “you didn’t concentrate when doing it” and “let’s look over your test”. The Chinese mothers did not act harshly or cruel, and smiled and hugged their children as much as the American mothers (and were no more likely to frown or raise their voices). However, the Chinese kids’ scores on the second test jumped 33%, more than twice the gain of the Americans [NgPomerantzLam2008eac, “European American and Chinese Parents’ Response to Children’s Success and Failure”].

Again, what is important is one’s conception of self and performance: is this a matter of innate intelligence or diligent effort? This also manifests in a (seemingly) unrelated issue: why do so few young women enter the computing field? Female participation is much higher in cultures where computing is seen as a good career path and a skill to be learned (e.g., in Palestine, Qatar, and Malaysia) rather than a masculine or personality-driven type activity [BlumEtal2008cpg; Lagesen2008cup].

While I cannot speak to Chau’s larger parenting philosophy, I am especially hesitant about “being the best” as only one person can do this in any group, we can have high expectations, provide constructive feedback, and stress that improvement and growth can be had.

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