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Cross-cultural Parenting – Now There’s a Thought…

Those of you who read this blog know my feelings about corporal punishment. After reading enough of the evidence against it, especially its ineffectiveness, I must confess I was very surprised to read in Nurture Shock that corporal punishment was actually an effective disciplinary method among African-Americans. The reason for this was because:

In the black community, spanking was seen as something that every kid went through.  It was accepted as the norm.  In the white community, spanking was taboo and saved only for the worst offenses; it usually involved a parent who was very angry with the child and had lost his temper.  The message this conveyed to the child was something akin to: “what you have done is so deviant that you deserve a special punishment, which is spanking.”  In other words, children react more to their parents’ reactions than they do to the argument or the physical discipline.

That got me thinking about something else… the whole Chinese Tiger parenting methods. Similar to how corporal punishment worked for the African-Americans because that was the norm, Tiger parenting methods may actually work better in Asian communities because it is the norm. Let me explain…

Children will compare. They speak to their friends and they gripe about their parents. But if they all have a similar upbringing, then the way they are treated at home will seem as no different to the way their friends are treated. They may complain, they may share their pain, but everyone feels more or less the same. In the African-American community, a kid might tell his friend he got spanked for misbehaving and his friend would echo with a similar incident of being spanked for misbehaviour. In the Chinese community, a kid might tell his friend that his parents got really angry that he only scored a B for a test and his friend would echo a similar incident of performing below parental expectations.

So what went wrong for Amy Chuah? I believe it is the mixing of cultures. As I said, children will compare. If their friends do not endure the same hardships they do, they may start to question the parenting methods of their own parents – “My friend’s Dad is pleased when he gets a “B” so why are my parents freaking out?” Obviously not every child will respond the same way – some children will accept it while others will fight it. How each child responds depends on so many different factors – temperament, personality, environment, expectations – but I do believe that a large part of the problem is as Livescience pointed out in article about a few studies indicating that Tiger Parenting was tough on kids:

“When children are caught in between their parents’ old way of parenting and being and culture and the new in the U.S., then that can be very, very tough for children in a variety of ways.”

By moving to a new country, the Chinese students have been exposed to a new culture and a new norm. They begin to question the “norms” that are imposed upon them by their parents that have been brought over from their home country. With so much movement between countries, there is a lot of cross-cultural exposure which is destroying all the “norms” we grew up with. The old rules and practices can no longer be applied to achieve the same results. The environment has changed and therefore the methods must change as well. Unfortunately, being on new grounds and unbroken territory, it makes for a tough generation for parents to parent. No one can tell you what works best for your family but you. They can make suggestions, they can make inferences, they can quote studies, and they can point out trends, but at the end of the day, the uniqueness of your family can make it all relevant or squat.

That said, I still don’t think corporal punishment or Tiger parenting is for me. It might work for you, or it might not. I guess it just goes to show that nothing in life is ever really a “sure thing”. Perhaps just the awareness of this might help us open up to the ideas we used to reject as being “wrong” or “bad parenting”. Maybe we can stop looking incredulously at the parent in the mall for doing something we would never dream of doing. Just a thought…

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

3 thoughts on “Cross-cultural Parenting – Now There’s a Thought…

  1. I spank when my daughter doesn’t listen or abide to rules, I use it sparingly or only after she has persistently going against advices given because it does save all my trouble before she could register. I always think it’s alright for parents to inflict corporal punishement once awhile because by so doing we’ll still embrace them wholeheartedly..but I forbid if she is spanked by others.


    1. FZ – Yes, I see your point of view. When done by the parents, the motivation is usually good. Cannot say the same when done by others who may just be angry or frustrated. Also, parents with good intentions will give love back to their children so the children understand the reason for corporal punishment. That, I think is the most important part.


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