x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Earn respect by letting your child be

Amy Chua's book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is a strict lesson on how to raise 'superteens', but is this really the way to earn respect as a parent?

What would torture be like for the erring teen? Being forced to revise school stuff all day long, only taking breaks to practise violin pieces, a ban on sleepovers or socialising, being publicly humiliated every time you don't win first prize in something. Oh - and your mum hovering around you all the time making sure you meet your targets. If there's one thing teenagers hate more than anything, it's a threat to their independence, especially if the threat comes from one of your parents.

I couldn't help but raise an eyebrow when I read the reviews for the mother-of-two Amy Chua's controversial book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. According to her, the above scenario is just what life is like for her daughters Lulu and Sophia, and Chua sticks by her parenting methods. If anyone had told a seven-year-old me that they were going to donate my dollhouse to the Salvation Army if I didn't learn to play a piano piece faultlessly, I would have bitten them outright. Hard. Then again, though, as Chua points out, this way of raising children is what is what is creating generation of "superteens", who are insufferably good at everything and create shock waves if they achieve anything less than a grade A in an assessment.

Much as I would love to be a whiz-kid-cum-piano prodigy, I doubt whether I would enjoy exchanging my freedom for so harsh a regime - a regime that would ultimately lead me to savagely ripping up every maths book I own and feeding them to the cat, or something. I suppose it all depends on your upbringing and what you're used to, because Sophia and Lulu don't only seem like they'll be following their mum and dad's footsteps to Yale, they also give the impression of being quite nice. They're fairly balanced young ladies who aren't fazed by a mother who would have me searching for the quickest escape route.

Having debated the matter for a bit, I decided to find out what my parents expect of me. I know plenty of people whose parents want them to become doctors or artists like them and so on, but I'd never bothered finding out what I was supposed to make of myself in life. My dad gave me a blank stare. "My expectations of you? Er, dunno, mumble less? Say more than 'Nothing' when I ask you what you did at school?"

It could definitely have been worse. Come to think about it, I've been posed the "What did you do at school" question every day for the past 10 years, and if someone was to believe me, I would have done absolutely nothing in school for a decade. Food for thought, that.

Mum, after much pondering, came up with a feeble "Don't slouch in public, keep your back straight". I wonder if she was just having a fit of motherly love: judging by the amount of things I've been suggested I can improve on, I could very well be the rudest, sloppiest, most disorganised person to have set foot upon the earth.

She then added that she would be happy if I remember to eat well and not skip my eight glasses of water and fruit and veggies between meals after I flee the nest. Aww. Oh, and also, while I'm at it, she mused, maybe win a Nobel Prize or two, become rich and famous as was reasonable to expect from any teenager. No pressure. Chua has got it right: there are quite a few Asian children who have been trained from childhood to work diligently, and it shows, in their eye-popping virtuosity in their chosen field.

On the other hand, not all such strict methods work. My friend Lee, for example, didn't care in the least about history but his dad, a historian, had always stressed revising more for it than any other subject. The well-meaning father had even plonked a new PSP in front of his son's desk when he was 10, and promised him he could have it if he remembered all the dates in his textbook. Needless to say, the textbook was soon abandoned, the packaging ripped off the PSP, and the next thing the dad heard was loud shouts of "Come on! Punch! Another one!" wafting in from the future historian's room. There may be many potentially brilliant people out there who perhaps didn't make as much out of their lives as they could have had their parents pushed them harder, but I think giving up your childhood is too great a sacrifice for success. You can force a person to learn a million things, but you can't teach them innovation and creativity if they're spending all their time trying to hit the right note at the right time instead of, say, attempting their own compositions at the piano, for fun.

Let your child be, I say, and even if Olympic gold doesn't follow, at least their respect for you will. It doesn't matter if their interests lie in out-of-the-ordinary pursuits. Seems like a good excuse to make the next time I'm told "The least I expected of you was to not start a dirty sock collection under your bed".

The writer is a 15-year-old student in Dubai