When a reader sent me this link I thought at first that I had accessed the Onion. It’s not that I haven’t come across this type of parenting before—as a therapist, I regularly see both current and adult children of authoritarian parents, of all races and cultural backgrounds. It’s just that I have never seen a parent boast about this treatment before. (I have had impoverished parents argue that they have to beat their children in order to keep them in line, because the danger of drugs and gangs is so immediate and drastic, but this is not something that makes them happy or proud.)
It’s no joke, though. This mother claims that calling her child “garbage” when she fails to meet expectations, and generally pursuing the philosophy that “the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child” constitute responsible parenting that will result in “math whizzes and music prodigies.”
In my experience as a therapist, the children of narcissistic parents (and what else are we to call parents who, in Chua’s own words, “believe that their kids owe them everything… Chinese children must spend their lives repaying their parents by obeying them and making them proud”?) tend to be depressed, alienated and lost. They may achieve great external success, but it feels empty to them because the goals they pursue are not their own. Often, they don’t know what their real gifts and interests are — only that there is something important missing.
Of course, my perspective may be skewed because of my profession. Very few people come to see a therapist because their lives are unfolding beautifully and they are overwhelmingly happy and fulfilled. However, study after study, over the years and across the world, has demonstrated that that the children of authoritarian parents are less adept at creative problem-solving and moral thinking, and more likely to be anxious and to have interpersonal problems.
I imagine that this article was purposely written in over-the-top style to generate interest and controversy — the author’s book on parenting was just published, and this is sure to spark sales. But as recent events in Arizona have demonstrated, rhetoric presented as figurative can be taken quite literally by a borderline mind, with heartbreaking results. I can only hope we don’t see a spike in children whose parents feel justified in excoriating, punishing, and shaming them, and yelling at them that they are garbage.