What I’ve Learned From My [Decidedly Non-“Tiger”] Parents

Krithika is a 16-year-old from Edison, NJ. She is the founder and CEO of the Youth Literacy Fund, loves English, and thinks about food all the time.

Want to stir up argument in your average upper-middle-class household or classroom right now? Just bring up the “Tiger Mother–” otherwise known as Amy Chua, whose recent inflammatory Wall Street Journal essay seems to inspire no moderate opinions. (And, it should be noted, which has bumped her memoir up to #4 and climbing on Amazon Books.) Whatever your opinion of her parenting strategy, one acute reaction I’ve identified amongst my peers is that, torturous though it may be, Chua’s method produces real results (Carnegie Hall at 13, anyone?) and not having been at the receiving end of such efforts dooms them to failure, or worse, mediocrity. I’m here to tell you it’s not so bleak. You can have a relaxed lifestyle and family dynamic and achieve stellar high school success. You just have to be willing to take an unconventional position on the conventional wisdom about student success. Here are 5 things my parents have taught me that have allowed me to develop into who I am with minimal external pressure.

  1. Love what you do.
    By allowing me to pursue the activities I chose myself, I’ve been able to discover my niche in literacy volunteering and found a nonprofit.
  2. Let it go.
    I’ll admit, I’ve cried over A minuses before; my parents, believe it or not, are the ones who have put them in perspective. Chances are, if you’re committed to your extracurriculars, you won’t have perfect grades. It’s not the end of the world. You should study diligently and efficiently as often as possible, but if you slip up once or twice, don’t sweat it.
  3. Put in the hours…

Even a simplified schedule requires not insignificant amounts of work, of which my parents have never failed to remind me. From the many hours I once spent preparing for spelling bees, a childhood pastime, I now have the endurance for Model UN research sprees and triple-digit primary source pages for history

4. …and do so as early as possible.

“No one is good enough to procrastinate indefinitely,” is a constant refrain of my parents, and although they rarely interfere in my choice of activities, they make sure I work against my teenage tendency to put things off for later. The accumulation of knowledge and experience over time is a factor that can’t be compensated for by even the best short-term work, and the key to concrete success.

5. Uncommit.

My parents would never try to foist an activity on me of whose intrinsic value I wasn’t convinced. In absentia of such parental pressure, I may not be a virtuoso pianist, but I have found my way into National choirs and presidency of my Model UN. This ties into number 1; focus on what you love and leave the rest.

Chua maintains that the difference between Chinese parents and Western ones is that the former assume strength instead of weakness. But I feel the real assumption of strength is believing that I’m capable of making the right choices about how to spend my time. What do you think?

Recommended Reading – A lot of these points about simplified, successful high school life are expanded upon excellently in Cal Newport’s blog “Study Hacks” and related books.

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One Response to “What I’ve Learned From My [Decidedly Non-“Tiger”] Parents”

  1. Vera
    January 31, 2011 at 12:36 pm #

    I really like what you have written about “choices”. As a parent of teens and working in a high school, I believe the biggest piece of Mary Chua’s argument I would agree with is the idea of setting boundaries and limits. Certainly not to the extremes she goes to because I believe she is talking about coercion more than encouraging effort. I do believe, however, that our culture lacks setting boundaries and limits for kids and teenagers which is something your parents seem to do well and may be a big part of your success!

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