Tough Parenting

Posted on: 01/25/11 4:31 PM | by Jonathan McKee

A lot of buzz about the parenting style of Amy Chua, Yale law professor and self-described “tiger mother.”

Amy claims to be raising her kids “the Chinese way.” She forced her daughter to practice the piano for hours on end until she got it right. She called her other daughter “garbage” after she behaved bad. She gives new meaning to the world “strict.”

But let’s be honest. Discipline isn’t easy. Maybe that’s why so many parents are curious about Amy Chua’s methods. Time Magazine goes into great detail about Amy’s parenting style in their cover story, Tiger Moms: Is Tough Parenting Really the Answer?

Other columnists are reacting to Amy’s style. New York Times columnist David Brooks even calls her a “wimp,” claiming that she is taking the easy road.

I believe she’s coddling her children. She’s protecting them from the most intellectually demanding activities because she doesn’t understand what’s cognitively difficult and what isn’t.

Practicing a piece of music for four hours requires focused attention, but it is nowhere near as cognitively demanding as a sleepover with 14-year-old girls. Managing status rivalries, negotiating group dynamics, understanding social norms, navigating the distinction between self and group — these and other social tests impose cognitive demands that blow away any intense tutoring session or a class at Yale.

So what’s the answer parents are looking for?

Most parents seem to float to one of two extremes: the ultra tough disciplinarian, or the “anything goes” parent. The tough parent wants to raise healthy, disciplined kids (plenty of research to back up setting the bar high). Sadly, a number of these parents get so focused on their child’s “performance” that they forget to reveal consistent love and nurture. So swings the pendulum to… the “anything goes” parent– a severe over-reaction. This parent feels that any discipline is lacking in love and nurture, so… anything goes.

I’ve seen kids from both extremes.

I’ll be honest. I’m biased. I’m a recovering “ultra tough disciplinarian. I was always very strict with my kids, all under the umbrella of love. That’s easy to “just say,” by the way. Many strict parents claim, “Oh, my kids know that the reason I am so strict is because I love them.” Oh, really? When is the last time you told them that. Better yet… when is the last time they perceived that?

I know this well, because at times, I was waaaaaay to hard on my son Alec. Yes, he was in need of discipline. And yes, I meant well. But the bottom line was, he wasn’t feeling very loved when Dad was always talking in harsh tones.

Sorry. Tough love expressed as just “tough” is not good enough. Love also needs to be expressed by noticing, listening, and investing. These activities might be as simple as hanging out with our kids and having conversations with them (not one-way conversations).

I’m still strict. But I’m also very relational with my kids now. Parents can’t expect to enforce rules without a relationship. It’s only out of the hours of time I spend with my kids laughing, talking, and just “hanging out” that I’ve earned the respect from them when I say, “No.” It’s a tough balancing act. And I’ve learned a few tricks to avoid always saying, “No.” Sometimes I ask them questions and lead them to discover the answer by themselves (I go into more detail about this in my discipline chapter in my new parenting book coming out this Spring).

Right now on our site we are featuring a helpful article about discipline from my friend Jim Burns.

Which way do you lean? Are you a tough parent, or anything goes?

5 Replies to “Tough Parenting”

  1. I must say that I lean toward being a tough parent, especially with my first-born (sad but true). The expectations I place on her are higher than those of my younger daughter. But I don’t think I’m crazy strict. I have a great relationship with both girls, and they actually want me to hang out with them and their friends.

    I have heard from the older one that “My friends all think you are so strict,” and in the next breath, “My friends think you are so awesome.” Okay, so I think I must be doing something right. I tell her that I’m not out to win popularity contests with her or her friends. That I am trying to raise her to be the person God wants her to be. I think she mostly gets that.

  2. I guess it really would depend on who you ask. I believe I am a bit more strict of a parent, only because being in student ministry and visiting local high schools I see the way some of these kids act. My thinking is it starts in the home and the youth ministry is to supplement and help the parent raise it’s teen. I want my son to be raised up with solid values. For example, he is 4 years old and has no idea of who cartoon characters are. He doesn’t watch T.V. but only once in awhile. So, yes i am a bit more strict.

  3. Last night I told my 13-year-old that she couldn’t download a song. She informed me once again that I am “way more strict” than her friends’ parents.


    That was after I picked her up from school, took her to Taco Bell and hung out with her for an hour.

  4. Growing up, I had whom I thought at the time was “the most strict mom in the world!” Some of my friends parents always had parties for the kids, would let them watch “R” Rated movies, not discipline when bad language, ect was involved and so on. I thought these parents were so cool and I was extremely jealous of my friends getting to do so much more than I could. As I became an adult and had my own child, so many things become apparent that you don’t realize when you are young!! My parents are now “the cool” parents in my eyes and I look down upon the parents who behave like some of my childhood friends parents did. These strict parents might have to deal with an upset child sometimes, but they have to remember that the goal is to raise a good person and not a best friend!

  5. My dad was really strict and I guess I grew up to be a good kid. I’m in college and almost halfway done and I haven’t done anything really bad. Yet I come home for winter break or spring break or the summer and I feel miserable and unhappy. I’m 20 and he still lectures me about getting my ears pierced and tells me that I’m going to give him a heart attack. I feel like I was raised so strictly that I wasn’t allowed to interact with people my age or have friends so I’m socially retarded and I can never make friends so I’m lonely, depressed, and introverted. Being a strict parent is one of the worst things a parent can do. I have no relationship with my father and I’m an only child. Its really sad that after 20 years we know nothing about each other.

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