In this New York Times article that refers to the popular book Bringing Up Bebe about French parenting techniques, the writer addresses the importance of resilience: “Psychologists find that children can learn self-control without externally imposed pressure. Behavior is powerfully shaped not only by parents or teachers but also by children themselves. The key is to harness the child’s own drives for play, social interaction and other rewards. Enjoyable activities elicit dopamine release to enhance learning, while reducing the secretion of stress hormones, which can impede learning and increase anxiety, sometimes for years.”

But rather than trying to emulate the strict discipline supposedly instilled by child-rearing techniques in other countries, it may be more useful to consider the science of successful parenting in general. Like their Chinese and French counterparts, American parents can make a child’s mind strong – by enlisting the child as an ally.

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  • I am intrigued by these discussions about the cultural differences in parenting and think they have much to offer in terms of identifying effective parenting strategies. That said, I do think the discussion is a bit misguided when we frame the issue as “Parenting, the [fill in the country] Way.” As with any generalization, it assumes that all members of that group behave in the same way, which we know is not true. 

    More importantly, it overlooks an important point: there is no Parenting, the [fill in the country] Way. Parents all over the world identify the strategies that work best for their particular children in their particular situation. Culture plays an important role in defining the particular situation but it does not dictate the parenting strategies. Rather, it shapes the underlying values and ideals that we pursue and which guide us in any child-rearing strategies we devise.

    For instance – in the debate about American bear cub parents vs. Chinese tiger moms, the issue isn’t who is more of a disciplinarian or who has lax parenting techniques. Rather, it has to do with what we value as a culture and how those values shape our decisions as parents. 

    Western cultures are traditionally individualistic, promoting the development of the self and ensuring the individuals can succeed on their own merits. This is neither better nor worse than the values held by traditionally Eastern cultures (which tend to be more community driven, where the success of an individual rests largely on the success of the community to which they belong). However, because of this difference, parents in Western cultures will favor strategies that promote their children’s development on an individual scale (which means they will tend to encourage diversification of knowledge and skills, a “well-rounded” experience, over specific skill development). You can read more about this perspective here:

    A similar analysis can be made for the French vs. American parenting strategies ( and, I would argue, for pretty much any culture vs. another culture. 

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