Tuesday, January 11, 2011

How Asian-American parents raise successful children

On average, Asian-Americans outperform other races in both educational achievement and income. For example, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Asian-American adults are much more likely to have bachelor's degrees than whites or blacks. In 2003, 49.8% of Asian-Americans over age 25 had bachelor's degrees, compared to 27.6% of whites and 17.3% of blacks. Also according to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2008 Asian-Americans had per-capita incomes of $30,292, whites had per-capita incomes of $28,502, and blacks had per-capita incomes of $18,406.

The habits parents instill in their children influence educational achievement, and thus future income. So the question is: How do Asian-American parents tend to raise their children differently? Although stereotypical and controversial, an article by an Asian-American mother explains how some Asian parents raise their children differently than Western parents:
A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it's like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I've done it. ...

My Western friends who consider themselves strict make their children practice their instruments 30 minutes every day. An hour at most. For a Chinese mother, the first hour is the easy part. It's hours two and three that get tough. ...

What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a child starts to excel at something—whether it's math, piano, pitching or ballet—he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more. ...

Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight As. Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best. ... Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them. If their child doesn't get them, the Chinese parent assumes it's because the child didn't work hard enough. ...

As a parent, one of the worst things you can do for your child's self-esteem is to let them give up. On the flip side, there's nothing better for building confidence than learning you can do something you thought you couldn't.
People tend to enjoy things they're good at, and people get good at what they practice a lot. If you want your children to excel, make them study and practice consistently for extended periods of time.

The three hours per day of musical instrument practice that the author mentions fits with research that says it takes a total of 10,000 hours of practice to become a world-class expert at any given skill. Three hours per day would be roughly 1,100 hours per year, or 10,000 hours in nine years. By comparison, at only 30 minutes of practice per day it would take 55 years to become a world-class expert.

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