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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Moly never fails to misunderstand parenting

Received a note from a visitor to the site pointing me to one of Moly's YouTubes on the Chinese tiger mother.  The story was in the Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago.  The subject was on the amount of discipline that a parent can/should/might use when raising their children.  The tiger mom was one tough cookie.  Definitely tougher than I would ever be.  Anway, I went to Moly's video.  Moly never fails to miss the point on parenting.  The subject is discipline.  But he changed the subject to cognitive development.  Moly does not like to discuss discipline.  So, in this case he just changed the subject to 'cognitive development.'  He then went on to discuss articles on how Chinese children get depressed and suicidal because of undue pressure from their parents.  

The big anecdote in the WSJ story was about how the mother relentlessly demanded that her daughter stick with practicing a piano piece so she would be ready for the recital the next day.  Very tough parenting.  Bullying, skipping meals, no bathroom breaks, mom lost her voice from screaming at the child.  All in all quite horrifying to a 'try your best honey' U.S. style parent.  The flip side was that the child did finally figure out the piece.  Fell in love with what she had accomplished.  Laughed and cuddled with her mother.  Played the piece perfectly the next day's recital to acclaim.  The daughter felt great.  In this case, the seemingly very severe discipline seemed to work quite well. 

Moly said that playing a piano is nothing more than a robotic exercise.  And that such pressure inhibits 'cognitive development.'  He offered an analogy on how difficult it would be to solve a quadratic equation while being chased by a bear.  But the issue is more like, what if you had the discipline to put aside all other distractions and focus completely on solving that equation.  And what if you learned the benefits of such discipline from your parents who insisted that you study, work hard, etc. 
The discipline to focus on a goal and put aside all other pleasures and distractions to accomplish a goal is a uniquely human characteristic. Whether it is clearing your driveway of snow or inventing the light bulb, you need the self-discipline to focus and to get things done. If a parent neglects the teaching of the pure happiness that results from putting aside distractions and working hard to accomplish something, they are committing child abuse.

Punishment and/or ‘do it my way because I say so’ isn’t about cognitive development. Cognitive development is important but it pails in importance when compared to self discipline.  In my opinion,, the simple discipline to get things done is the most important determinate to success in life and for human kind.  Moly never mentions this aspect of parenting.  I think Moly just doesn't understand the issue at all.  I believe his own emotional issues prevent him from having the intellectual ability to face down the truth on this subject.  Which is this: The world is full of really bright people who “don’t ‘achieve their potential.” If only they had the discipline to apply themselves… All good parents have a primal fear that their children will fall into that category.  Moly glosses over the cuddling and joy after the ‘dragon lesson.’ He obscures the feeling of pride and accomplishment the child felt.  He barely mentioned that the child performed the piece perfectly at the next days recital to glowing applause. 

To bring this point home, here is the follow up story from the daughter. "Why I love my strict Chinese Mom"  She isn't on the brink of depression and isn't considering suicide.

Final point.   Molyneux is completely unqualified to comment on cognitive development.  As am I.  But consider this.  The child accomplished something under duress that she seemed unable to do without the stress of her mother's pressure.  The child seemed to find the needed focus to reach the goal.  Aren't there countless examples of people working better under pressure?  Long story short, I think it is possible that the occasional demand that a child put aside other matters and focus on that quadratic equation whether they like it or not, helps cognitive development as well as teaching self discipline.


  1. I fear that you'll think of me as a troll, and bark back something nasty, but it's worth a try anyway. You talk about the mom requiring the girl to play piano, and you mention that the girl had a very loving moment with her mom after the recital. I get what you're saying. It's great that they had that moment together. But what do you envision for that girl's future? I think she'll have hangups and difficulties in relationships that can be tied directly back to being forced by her mother to do something arbitrarily chosen for her.

    As for being able to focus, my daughter can sit and read books for hours and hours, although I've never pressured her about reading. She just sees her parents reading all the time and assumes that it's normal behavior. And although her friends are the usual American TV addicts, she has no interest in TV, presumably because her parents have no interest in it. I wonder what your thoughts are on these matters.

  2. Arf Arf GRRRR. That's me barking back something nasty. Anyway, Glad to respond. First of all, my post was about the need for self discipline in your life and how parents have a responsibility to teach that to their children. Discipline is doing what has to be done even though you don't want to do it. It is about setting goals and doing what has to be done to achieve them.
    Your child's reading habits are fantastic. Congratulations on the great example you are setting. I have similar examples with my kids. Same with any parent. Most kids have at least one great quality that doesn't need to be enhanced, or managed. You just let them go with it. What a pleasure that is. But...If your child likes to read, she isn't learning discipline from it. As in: If you like doing something, it doesn't require discipline to get it done. What is your opinion on how to handle a situation where your child is misbehaving, or refuses to do a chore or is refusing to study, etc. and reason and persuasion doesn't work? And what is your thinking on Parents demanding certain levels of accomplishment from their children?

    AS to your specific question on the Tiger Mom childs future, the answer is that it is the future. So I don't know. You don't know and mainly Moly doesn't know. Maybe she will have hang ups, but maybe she develops a life long love of and devotion to Music. Maybe she meets a kindred music loving soul mate and they live happily ever after. Maybe countless things happen. We do know the present. As of today, she has learned that sticking to something even though you don't want to do it, can lead to a wonderful outcome.