Explore Nueroscience in Education with Dr. Lori Desautels

A Response to the Chinese Tiger Mother: Children Need a Balanced Approach

Original article posted on Inside The School, January 24th, 2011 By: Lori Desautels, Ph.D.

Editor’s note: In early January, the Wall Street Journal published a Saturday essay from Yale law professor and author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Chua’s essay advocates a Chinese approach to parenting, which is beyond the definition of strict for Western mothers. Click here to read Chua’s essay.

I suggested that Lori L Desautels, Ph.D., School of Education, Marian University, author of How May I Serve You, A Revelation in Education, offer a response to Chua’s essay, based on Desautels’ work.

Mother-daughter shopping trip“The Chinese Tiger Mother”- who is she and what are the sources, the origins of her parenting values and behaviors? So many thoughts about this, but one that runs succinctly throughout the reading of this article, a thought of “fear.” Initially I felt hot raw anger at this woman who shares my profession of parenting. The emotions began to stew and brew with no preconceived notions. And then I stopped in the midst of these steamy emotions and said out loud, “When we judge another’s experience, we forget, forfeiting to step inside the shoes of another and walk around for awhile feeling their texture, their plasticity or lack thereof, wondering or pondering the history of the wearer of the shoes!” When I stepped in her shoes, I was struck with deep fear. I felt fear of believing her own upbringing could have been less than adequate, fear of the type of parent she was or desired to be, but mostly, a deep fear of change!

I did not experience this mother’s upbringing, nor did I experience her culture or how her beliefs became a part of her day to day life. So as I continued to read and reread this article with flashes of anger and disillusionment, I remembered compassion and what that means or how it plays out in this diversified world today. Gathering research and discovering new knowledge is what I do for a living, teaching in higher education. There have been research studies conducted on the heightened stress levels of adolescents who text from their cell phones hundreds of times every day. Eric Jensen reports that the prevalence of children with a chronic or acute stress disorder is 18-20%.[1] The largest group of stress disordered victims is school-age children. Jensen explains, “Stress is a physiological response to a perspective. The perspective originates from a feeling of lack of control over a situation or environment. When this state occurs, a hyper secretion of cortisol, a stress related hormone takes place when the body experiences stress.” [2] It is known among neuroscientists and now educators, that the memory and mental clarity required in learning new concepts, is greatly affected and declines when stress is present and activated in a child or adolescent’s body.

mother and child at playAlthough the math and science scores are lower in the United States than in many Asian countries, a recent international study reported that “Chinese children as young as six are suffering from serious stress at school, according to the international study, which shines a light onto the pressures faced by Chinese youngsters being pushed to take advantage of the opportunities of the ‘new’ China.

“A scientific survey of 9 to 12-year-olds in eastern China found that more than 80 percent worried “a lot” about exams, two-thirds feared punishment by their teachers and almost three-quarters reported fearing physical punishment from their parents.”[3]

There is always a trade off and balancing mechanism in place when we consciously or subconsciously move to one extreme or the other in any area of life. When we push our children and students to strive academically neglecting the emotional intelligence of self-awareness, empathy and social connectedness, there are often times negative consequences within the social and emotional constructs of social and emotional growth. And if we do not set high expectations and place rigor and meaningful content and differentiated instruction into our curriculum, we may see apathetic students who do not embrace the importance and significance of educational learning, expansion and inquiry!

girl and her mother eating a picnic lunchSo I return to the behaviors of this Chinese woman and mother, and I wonder about the long-term effects, or maybe not-too-long-term effects of her children’s holistic development as she chooses to exclude the social, imaginative, and emotional development of her children? Human beings are social mammals, and we begin to diminish and withdraw without the relational learning that is required for holistic health and well-being. We thrive on relationships and the playfulness of school plays, sleep overs, joyful exploration and most of all sitting with questions! The brain is wired in this time for curiosity and play, seeking relevancy and meaning inside the activities and relationships of our lives.

Practice and more practice does make permanent, but it does not create critical thinking skills and creative problem solving that carry us through life experiences and relationship dilemmas, teaching our children and adolescents about empathy, reaching out to those so very different with a deepened understanding. The electromagnetic field of the heart is 60 or more times greater than that of the brain, reported by the Heartmath Institute, and it is here, inside the brain of the heart where living life is embraced; not with perfection but with satisfaction in the process of discovering life. [4] Failures and mistakes keep us pushing forward with enthusiasm as science has clearly demonstrated through the years, and if we hold the perspective of failures being our greatest learning tools, we cannot help but be and feel successful in all areas of our lives.


[1] Jensen, Eric. Different Brains, Different Learners.  Corwin Press, (revised ed)  2009
[2] Jensen, Eric.
[3] Foster, Peter. “Third of Chinese primary school children suffer stress, study finds.” The Telegraph, January 19, 2010.  Accessed January 18, 2011. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/7027377/Third-of-Chinese-primary-school-children-suffer-stress-study-finds.html
[4] “The Resonant Heart–A Deep Secret of Peacemaking, ” last modified 2007, http://www.lawyertopeacemaker.com/heartmath.html

Lori Desautels, Ph.D., is a university supervisor for the Indianapolis Teaching Fellows and Teach for America programs. She is an instructor at both the undergraduate and graduate levels at Marian University in Indianapolis.  Before coming to Marian University, Lori taught emotionally handicapped students in the upper elementary grades, worked as a school counselor in Wayne Township, was a private practice counselor through the Indianapolis Counseling Center, and was a behavioral consultant for Methodist Hospital in the adolescent psychiatric unit. She graduated from Butler University with a BS in Special Education, from Indiana University with an MS in counseling, and earned her Ph.D. from The American Institute of Holistic Theology with an emphasis in early adolescence in thought formation. Desaultes’ website is at www.revelationineducation.com

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