Page last updated at 08:43 GMT, Wednesday, 8 June 2011 09:43 UK

Does Tiger Mum-style parenting get better results?

Two very different styles of parenting

Stricter Chinese parenting or the softer Western model - which works better? Newsnight's Liz MacKean met the Tindley children with their Chinese mum and the more relaxed Swattons to compare.

School's out, the sun is shining and the Tindley boys are settling down - for a maths lesson.

The Tindley family
The Tindley boys have been brought up with Chinese values

Their practice is paying off, as their mum Vivian proudly tells me: "They're both very good, they're both top five. Ethan is top three, Joshua is top five."

Vivian is originally from Taiwan and was brought up by parents with traditional Chinese values towards education.

She wants seven-year-old Joshua and Ethan, who is six, to benefit from a structured upbringing, with routine and discipline: "Work has to come first."

But the boys also like to play and, when I first met them, they were knocking balls around with their coach at Rickmansworth Tennis Club, watched by their Dad, Steve.

He is English born and bred and his wife believes their children get the best of both worlds: "We combine West and East. Western parenting is more laid back."

Good jobs

The Swatton family would agree with that. Liz and Peter have four grown up children. Six-year-old Alfie is their youngest and his mother doesn't believe in parental pressure.

Alfie has recently decided to drop swimming lessons, with his mum's support. "If we get to the stage where it's becoming 'I don't want to do that' or they're not looking happy, they don't have to do it... Kids need to be kids and do what they want to do."

So-called 'Tiger Mum' and author Amy Chua debates with Justine Roberts of Mumset

The older Swatton siblings are all doing well in life and Liz is confident in her approach: "We've not put any pressures on them. They've found their own way. They've all got good jobs."

The three boys we met may be subject to different parenting styles and they are clearly flourishing.

But the latest figures from the Department for Education suggest pupils with a Chinese background are pulling ahead in the classroom, even those from poorer backgrounds.

Using the usual measure of GCSE results, 58% of all pupils not eligible for free school meals scored five good passes.

But they were outperformed by Chinese pupils who qualify for free school meals - 68% of them got five good GCSEs.

Extreme coaching

The East/West parenting divide was debated at the annual literary and arts festival in Hay-on-Wye this year, with publication of two books that highlight the differences.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is an often hair-raising account by Chinese American Amy Chua of how she drilled her two daughters to musical success.

The Swatton family
Liz Swatton did not believe in putting pressure on the children

Admitting how "in retrospect, these coaching suggestions seem a bit extreme", she recounts how her daughters were denied play dates and sleepovers.

The book, written with plenty of humour and irony, caused outrage when it was published in the US.

The second book, Mumsnet Rules, from the UK website's founders, describes itself as offering a "broad spectrum of good enough ways to parent."

It includes the deeply reassuring advice: "Don't buy a guinea pig for your child."

Unhappy childhood

At the festival, I met the Chinese classical guitarist Xuefei Yang who has her own perspective on this debate.

She says that her own parents made great sacrifices to ensure her success, even sending her to live with her guitar teacher while she was growing up in Beijing.

But she too paid a price: "I'm very happy doing what I'm loving to do and that's why I'm successful. Looking back, I had a very unhappy childhood and, looking back, it does matter for me."

When I ask her whether she would have been the player she is today, travelling the world and thrilling audiences, she says: "I might be a different player but I might be a better player."

On this point, both the Tindley and Swatton mums are in full agreement. They both tell me that the thing they most want for their own children is happiness.

Where do you think the balance should be between freedom and discipline in bringing up children? How do you think the way you were brought up has affected you in adult life?

A selection of your comments may be published, displaying your name and location unless you state otherwise in the box below.

Children need guidance and instruction, discipline helps to bring order into their lives. Children do not have the same understanding as an adult about the world, as a parent I think it is your duty to educate your child both emotionally and educationally. Freedom should be adopted to allow for exploration and creativity.

Valerie, Surbiton, UK

I am working as a teacher in China. I must say Chinese parents put far too much pressure on their children to do well at school. I have many students who are studying subjects that they don't want to study - when I ask them why they all say the same thing, "my parents want me to study this, so I have to make them happy".

Luigi, Fuzhou, China

The problems are with the large number of parents who provide little structure or encouragement or even regular sleeping hours for their children. There are a useful minority of Western parents who work hard with their children, are more flexible than the standard "Chinese Tiger" parents and achieve even better results than they do. I think where the Chinese do well is in having fewer weak parents.

Gilbert, London, UK

I'm Chinese and have a very strict mum and teachers who would impose physical punishments. It really taught me about obedience, discipline and a sense of responsibility. On the other hand I feel that I lost my self confidence as I had always been pushed to do things quickly and competently.


I am of eastern origin and my husband is from UK. I have two children and have used both eastern and western values to bring them up. I encourage my children to adopt eastern values for etiquette but be open-minded when it comes to education.

Aishah, Birmingham, UK

My 25 year old is a successful manager. I was adamant that he maintain his education and fought tooth and nail with him to study and to get his degree. He resents my methods and constantly accuses me of having had an awful childhood. My 18 year old daughter just dropped out of her A levels to become a rapper and model. I am devastated. I am encouraging my daughter to return to study to do an access course and then her degree. After that I am happy with whatever they choose to do but they must have that foundation. It is imperative to their future and our future goals as a country.

Joy, London, UK

Kids need loving, trusting relationships, a lot of unstructured time to play, and a few carefully chosen goals that require hard work. Hopefully then they will grow up prepared for the good and bad that life will throw at them.

Kate, Leicester, UK

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