The Controversy Behind “Tiger Moms”

The Controversy Behind “Tiger Moms”

By Courtney Rivette

What are your favorite memories about being a kid? Attending sleepovers, having play dates, being in a school play, chilling out with TV or computer games? Yale professor Amy Chua’s children were allowed to do none of these things. A self-proclaimed “Tiger Mom,” Chua has written a memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, that has brought extreme parenting styles into the public eye.

Chua has received much criticism for her extreme Chinese parenting approach where she pushed her children to be the best. Her children couldn’t choose their own extracurricular activities, get any grade less than an “A,” not be the number one student in every subject except gym and drama or play any instrument other than the piano or violin. Despite the long list of banned activities, Chua’s children grew up to be successful – one of her daughters was recently admitted to Harvard.

As the book continues to fuel controversy throughout the nation, an MSU professor is researching the effects of strict parenting styles on mental health.

Photo Credit: Jenna Chabot

Desiree Boalian Qin, an assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, has been researching the effects of different parenting styles on Chinese-American students as compared to their white counterparts, and has found that Chinese-American students often suffer from mental health problems.

Qin’s Research

Qin’s research was conducted in a variety of high achieving and prestigious high schools located on the East Coast using a mixed-method study of surveys and in-depth interviews. The study included both Asian-American and European-American students.

“They all do very well educationally, but we do find that when parents pester their kids a lot and when they have a lot of conflicts at home about education, then children feel more alienated from their parents,” Qin said. “That in turn will lead to higher levels of depression and lower levels of self-esteem and more anxiety reported by the Chinese students.”

Qin said she was surprised to learn that education created conflicts between some of the students and parents in the schools she studied.

“They already beat 90 percent of their peers to get into the school, they were already the best students, high achieving, doing great, and I was surprised that education was such a big conflict and issue at home,” Qin said. “In general, students in these schools sleep four or five hours a night and each time they get their GPA they calculate it to the tenth decimal point. There is so much competition in the school and so much stress. It is such a pressure cooker environment – they get pressure from their parents and from their teachers.”

Qin’s work was modeled on the idea of the “model minority”, a term that refers to a minority – ethnic, racial, or religious – whose members achieve a higher degree of success than the population average. Success is typically measured in income, education, and related factors such as low crime rate and high family stability. In the United States, the model minority is often associated with the Asian culture and its high educational achievement.

“A lot of these kids, Chinese American and other Asian American kids, their mental health is ignored because we focus so much on their achievement,” Qin said. “There is this façade that everything is going well; they are performing so well educationally, therefore, everything at home and their mental health must be great too. It is assumed that if you are doing well academically then you must be feeling good, and in my own research I find that is not always the case.”

Qin & Chua’s Ideas on Parenting

Despite connections drawn by the media between Chua’s book and Qin’s research, Qin said that they really don’t relate.

“My research has nothing to do with professor Chua’s book,” Qin said. “I’m sure she is a brilliant law professor, but the book is purely anecdotal about one mother raising two children. It is not research or based on anything scientific, therefore, it is very difficult to challenge.”

Qin was born in a small village in northern China and and came to the United States when she was 24 years old. She did her doctorate studies at Harvard Graduate School of Education and did two years of post-doctoral work at New York University and Columbia. She began working at MSU in 2006.

Qin received both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in English from Heilongjiang University in China. She often tutored students on the side and noticed students struggling with a wide spectrum of negative emotions, including sadness, anxiety, anger, depression and guilt.

“I felt at the time there was a psychological struggle, although there wasn’t a lot of research or counselors and psychologists working with youth in China during that time,” Qin said. “I think that really led me to my interest in working with youth and families and working with mental health.”

Western vs. Chinese Parenting

Chua’s book has sparked debate about the positive and negative effects of both “Chinese” and “Western” parenting.  Loosely defined, Western parents are said to be more lenient and relaxed in their parenting methods whereas Chinese parents are said to be more strict and demanding of academic success.  Chua and Qin, both Chinese mothers, have differing views on the subject.

“In a lot of ways it is impossible to categorize ‘Western parenting’ and ‘Chinese parenting’ because parenting varies so much and depends on a variety of factors,” Qin said. “I’m a mother of two girls, and parenting is one of the hardest things I have ever done – you have to be consistent, and it takes a lot of work. I think all parents are in the same boat in that we all want the same things for our children, and I do think that the debate or controversy generated by Amy Chua’s book at least got us to talk about parenting.”

According to a Time magazine interview, Chua said that Western parents are often more concerned with their children’s “psyches and self-esteem” whereas Chinese immigrant parents “assume strength rather than fragility” in their children.

“It’s much less deferring to the child’s wishes,” Chua said in the interview. “The westerners want to respect their child’s individuality and to pursue their passion and to provide positive reinforcement. The Chinese are much more comfortable overriding their children’s preferences.”

Qin agrees the Chinese parents usually do have higher expectations for their children.

“I think that if you look at research, Chinese parents generally have higher expectations than other parents,” Qin said. “But, I know plenty of Chinese parents who are very lenient and very democratic, and I have also known many American parents who are very strict, very involved, and really expecting a lot from their kids.”

Qin worries that some people will look to the book as a parenting guide when they see that Chua’s oldest daughter was accepted to Harvard. She said she hope that it doesn’t encourage parents to push their children to be successful regardless of the costs.

“I think some of the findings from our research projects do send a cautionary note against this whole idea that you can push your child to succeed academically at all costs, and encouraging parents to do that,” Qin said. “I think that can be misleading and very damaging for children and their mental health.”

Nan Ma, a first-year business graduate student from China has seen the negative effects that Qin describes – she has a friend in China who suffered from mental health problems which Ma believes are a result of strict parenting.

“She is a very outstanding student, very successful academically and she got the number one position in the national entrance examination,” Ma said.

The entrance exam is an extremely difficult and competitive test that all Chinese students planning to enroll in college must take. Ma said that many students spend all of their time studying for the test, and then find themselves lost when they get to the university level because learning is structured in a different way.

“She enrolled in the Chinese University of Hong Kong, which is a very hard school for mainland students to get into,” Ma said. “She suffered from mental health problems during her first year in the university and dropped out. This included a suicide attempt.”

Ma said she has an idea of what led to the all of the stress.

“I know her father is a university teacher and he is very smart, but didn’t achieve all of the accomplishments he wanted,” Ma said. “I think he put all of his expectations on her. Her father is very strict and he prevented her from having contact with friends or having social events. She really didn’t have many friends.”

Although Qin’s research is based only on Chinese-American immigrant parents, Ma said that tiger parents are common in China.

“The style of the tiger mom is very common in China, but it is just an extreme example and not all parents behave like that,” Ma said. “It is true that parents usually have very high expectations of their children. Normally parents live a very hard life themselves and they give everything to their children; they want their children to pay them back with their academic success.”

Chinese students spend more time in school than American students, Ma said. She described her school day starting at 5:30 a.m. and ending around 9:30 p.m. with short breaks for lunch and dinner throughout the day. She said the atmosphere was much different when she went to college in China and when she came to America.

Ma grew up in East China, between Beijing and Shanghai. She said she grew up in a “relatively loose environment.”

“My parents are also university professors and they have very high expectations for me, but they never pushed me,” she said.

When it came time to choose a college major, Ma said her parents let her decide what she wanted.

“My mom is an accounting professor and she wanted me to choose economics or accounting as my major,” Ma explained. “She thought it was a better major to find a job or future career and also said she could help me. But, I liked journalism at that time and they didn’t push me. I still chose journalism.

“Some parents won’t let their children make their own choices,” she added.

Qin had similar things to say regarding students from Chinese families entering college.

“They get to college, they are doing something their parents want them to do, they are in a major their parents chose for them and they may not be that interested or passionate about it,” Qin said.

The Future

The results of Qin’s research suggest that both Chinese and Western parents have room to improve in the area of mental health. Qin said she wants to make parents, teachers, counselors and other school staff members aware of challenges kids face, particularly those with immigrant backgrounds.

“Instead of just saying ‘Okay, they are really great, we don’t need to do anything to help them,’ I think my work is trying to say ‘No, even though these kids are high achieving they still need support,’” Qin said. “There are things the school can do to support the kids better and there are things that parents can do better to really pay more attention to their mental health.”

The results of Qin’s research will be published later this year and she already has ideas for what she wants to do next.

“I look forward to doing this type of study in Asia, in China, and in other places looking at high achieving kids, their mental health, and parenting,” she said.

Ma also has ideas for her future parenting methods.

“I definitely won’t be a tiger mom,” Ma said. “I think my personality is quite easy-going and I think if I have kids they should be very independent. I would tell them what are relatively good study methods for them to get better scores, but I won’t push them.”

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“Killer Coke” Campaign Underway on Campus

“Killer Coke” Campaign Underway on Campus

Students are trying to remove Coca Cola from campus. (Photo credit: Jenna Chabot)

On Dec. 5, 1996, Isidro Gil, a Coca Cola plant worker and a Columbian union leader, was shot and killed inside the entrance of a Coca Cola plant in the city of Carepa by paramilitary forces.  After the shooting, other union leaders were kidnapped and tortured, and the local union building was burned.  Two days later, paramilitary forces returned to the plant to tell workers they had to quit the union by 4 p.m., or they would be killed.  It is said that a Coca Cola manager had prepared resignation forms in advance, and had previously instructed the paramilitaries to destroy the union.  A 2001 lawsuit charged that Coca Cola bottlers in Columbia contracted with and directed the paramilitary forces to act as they did.

For many people, Coca Cola products are associated with good taste and cheery advertising, but others worldwide associate the soft drink giant with murder.  The “Campaign to Stop Killer Coke” is a worldwide movement that aims to hold Coca Cola accountable for its alleged human rights violations.  The campaign has now reached the MSU campus.

According to the “Campaign to Stop Killer Coke” website, Coca Cola has been responsible for numerous human rights and labor violations worldwide.    It is claimed that systematic intimidation, kidnapping, torture and murder are occurring at Coca-Cola bottling plants in Colombia and elsewhere.    The website also states that Coca Cola has refused independent investigations into the allegations.  Other countries claiming crimes against Coke include Guatemala, China, El Salvador, India, Mexico, Pakistan, The Philippines, and Turkey.

Local Impacts

Along with human rights violations, the MSU Killer Coke Campaign recognizes watershed pollution in Michigan as another reason to end contracts with Coca Cola.  Residents of Paw Paw, Mich. have filed a lawsuit against Coca Cola for groundwater contamination from a Coca Cola bottling plant located near the watershed.  The 80 residents that are part of the lawsuit claim soil contamination has affected their drinking water, daily use of their homes, property taxes and health.

“It is a high quality water body for southwest Michigan,” said Matt Meerson, Van Buren Conservation District watershed coordinator.  “It still has a lot of flood plain forests intact; a lot of wetlands, the water quality in general is good for the Paw Paw. Compared to other rivers in southwest Michigan it is in pretty good shape, which is why people are more committee to protecting it.”

The MSU Campaign

In cafeterias and in Sparty’s convenient stores across campus, Coca Cola products are a common sight.  Drinks such as Coke, Sprite, Minute Maid Lemonade, A&W Rootbeer, and Nestea are just a few of the Coca Cola products that fill various fountain drink machines.  Coca Cola’s time on campus could be limited, however, as the MSU Chapter of Amnesty International leads an initiative to remove Coca Cola from the university.

MSU’s Chapter of Amnesty International has adopted a “Campaign to Stop Killer Coke”, and aims to remove Coca Cola from campus.  The campaign is in response to Coke’s alleged human rights violations in Colombia and other places of the world along with environmental problems that have occurred near bottling facilities worldwide and in Michigan.  The “Campaign to Stop Killer Coke” is a worldwide movement.

Many students take advantage of the availability of the brand that aims to “refresh the world”, but some students like linguistics and philosophy freshman, Adam Liter, refuse to drink such products.  Liter, who hasn’t consumed a Coca Cola product since his sophomore year in high school, has helped lead the campaign at MSU.

Liter, and others involved in Amnesty International have been petitioning on campus since February.  So far, they have approximately 120 signatures.

“Some people are not willing [to sign], but a lot of people were interested and definitely wanted to learn more about it,” Liter said.  “They stuck around long enough to talk to and they definitely seemed concerned, especially when they learned that Coca Cola has been complicit with murder.  It’s not something that people will take lightly.”

The group plans to get at least 5,000 signatures before approaching the administration.

“The administration hasn’t been officially notified,” said Liter.  “I have been in contact with them before a little bit because I was trying to figure out what our contract with Coca Cola is like, so they know that there is at least one person out there that is concerned about it.”

Campus Impacts

Certainly MSU is a very big client of the Coca Cola Company, because it is such a large university and it has an exclusive contract,” said Ray Rogers, the “Campaign to Stop Killer Coke” director.  “You represent two major things for a company: a source of revenue and the most important place in which they build their brand name identity.”

Coca Cola has an exclusive contract with the cafeterias that lasts until 2016, Liter said.  The contract with Sparty’s is separate.  Liter hopes to persuade the university to break the contract before 2016, or to commit to not renewing it after that time.

“Students are being identified with the Coca Cola Company, and I would suggest that the Coca Cola Company has misrepresented itself to the university when they signed their contract,” Rogers said.  “They ought to be able to break that contract, and if not, what we are hoping is that students will believe in justice and that they will make enough clamor on the campus that students simply won’t purchase the products.”

Those involved in the campaign plan to look into possible alternatives to Coca Cola once they have more signatures on the petition.

“Pepsi would be the easiest alternative, but I mean there is still the concern that soda is actually really bad for you,” Liter said.  “Ideally we would like to propose a different alternative than Pepsi, but Pepsi is a possibility at this point.”

“And why not promote some Michigan alternatives, like Faygo or Blue Sky,” said international relations junior and MSU Amnesty International secretary, Tabitha Skervin.  “There are a lot of local carbonated products I think we could look into as well.”

Other Initiatives

This is not the first time efforts have been made to end contracts with Coca Cola.  MSU Students for Economic Justice tried to persuade the administration to remove Coca Cola from campus in 2006 for similar reasons.  The SEJ held protests and a former Coca Cola bottling plant worker from Colombia came to campus to speak out against unethical practices.

“It was near the end of the school year and many of the students involved were graduating,” said Rogers.  “There were some efforts to educate the university, but now I know there is a whole new effort.”

The campaign was part of the ongoing national “Campaign to Stop Killer Coke” that Amnesty International is partnered with today.

Adam Liter was involved in a similar “Killer Coke” campaign at his alma mater, Eden Prairie High School in Minnesota.

“He had done some good work and some of the students at the high school told me that Adam is now at MSU, so they hooked me up with him,” said Rogers.  “He decided to get things going again, which I was excited about.”

Efforts have also been made at other colleges nationwide, including the University of Michigan.  According to The Michigan Daily, Coca Cola was removed from the university in 2005 while allegations of unethical practices were investigated and was then reinstated months later.

“I have great respect for what the students [at UofM] did,” Rogers said. “But I have no respect for what the administration has done; they set a very bad example as to what morality and ethics are about.”

New York University had similar results.  Administrators “kicked” Coke off of the campus for a short time, but later reinstated their contracts with Coca Cola.

A complete list of colleges, universities and high schools active in the campaign can be found here.

The Future

Liter said he hopes to do a kickoff next semester to raise awareness for the “Campaign to Stop Killer Coke”.  Those involved in the campaign hope to work on it throughout the summer, so it is ready to go come fall.

“The hope is that mid fall semester next year we will reach our goal and try to start the dialogue with the administration,” Liter said.  “We will be doing some petitioning now until the end of the year and then continue to do petitioning next year until we reach our goal.”

It is also important to know that it is not a requirement to give up your favorite Coca Cola product to join the campaign.

“If I stop drinking Coke, that’s just one person,” Skervin said.  “If a school of 47,000 people decided not to drink coke because the administration stops buying it, I think that sends a larger message, and is a more effective boycott.”

The group also hopes to involve other Michigan chapters of Amnesty International in the campaign, as well as environmental groups on campus.  They have also gained support from MSU Students for Fair Trade.

“What you are doing is getting a kickback from the Coca Cola Company for their right to have a captive audience, to have a monopoly, to get all kinds of advertising, and to basically put their brand on the forehead of every student that graduates from the campus,” Rogers said.

“MSU would be so huge if the students are successful in getting Coke kicked out of there,” Rogers said.  “It would just be a huge victory.”

More information about the “Campaign to Stop Killer Coke” can be found on their website.  To get involved with the campaign on campus, contact the MSU Chapter of Amnesty International.

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Disabled MSU Students Still Face Challenges on Campus

Disabled MSU Students Still Face Challenges on Campus

The United States Justice Department is working to improve the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to accommodate the needs of disabled persons by updating assistive communication technologies. Twenty years after the passage of the ADA, disabled students at Michigan State University are still working toward equal accommodations.

The Justice Department is holding a series of public hearings to discuss possible changes to Titles II and III of the ADA.  The four major topics being addressed are:

  • Accessible websites for blind and visually impaired users- installing technologies that read web content to users
  • Movie captioning and video description services for deaf, hard of hearing, visually impaired and blind viewers
  • Accessible 9-1-1 call centers for persons with disabilities- equipping dispatch centers to receive text and video messages
  • Accessible public equipment and furniture for the disabled

Photo credit: Jenna Chabot

John Shumway, a communication technology senior and the president of the MSU Council for Students with Disabilities (CSD), would like to see the changes occur, but is unsure of how the public will react since they will come at a price for businesses.

“In our culture, we look at the immediate gratification not the long term benefits; but in the long term they [businesses] are going to have to revamp their websites and move up technology anyway,” he said.  “It’s shoving them towards the inevitable, but this way it has the government stamp on it.”

In regard to the descriptive technology proposed for movie theaters, Shumway said, “It’s a catch-22.  I think it would disrupt the movie because you’re watching the movie while the device is describing it to you, but the movie is going to go on to another scene. I like the direction the government is going, but there are some things you can’t change without wrecking it.”

MSU Disability Resources

Shumway, a visually and mobility impaired individual, is one of the approximately 1200 students that are registered with the MSU Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities (RCPD) each year.  The RCPD provides services to students including: accessible textbooks, alternative testing, housing accommodations, alternative transportation, note-taking assistance, assistive technology, classroom accommodations, and other accommodations listed here.  MSU began accommodating disabled students in 1933, decades before there were laws in place requiring universities to do so.

“The RCPD often entertains visitors from other universities,” said Stephen Blosser, the RCPD Assistive Technology Specialist.  “We have been accommodating students for a long time, and universities just getting started look to us as experts.”

Blosser works with students to provide them with assistive software and textbooks, among other tools.  He explained that more than 70 volunteers work at the RCPD to help create alternative format textbooks in a process that requires cutting the binding and individually scanning pages into a computer. Volunteers spend most of their time editing the books by describing captions, charts and pictures that the software can’t pick up on.

“This type of work needs to be done by the publishers,” Blosser said.  “It is our hope at the Assistive Technology Center (ATC), to convince publishers to provide materials ready to go.”

Stephanie Forton, an athletic training sophomore, is also a student registered with the RCPD with a visual impairment.  She used large print and pdf formatted textbooks last year in her IAH class.  She has found the textbooks helpful, and one reason she chose to attend MSU was because of the RCPD.

“The fact that the RCPD director has a visual impairment, and that my specialist has a similar condition as I do, makes me feel like they better understand what I need,” Forton said.

Challenges Remain

Joe Stramondo, a bioethics, political philosophy and disability studies bioethics graduate student, is also registered with the RCPD and is a member of the CSD.

“Barriers to communication technology for me have less to do with the technology itself and more to do with the positioning of it because of my mobility disability,” Stramondo explained.

Currently, the ADA requires accommodations to be made mainly in regard to physical space, such as wheelchair ramps and curb cuts.  The proposed changes are taking the law a step further, but Stramondo still faces some problems with the existing law.  The ADA requires new space to be accessible, but until buildings are renovated, he still doesn’t have equal access to certain areas such as Spartan Stadium.

Stramondo, who described himself as a “huge Spartan football fan” sits on a platform to view the games which he said “doesn’t have nearly enough space.”

“The season ticket holders get to sit in front and the platform isn’t tiered, so everyone else gets pushed behind them.” said Stramondo. “It’s frustrating.”

Shumway and Stramondo, both residents of Owen Hall, have similar concerns about some of the equipment in the building.  There are a number of computer kiosks in the lobby for residents that are raised and require the user to sit on high stools.  One of the computers is lowered for easy access for wheelchair users.

“Everyone uses it now because it’s easy to get to.  People with disabilities hardly get to use it, but that’s how the law is.  You cannot make something specifically for the disabled because that’s segregating.  Everyone wants to use it because it’s easier,” Shumway said.

Shumway described a similar problem with the washing machines in Owen Hall that were made accessible for the disabled.  “Everyone wants to use them because they are newer,” he said.

Attitudes toward the disabled are another obstacle faced by many students that cannot be changed with any kind of government policy.

“I think that when you’re a person with a disability, you experience attitudes that are taught to folks without disabilities and folks with disabilities that are built into our culture every day, and it’s impossible to create a policy to change that.” said Stramondo. “It’s really about culture shift.”

The ADA was established in 1990 and prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability and guarantees equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications.

The RCPD is located in 120 Bessey Hall on the MSU campus and is open Monday through Friday, 8am to 5pm.

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