Tiger Teachers: The New Stage Moms Aren't the Moms (from Huffington Post Culture)

This originally appeared in The Huffington Post's Culture Section. Write a bad mommy confessional and be rewarded with multiple weeks on bestseller lists, riches, and fame/infamy. (See: Chua, Amy [Tiger Mom]; Druckerman, Pamela [American mom, French parenting]; Weiss, Dara-Lynn [Diet Devil in Vogue]).

And then there are the television shows. In the grand tradition of stage mothers we have the women of Toddlers & Tiaras, along with Dance Moms and Dance Moms: Miami. Is it any surprise that Skating Moms is in the works? And that the mothers on these shows are getting wackier and wackier to secure appearances on TMZ and Anderson Cooper in order to claim their 15 minutes of fame? Or, better yet, the holy grail -- their own television shows (like two Toddlers & Tiaras break-out stars: Eden Wood with her Logo network show Eden's World and Alana Thompson, aka "Honey Boo Boo Child," who has just inked a deal for a family reality show on TLC)!

Despite their extreme antics at this point it's a total cliché to criticize these moms. The people who really should make us scratch our heads are the other adults involved: the teachers and coaches.

Now, Abby Lee Miller, the larger-than-life teacher of Dance Moms, helps give female coaches a bad name. While she has surely amplified some of her behavior for the cameras you still can't help but wince as she verbally berates young girls, puts them in completely age-inappropriate attire, and shows them how to "paint on" a six-pack so they look more slender on stage.

Miller's actions have impacted other teachers and coaches. Prominent, successful, competitive dance teachers are appalled by her behavior. In addition to being embarrassed by a member of their own profession, they have seen changes in their enrollments and in their students' behavior, along with that of the children's moms. Let's just say that drama and raised voices seem to be becoming normalized.

While Abby Lee Miller isn't the first teacher or coach to over-invest in her students (watch the US gymnastics championships this weekend to catch a glimpse of coaching legends like the Károlyis -- and then read Dominique Moceanu's new memoir, out next week, to discover what a negative impact coaches like that can have on a child's life), Miller certainly is popularizing the role. In many ways she's the new version of a "stage mom."


The most recent episode of Dance Moms, "The Battle Begins," has Abby shouting multiple times that her students need to do well because they are associated with her and "her name." With kids' afterschool activities becoming increasingly professionalized, more and more people (both good and bad) can make a living off of children's performances. This means they can easily become too invested both financially and emotionally.

So in many cases teachers and coaches are the new "stage moms," using kids who aren't their own to secure their own fame and fortune. Forget the Tiger Mom, now we have Tiger Teachers eager to catch the glare of the spotlight. Too bad we can't all get a Coach Taylor for ourselves and for our kids. In the meantime, beware of Tiger Teachers seeking high fees and reality television shows.

Lions, Tigers, and Bear Moms- Oh, My! (from Contexts)

A piece I wrote on the aftermath of the Tiger Mom Amy Chua controversy recently appeared in Contexts-- a sociology magazine for the general public. Hope you enjoy it and would love to here what you think!

On January 25, 2011, Stephen Colbert announced, “My guest tonight is a Yale professor who has written a controversial book about the demands Chinese mothers put on their children. Not Harvard? Her mother must be so disappointed. Please welcome Amy Chua!” Chua’s appearance on The Colbert Report capped off a whirlwind media tour that most academics can only dream of. Today Show? Check. CNN? Check. And, then, of course, Colbert.  Chua’s month of controversy started on January 8, 2011 when The Wall Street Journal ran a story, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” in advance of the January 11th release date of her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. 

The Journal article, comprised of excerpts from the book, spread like wildfire as people emailed, tweeted, and shared the link on Facebook.  Over 8,000 people commented on the article on the Journal’s website, telling Amy Chua their thoughts on her parenting practices, which include: calling her daughters trash when they do not perform up to her expectations, forcing the girls to practice their musical instruments for at least three hours a day, and even denying them dinner if they do not perfect a piece.  The comments definitely weren’t all pretty.  But the press helped propel Battle Hymn to the New York Times’ Bestseller list, giving credence to the adage “all press is good press.”

One of the most common memes in press coverage was an attribution of public agitation to abiding fears of the “China Threat.” A few weeks before the Chua controversy, educators had been stunned by the superlative test scores coming out of Shanghai on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).  Some commentators thought Battle Hymn could be America’s new “Sputnik moment”—except that Amy Chua was born in the United States and her parents grew up in the Philippines as Chinese immigrants.


HuffPo Piece: Cinderella Ate My Man-Eating Tiger Daughter

This originally appeared on The Huffington Post on April 1, 2011. Note that the same day my piece was posted, news broke that Amy Chua's eldest daughter, Sophia, was admitted to the Harvard class of '15 (during the most competitive admissions cycle in Harvard's history, with a 6.2% admit rate); Sophia will be matriculating in Cambridge this fall.

Looking for advice on how to raise a successful daughter? Recent bestsellers offer conflicting advice. In Cinderella Ate My Daughter, Peggy Orenstein trumpets Girl Power over pink princesses if you want a smart, independent woman. But Kay Hymowitz writes in Manning Up that you should poo-poo this New Girl Order -- at least if you want your daughter to be a wife and (working) mother someday. And then there's the now infamous Tiger Mother Amy Chua who painstakingly details how she "Chinese parents" her two daughters to be the best at everything they touch in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother; her girls tend to trounce everyone (girls and boys) while wearing princess-style dresses.

Chua recently spoke at Harvard (otherwise known as mecca for Tiger Moms), where she proclaimed, "I could not in a million years imagine my book to be perceived this way, as preaching Chinese parenting as superior... This is not a parenting book. It is a memoir." Indeed Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother covers Chua's childhood and family life, and describes how her relationship with members of her family changed while raising her over-achieving Chinese-Jewish-American children. These humanizing details are interspersed between the more horrifying anecdotes -- well known, thanks to the excerpt printed in The Wall Street Journal -- about denial of dinners and sleepovers, and threats to burn stuffed animals and give toys away.

As Chua was excoriated in the media, Orenstein's own parenting book-cum-memoir appeared. Cinderella Ate My Daughter is a spirited journey through the princess-industrial complex created by Disney and fed by American Girl, Club Libby Lu, other toy companies, child beauty pageants, and many more. Orenstein, a journalist who specializes in women's and girls' issues, details how this pink culture developed historically and how it impacts girls today at younger ages than ever before--including her own daughter, Daisy.

In many ways Chua and Orenstein's families and concerns are similar. They both have daughters. In fact, they both are raising Asian/Jewish daughters. They both find something wrong with current American parenting techniques, especially when it comes to raising their girls. But Peggy Orenstein is revered and Amy Chua is reviled, and when you read the books you can see why. As unyielding as Chua is (even when conceding defeat), Orenstein is questioning -- a crucial difference between the two books. Orenstein is also humorous. Chua claims she was trying to be a funny writer, but any self-deprecating humor just doesn't come across as genuine, especially when she repeatedly lists the accolades of her various family members. In the end, Orenstein is just more admirably ambivalent, honest, and likeable about mothering a young girl today.

Click HERE to keep reading!

Concussed Tiger Parents

I know what you are thinking: "Another Tiger Mom post?! What could anyone possibly add to that discussion at this point?" I generally agree, so I'll be brief.

Last week as I was checking out at CVS, this cover caught my eye. What I found most interesting was the smaller headline at the top: "Health Special: Kids and concussions."  I don't normally read Time (given my weekly reading of The Economist, The New Yorker, Sports Illustrated, and People [quite a diverse collection, I know], not to mention my monthly magazine subscriptions and my daily Internet routine, I have little, well, time) but the juxtaposition of these two stories meant I had to pick up the issue.

In the magazine itself the two stories appear back-to-back. I figure on some level this must have been deliberate by the editors. But, then again, maybe not, given that the concussions piece was likely in the works for some time. In any event all these youth concussions, on some level, are the result of American Tiger parents enrolling their kids in competitive sports in the hopes of snagging an NCAA scholarship or a spot in the pros.  Before the professionalization of youth sports (think paid coaches, year-round seasons, and early specialization) concussions were the result of child's play on playgrounds and during recess. Now they are the stuff of lawsuits and stress.

Interestingly, in that same week's issue of The New Yorker, Ben McGrath wrote a great piece on concussions and the NFL.  The youth component is implied, but the connection between excessive competition, athletics, and injury is clear.  When will others see the connections and start devising solutions, like better credentialing of trainers/coaches in youth sports and a limitation of the hours kids can engage in these fun but dangerous activities?

Inaugural Post- Worlds Collide over Competitive Parenting

What better way to kick off my blog than by sharing my thoughts on a discussion about competitive parenting by a Harvard economist held at a somewhat-snotty/secretive academic meetings? I know a bit about all of these subjects-- in one way or another.

Yesterday the WSJ ran an interesting piece on a Davos discussion panel featuring Larry Summers (he of economic brilliance and the infamous Harvard presidency) and Amy Chua (she of the Tiger Mother phenomenon and Yale Law). Turns out that while Summers considers himself a "hard-ass" parent, he isn't sure being a Tiger Father is the pathway to a $50-billion Goldman valuation-- though it is likely the way to an Ivy League education. Chua seemed to agree, saying she is currently far more lenient with her daughters, as she flitted from event to event and interview to interview at the elite gathering, presumably a world away from her family in New Haven.

Just imagine a conversation between Chua's and Summers' daughters... Wonder who will get a crimson-colored thick admissions envelope and who will get a blue-hued one in a few years?

(For some of my own thoughts on the merits of "Chinese mothering," check out my recent op-ed in USA Today.)