Thursday, February 24, 2011

Crime & Un-Punishment

So I have to share the latest disciplinary developments in my home. When you command(!) a household of four children all roughly 40 months apart [that's total!], you realize what a necessity discipline is.

After years of beating my head against the reward & punishment-style of child discipline, I now have the complete and undivided attention of my children. For every bad grade, sass-back, infraction of any kind against a sibling or disrespectful outburst... the child looses one week of video-gaming. No exceptions.

For my kids, martial law would be better. I have tried everything; no TV, no cell phone, no internet, no ipod, no sleep-overs, no dessert, being grounded from everything from swimming to favorite TV shows -- even spankings! -- and I promise you dear reader, ALL of them pale in comparison to a life of hands devoid of Wii or XBOX 360 controllers.

I am sure you are thinking "good for you buddy... you've now figured out what every other 21st Century parent already has. Nice job." But this, true believers, is just the beginning. You see normally this topic wouldn't even be blog-worthy really, but my children have engineered a new form of haggling and negotiating that would make even Bernie Madoff proud.

Now with every swing of the video-game gavel, each child now bargains for "early parole" from their punishment, asking "what can I do to earn it back?" My answer is always "Nothing." Hey can't do the time, don't do the crime, right? Well this is where they start to get creative; "what if I do all of my brother's chores?" Huh? Where was this exuberance for household cleanliness when you were whacking your brother in the head with a plastic sword 20 minutes ago?!? "If you let me play, I promise to be good." Are you kidding me? Are my ears deceiving me? Let me get this straight, if I let you have your games back, you swear allegiance to light side?

"So you're threatening to be good?" I ask. "No Dad..." they respond, "... we just won't do it again." I am baffled. "How is it that I'm to believe this now when for years you NEVER treated your brother/sister properly?"

Silence. A blank stare. Then a shoulder shrug.

The very prospect of trying to negotiate a lighter sentence is intriguing but these kids have watched one too many episodes of Law & Order if they think I'm going to fall for that one. "Listen, the best way to get your time back is to never loose it in the first place." The exchange is usually followed by an array of tears, plea-bargaining and some weak-attempt to try and convince me they have, quite suddenly, turned a new leaf.

Points for originality. 25 demerits for missing the point.

Sorry, the verdict stands. Now, go read a book...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Think you're hungry now? Just wait, if you don't get your act together, some kid in China will be eating your lunch 10 years from now.

Recently, my oldest son (presently 12) asked me what language I thought he should take in school. Without hesitation I responded; "Chinese or Spanish. In that order." He seemed perplexed. "Wow. Really?" he said to me. Sure. By the time he turns 21, roughly 1/5 of the total population in the world will be speaking either Mandarin or Cantonese. The largest business opportunities will be in China. Hands down. Sure, sure, we live in the American Southwest and there is a heavy Hispanic contingent/population here. As is the case in most major American cities. But that's NOT where the big money will be coming from. Believe that.

Is it all about money? Of course not. But what parent doesn't want a better life for their child(ren)? Just ask Amy Chua, Chinese-American Mother to two daughters in New Haven, Connecticut. She was recently profiled in an article that ran in the Wall Street Journal (!) that examined the mindset of the "Tiger Mom" (a label applied to an Asian Mom who holds true to Eastern cultural ideals in her home). Her now-teenage daughters were NEVER allowed the following:

• Attend ANY sleep-overs
• Have a play date (or a date of any kind)
• Participate in any school plays
• Complain about not being in any school plays
• Watch TV or play video games
• Play any instrument other than the Piano or Violin
(Minimum three hours practice, daily)
• NOT play the Piano or Violin

And the kicker?

• They were not allowed to get any grade lower than an "A"

Ok, I know, EVERY American parent is likely to be up in arms over some of this. If you want to read the full Washington Post article, it is posted at the end of this installment. That said, it's hard to dispute the near-divine levels of over-achievement Asian students categorically seem to attain. Personally, I sit in awe of their accomplishments. Why don't we let them be kids? Why can't we let them play and have fun? Why would any do things like this to their own children?

I don't have a lot of answers to this, my reactions were very similar. Here are some other point the article shed light on; American parents seem pre-occupied with their children's self-esteem and sense of mental well-being. Chinese mothers have no such trappings. No I don't even know if I am qualified to discuss this topic in depth (other than being a parent) but having played the role of Mom and Dad, I will tell you that I have always been mindful of the psychological impact of events in my kids lives. Maybe more than is necessary. Second, Chinese culture suggests that children owe EVERYTHING to their parents. This is why kids Asian families hold their parent in such high regard. I wonder if I will be able to depend on any of my progeny when I am too old to do for myself. Lastly, as the article states, Chinese Mothers believe they know what's best for their kids, even over their kid's own desires and beliefs. I think we can all connect with this one. Ensuring that children make positive life choices is the parent's responsibility.

When I thought about blogging about this, I knew several things were going to come to light; first, I don't know NEAR enough about the Chinese culture or mindset to fully comment on these points. I also knew that no matter what I did, I would be making broad, racially skewed comments and three, as an art school graduate who makes his living everyday as a creative professional, commenting the traits of a foreign culture in context of their social habits would help me display just how little I know. In our world. Of China. On being a parent.

The irony isn't lost on me commenting on the financial and professional future of my children while being such an open-minded proponent of Free-thinking and individualism. I can also concede that American innovation, born out free-thinking and ingenuity is something the world over desires and even lusts after. Not the least of which is China.

In the end, maybe I aught to take on a more "Tiger Dad" philosophy when raising my own kids. Like parents the world over, I want only the best for my children. Perhaps American culture, though declining, will rebound and come roaring back, stronger than ever. But that doesn't mean we can't take some cues from other cultures. Maybe China isn't exactly "eating our lunch" but they are the world's fastest growing economy and will overtake the US in GDP, product and resource consumption and innovative technologies.

Regardless, don't be too surprised if you visit our home and we're all speaking Mandarin by the end of 2013. After all, every child in China is taught a working knowledge of English by age 10.

Full Washington Post Article Here: