Off the Cuff: May 2013

Demanding too little from our children has become a problem in this country, and now it's time we learn that being a good parent doesn't always mean being nice.

Is there no outrage? Is there no shame? Recently, the Wall Street Journal noted how some of New York’s top high schools accept students based only on rigorous admissions tests. Last fall, about 28,000 eighth-graders took the tests, and here is the ethnic breakdown of students admitted to Stuyvesant, one of those schools: nine blacks, 24 Latinos, 177 whites and 620 Asian-Americans. Those are stunning numbers, though they aren’t unique. It’s the same story that plays out in this city and across the country—for that matter, it’s the same story across the world: Asians are driven, while the rest of us are woefully falling behind.

Somehow, non-Asian parents have gotten the idea that demanding that their children work harder amounts to abuse. This is the opposite of their Asian-American counterparts. Remember Tiger Moms?

Anthropologists at UCLA have intimately studied the interactions of families in Southern California. “One of the major conclusions of the researchers,” Fox News reported, “is that the families focus mainly on their children—but not in a way designed to help those children stand on their own two feet. Instead, the focus seems to be on treating them almost like toddlers, fostering dependency on parents long after it’s wise to do so.”

I keep thinking back to another article in the Wall Street Journal, adapted from a book called Bringing Up Bébé and written about a year ago by an American mother. She spent some time in Paris and was amazed at how calm, well-behaved and self-sufficient French children are, especially compared to American kids. The reason for that is startling in its simplicity: In France, children do not run a fa­mily. Their parents do.

Demanding too little from our children has become a problem in this country. The Journal goes on to say: “For some, the specialized high-school test itself is clearly racist. Repeated demands have been made to change the entrance requirements. The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund filed a complaint with the Department of Education in September of 2012, calling the test a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” Yet when free test-prep programs were made available to disadvantaged students trying to get into those elite New York schools, not enough black or Hispanic students showed up. Asian parents, on the other hand, impress on their children that failure in school is a disgrace to the family.

Too few black and Hispanic parents are pushing their children to do better. The same goes for white parents, which is why so few white students are getting into Stuyvesant, compared to Asians.

We have caved in to the foolish idea that being a good parent means being nice to our children, and making their youths as pleasant and free of stress as possible. We want them to win at everything, from dodgeball (scratch that—dodgeball is too violent) to grades, no matter if they’re lousy on the playground or lazy in the classroom.

But I’ve got news for today’s parents: You are doing your kids a gross disservice if you’re not preparing them for a world that really doesn’t give a damn if they are happy or not.