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Asian Parents and Success: Authors Answer Your Questions

Our article, How Do Asian Students Get to the Top of the Class?, prompted an enormous number of comments and questions from you. We asked the authors, Jane Kim and Dr. Soo Kim Abboud, to answer some of the questions.

By Dr. Soo Kim Abboud , Jane Kim

Editor's Note:

In "How Do Asian Students Get to the Top of the Class?" Dr. Soo

Kim Abboud and Jane Kim traced their own success to Asian-American parents who believe children's primary role is to respect their elders, obey their parents and study hard to secure a bright future. They contrast these parenting practices with those of many American parents who manage their children's after-school hours less closely and reward effort - even if the result is mediocre - out of fear of damaging their children's self-esteem.

It's a view that many of you championed and many others challenged. In case you missed their article you can read it here. You can also read the many comments from readers and add your own.

We asked Abboud and Kim to answer a few of your most frequently asked questions:

Question:

My son is 12. In the name of "self esteem" I made choices in his education that have destroyed his will. He has no will to get better at anything. If he tries something and if he cannot do it the first or second time, he gives up. I know it has something to do with my willingness to praise him for almost any kind of endeavor (from excellent to good to mediocre). What can I do now? Do you have any suggestions?

Answer:

For those parents who have been focusing on self-esteem and want to begin emphasizing results, the transition isn't as difficult as it may seem. Parents can apply a two-tiered praise system, in which effort is rewarded first. When effort is demonstrated and achievement is not, parents should actively work with their child to improve performance.

We believe this is most effective when the child's effort is praised first and foremost, and is then followed by ways he or she can improve performance. For example, your son is struggling in algebra but is trying hard to improve his grade. He receives a "C" on his test. First, recognize and praise him for any improvement he has made. You can then talk about the errors he made and discuss methods of how he can improve on the next exam. Methods will vary from one child to another; one child may need help with homework, while another might benefit from a meeting with the teacher.

Be prepared to communicate openly with your child to determine what will work best. You just might be surprised at how much more he or she will want to achieve the next time around. Keep in mind that the highest praise should be awarded to children who are able to apply themselves and excel.

Question:

How do athletics fit into all of this? Athletic programs require a great deal of time after school.

Answer:

Sports and other extracurricular activities should be encouraged, although we recommend limiting these activities to two or three (at a time) per child so the main emphasis will remain on academics.

We believe that extracurricular activities promote leadership and enhance social skills - both important skills your child should acquire in order to be successful in today's competitive environment. Team sports, in particular, will teach your child valuable life lessons.

Through teamwork, children learn that the likelihood of success is greater when individuals work together toward a common goal.

Furthermore, relationships are nurtured and social skills are developed as children learn how to best interact with other members of the team. Finally, don't forget the enjoyment and health benefits your child will receive from participating in sports!

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

08/5/2008:
"I am an African American mother of two girls 2 and 6.I was so curious about the way Asian-Americans learn so I Googled a question and you came up. I am very involved in my children's education and would like to know if you have any helpful tips for me going forward for my daughters educational future. "
06/4/2008:
"I have a question about infants. Do you think that it is too early to start consciencely begin teaching my 11 month old. If not are there some suggestions on what I should begin with."
05/10/2007:
"My son is 12yrs old, his 4th grade teacher was the first person to point out to me my son was having trouble with his comprehension. She suggested that I read to him more and ask questions after each paragraph, so I did. But here it is two years later and he's still having the same problem. I enrolled him in Slyvan Learning Center, and that seems to be moving slowly. is there anything else I can do besides read read with him and have him answer questions?"
04/24/2007:
"The US Census reports show an overall median gousehold income in 2005 of approximately $47,000. The median household income of Asian households came in at around $57,000. Asian households were the highest in median income in terms of race. However for the top quintile and top 5% of the income brackets, greater than $100,000 and greater than $200,000 respectively, Asians only made up about 6% of that pool, while their western counterparts made up close to 90% of that income pool. Academic success does not correlate with financial success...it has alot to do with drive and luck. Bill Gates never graduated from college."
04/23/2007:
"While the answers are useful, they do not address the real question. And, that is, did the Korean culture make a significant difference. A difference so great that merely following the directions provided will be insufficient. That is, the directions provided have been around and used for many families - and probably with acceptable results - that doesn't get at the basic question concerning cultural influence? A much longer response along with a research plan to learn more about the effect of 'culture' could be provided."
04/23/2007:
"This message board is batting a thousand when it comes to bringing out the best and worst in people’s mindsets and sentiments relating to the issue of race. To those who seek to disrespect Asians and perpetuate stereotypes, your views are acutely limited by the blinders you must wear in your daily lives. This allows you to maintain your disparaging opinions about and disrespect for whole ethnic groups – why muddy the waters with the truth? One fact for the writer who suggested that post-graduation success does not follow academic success, I suggest you look up the latest US Census Bureau statistics and the median household income for Asian-Americans. If only you would be willing to step out of your comfort zone and educate yourselves and your children about the diversity of cultures that exist here in America, what a richer and deeper life experience you would be offering your families. And perhaps the next generation won’t suffer from the same ignorance as the previous one."
04/23/2007:
"I come from a South Asian background and much of what the authors say resonate with me. But I also have to say that some of the feedback by American parents is very true. Asian and South Asian style of education fosters an academic approach and the children acheive a lot academically and lose a lot in the creative and thinking process. Like someone mentioned you will find them very good at the second tier of success, very few creative enterperneurs. I am making a generalized statement and will give you an example to illustrate my point. If you ask a person whose been taught with a complete focus on academics and nothing else, they are excellent at taking direction. You ask them to go do a task or go from point A to point B following a particular path,they will execute it brilliantly. If you just tell them to come up with a solution for a task or find your way from point A to B. It would be harder for them. The creative approach is not instilled in them. I feel one should inculcate both methods for our children and the results will be there for all of us to see. "
04/20/2007:
"Although Asians are statistically very successful academically, the same statistic does not necessarily hold true upon graduation. If you look at the top executives and managers in coporate america, you will see a definite lack of Asians in those positions. The stereotype or generalization has always been and still is that Asians are very book smart but not assertive and strategic and therefore are good doers but not necessarily good leaders. Asians academic success guarantees most a decent career but most often plateau at a level one would think is below what their academic success would have dictated. From my observations, this is particularly true of Asian men who academically have been much more successful than their western counterparts but do not shine the same in the corporate environment. I believe academic discipline is important, especially at a young age to provide the foundation for later success but academics should not be spelled out to be the only item on! parents' agenda for their children. Extracurricular activities helps to build social abilities, confidence and communications that pure academics cannot. I am interested in hearing your thoughts on what you would recommend parents to do today that will transcend to their future successes outside of the classroom."
04/20/2007:
"I want to say 'Shame on the people who even brought up the VT incident in relation to this article.' That has nothing to do with this article. The incident was tragic and it involve one Asian student...it does NOT represent the entire Asian community. This is not a race issue. This is about raising your children on how to excel academically. How often in society does an Asian American commit such horrific crimes as the VT incident? Do we really know how the killer's parents raised him??? Horrific massacres are committed by trouble individuals, not by one entire race. To the parents who even associated this article with the VT incident, please show some RESPECT. "
04/19/2007:
"My children are now attending a private gifted school. This is a top-rated school where student academic achievement is typically at least 2 years ahead of grade-level. A large portion of the student population is of Asian descent (we are not). I feel our school (which has a Suzuki based curriculum) fosters many of the Asian educational philosophies described in the article. My children excel academically (as well as at music, sports, theatre, etc.). However I will be transferring them to a good public school next year. As a business owner, I am concerned that the school has placed too much emphasis on discipline, obedience, and SAT scores and not enough emphasis on developing creativity, teamwork and leadership skills. The kids are constantly drilled on academics and it seems the kids need constant direction from their teachers and parents. Both of my children have high self-esteem (yes, I may have over-praised them) and I have not focused on making them 'obedient' children. My children are outspoken in class and try things that are sometimes deemed 'foolish' by teachers. But they are young and they have big ideas. They are self-confident children who have the creativity, independence and courage to try new things, make mistakes, and be great leaders. As a successful American entrepenuer (who hires employees from top colleges), I believe this is as important as academics. "
04/19/2007:
"I think that what other African-American posters are trying to say is that in spite of an (at times) discourageing uphill battle*, the parents of our successful students have parents who have implemented techniques similar to the ones mentioned in this article for many generations. The primary difference is that within our community there is more of a focus on developing the spiritual part of one's life as well. Sadly, attention to spiritual health has been neglected by the younger generations as attempts are made to assimilate with the rest of the world. Our educators, scientists, doctors, lawyers, engineers, and statesmen of the past were proud to be people of uncompromising faith. George Carver wasn't one of the greatest American minds in spite of his beliefs, but because of them. *n.b. For those of you who wonder what I mean by uphill battle, I wonder whether when you see a group of African Americans walking down the street, you assume they are a high school dropouts and welfare recipients, or whether you assume they are Ivy League University graduates (yes, plural), trained chemical and electrical engineers, published in scientific journals (yes, plural) who speak six differnt languages. Here I'm just describing members of my own family. I'm sure we could multiply my relatives several thousand times over, too. Should be food for thought..."
04/19/2007:
"I counsel Asian students in an elementary school. The district is virtually 100% Asian and my school is over 90% Asian. The push for success is definitely what is on everyone's mind. If you aren't a top achiever you are a loser, and the negative words B students know about themselves are overwhelming. However, they argue with me if I say anything positive about them, for after all they are not top achievers and in their minds have little other value. I surmise that the authors would not be in their families good graces if they were not a surgeon and attorney, as my students are not in their families good graces for missing two points on a math test. I am want to run across a child in this district that doesn't have a 12-hour work day and very little joy. The sad thing is, that while they gain knowledge and skill in their many hours of study, their childhood is ticking away and we are raising generation after generation of whip-cracking adults that derive their sense of self! from their work and their status. We need to learn how to think for ourselves, to understand that achievement and identity are not the same things and are different for each individual, to stop glorifying all the little letters after a person's name instead of the person. Name not provided due to confidentiality issues."
04/18/2007:
"My son's 6th grade Math teacher sent home a homework assignment (for parents). We were asked to read and respond to this article. I'd actually already read it earlier in the day (I receive your e-mails) and was pleased to see that my son's teacher had read it and also that he had exposed it to all of the other parents. I agree with the article's statements about why Asian students are typically more academically advanced than their Western counterparts, but I believe that we, as Americans understand that there is more to a 'successful' life than graduating at the top of your class or making lots of money. We want well- rounded, happy children who not only perform well in school, but who will also grow up to be productive members of society. "
04/18/2007:
"I liked the information regarding top of the class. I am an African-American mother of two primary aged children. We are very involed in music, athletics and of academics. We are also very active in our church. Where does one's spirituality fit in to all of this. I am a true believer that home sets the tone for expectatations regarding belief, academics and just plain life. But I also believe cultural norms and the importance of education per culture has a lot to do with one's ablitly to achieve academically. What do you think?"
04/18/2007:
"Reading some of the responses has gotten me a bit confused. What does the virginia shooting have anything to do with this article? Nothing. These authors are only trying to bring some knowledge to some people about the upbringing of 'some' Asians. Not all Asian parents raise their children that way. I do find this method to be very helpful although I don't think I'd practice 100% of it. One person wrote 'With all your praises to the Asian children upbringing, how exectly can you explain what happened at the Virginia Tech 4/16?'. That to me is ignorance. Not 'all' white people raise their children the same nor do the hispanics. Not all children keep the mindset of that kind of upbringing....it also has to do with their peers and lifestyle. Please people...stop being so ignorant!!!!!!!!!!"
04/18/2007:
"The responses mentioning Virginia Tech are appalling. That response is absolutely RACIST on its face. How quickly the mask of civility comes off. The women who wrote this column, whether you agree with them or not, can not answer for that one individual in Virginia. My husband happens to be third generation Asian American and he shuddered when he found out the gunman was Asian. Why? Because now, every discussion will be tainted with this kind of bigotry."
04/18/2007:
"I don't like the fact that just because the VT shooter was of Asian decent that suddenly the upbringing of all asians americans is in question. Didn't we get enough of that with the attacts on the twin towers and all the hate towards islamic. My issue is if anything goes on with a ethnic group we as Americans should focus on the issue at hand and not the color of the hand. I enjoyed this artical very much and am proud that my mother has done such a good job with my children, ps I am a Native American . "
04/18/2007:
"I think this is a fantastic article. My wife is from the Philippines and I am American. We have instilled a strong sense of education in our children. Our 5 year old is already at a 2nd grade reading level. I strongly agree that parents need to take responsiblity for their childrens education, and not rely soley on teachers to provide knowledge. I wanted to comment on people saying that what happened at VT is somehow indicative or a result of an Asian upbringing. This young man clearly had alot of personal issues and had NO support from his family, why else would he have lashed out so violently at society. If anything, it is completely contrary to what is stress in an Asian family."
04/18/2007:
"Dear Dr. Abboud and Ms. Kim: I am a sixth generation Chinese American women and I can attest to the principles in the above article. This system has worked well for our family for many generations. My seventh generation (half Chinese) children are much more disciplined and academically driven than their public school classmates but less so than their first generation Chinese language school classmates. I am constantly asked by the other immigrant parents to write a guide for immigrant parents... how to assimilate yet retain our cultural heritage. I believe the family environment is the key to the success of Asian students. Sincerely, Nancy Locke"
04/18/2007:
"I was surprised that Great Schools even published an article like this. I feel the article would of come across better if it was about raising high achievers period- and leaving the ethnic relationship out. There is always a give a take to all situations. As much as the statistics mentioned sound impressing this ethnic group also has a high suicide rate. What should also be considered is that you are talking about a cultural thing. Not all cultures are the same and to tell others that they should be like a certain culture is likely not to be accepted. "
04/18/2007:
"I am stunned and appalled to see the posts that state that the tragedy of Virginia Tech was brought on by 'These teachings'...that somehow 'asian upbringing' can lead to this kind of massacre. How can you possibly bring race into this horrifying event? I will refrain from mentioning other school shootings in the past that had nothing to do with race and perhaps everything to do with the society that we all live in. This gunman was mentally ill and extremely disturbed, and in my humble opinion,not due to his parents raising him in an 'asian' way. The authors of this book wrote this book to enlighten and help parents to see a different parenting method that may help the child gain higher academic achievement, that's where the focus is. Developing compassion for others is something that the children will learn from us parents, hopefully by example first and foremost then by gentle reminder. We would all live in more peace if we felt and showed more campassion...even for those that are not so lovable."
04/18/2007:
"I appreciate being able to read this article and learn about other styles of parenting and teaching. No method will work for every child or family. I think it is ridiculous to blame the Virginia Tech crisis on the parenting skills of Asian parents because many strive to excellence for their children. Clearly the shooter had other issues."
04/18/2007:
"Your response to athletics is true in that it promotes leadership and competition. However at the high school level participating in athletics is an every day event. Kids may practice 5 days a week with weekend participation in the sporting event or have games and practice during the week which don't allow them to come home for the evening until after 10:00 p.m. I have 2 sons that both are involved in h.s. sports and it sounds more time consuming than you would suggest. They are both A students but there are very few Asian students participating in sporting events at our school and there are many Asian students. Seems really unfair to them that their whole lives are so focused on academics with little regard to anything else."
04/18/2007:
"The authors might be interested to know that I only watch about 15 minutes of TV per WEEK as an adult, and I had few restrictions on TV as a child. I think taking the time to talk to your children, and knowing their schools, teachers, friends and interests is more important than giving them additional academic work after school hours. They need to develop the ability to manage their workload and time, because parents won't always be there to push them."
04/18/2007:
"I purchased and received the book last week, and have found it very insightful and refreshing. As an African American, I can say that the so called 'practices' of Asian immigrants is pretty much exactly how many African Americans used to raise their children. (we still do) People who are underserved, impoverished, or just underdogs have to do their best to instill a sense of determination in their children. Our children are our legacy. They are the greatest creation we can leave behind. I, with the help of my husband and extended family do the best we can to instill a sense of drive, pride (in what they accomplish), honor, and respect in our children. Being the best at what career is satisfying to them is what we nurture and ultimately expect from them. In closing, I have to say that it is so sad that people want and actually expect a response about the VT incident from these smart sisters. So let me give you one from a fellow Americans' point of view! We did not question th! e 'white or caucasian' heritage when Columbine occured, or the Jonesboro incident. Those were kids who had problems; who ultimately chose wrong. Let us not perpetuate the kind of sick mindedness or hate that caused the above incidents in the first place. If anything resounded in my mind more than anything I read from this book, it was having RESPECT. Raising children to be successful leaners is the topic. Let's stay focused and respectful people!"
04/17/2007:
"While I agree that some of the practices mentioned are helpful, I think that sometimes total dedication to achievement can be destructive and can burn out a child. Having attended a top school myself (as well as others in my family), I have seen some peers pushed to excel only to eventually self-destruct. Pressure to become a top doctor or lawyer when what a child may really want is to become, say, a horticulturalist, can cause kids to end up not only in fields they may not enjoy, but also may not be suited for. And for what? I hope that people realize that the statistics that flaunt Asian success are somewhat misleading in many ways. Remember that every kid is different and that different things will work for different kids at different times in their lives. And becoming overly successful in life does not make you any better than the next person."
04/17/2007:
"As a Korean-American who was raised to put education above all else, I recognize what was lacking. Achievement, in and of itself is meaningless without a clear sense of purpose and the ability to think and reason out the best choices for myself. I am thankful to my parents for instilling a desire for excellence in me, but the performance based parenting style was difficult for me to process as love. I agree self-esteem is not the answer; but a child needs to be taught that all of our gifts and abilities will someday be used to help others, better our world and improve our relationships, not just to gain prosperity and acclaim. Good self-esteem is a by-product of learning that I have something to give and that I don't lose out by giving...I am gifted in order to give. In the process, I will gain self-esteem, confidence and a prevailing sense of purpose that transcends any need for approval or affirmation."
04/17/2007:
"A very good article. I also would like to read more point of view from the authors on the VT's crisis. Thank you"
04/17/2007:
"These are wonderful answers to questions we all have at one time or another about our child's progress and success in learning. Thank you. I intend to work more closely with my grandson and will track the results. Thank you."
04/17/2007:
"Awesome article and answer session! The first and last time my family immigrated was over 100 years ago,and I personally did not have the scholastic structure that I should have had. However this article made me aware that I am raising my boys as 'top of the class' kids and feel great about it!"
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