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:


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?


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.


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


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!


Being a first-generation Chinese American and a father of 2 boys, 5 and 6, this article resonates both with my experience growing up as a child and my philosophy as a parent. I do believe that as an immigrant child, regardless of ethnicity, one of the primary objectives towards successful assimilation was scholastic achievement. This is true of my newly immigrated friends and colleagues from Eastern Europe and the Middle East, as well as Asia. But as we become more “Westernized,” the urgency to succeed both academically and economically seem to diminish. Will the next generations be able to follow the same practices as the immigrant generation?


We certainly hope so, but the more realistic answer is that only time will tell.

As first-generation Asian Americans, we experienced first-hand the principles and study habits that were instilled in us from our immigrant parents. When we were in younger, our parents limited us to one hour of television during the school week. Today as adults, it is a rare occasion when we watch only one hour of TV per week!

We recognize that it will be more difficult for us to instill the principles set forth in Top of the Class to our children, but we believe that these principles and methods should be nurtured in successive generations to instill a love of learning in children as well as maximize their academic success.

Dr. Soo Kim Abboud is a surgeon and clinical assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

Jane Kim is an attorney and immigration specialist at the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania. To learn more about the authors, purchase a copy of Top of the Class: How Asian Parents Raise High Achievers — and How You Can Too, or schedule a speaking engagement or seminar, please visit www.topoftheclassonline.com or email them at info@topoftheclassonline.com.