What’s wrong with sleepovers, exactly?

Picture of little girl in a pink dress playing a fiddleI saw an article by Amy Chua, the Chinese-American academic, in which she proclaims herself a “tiger mother” and tells the world that Chinese mothers (or maybe she means mothers from a particular group of immigrant Chinese Americans, I’m not sure) are superior to others. She admits that not all “Chinese mothers” are actually Chinese at all — some are actually Korean, Indian, Jamaican, Irish or Ghanaian — so it’s more of a style of parenting than the way a particular ethnicity raises its kids. It refers to a particularly strict, hothousing style of parenting in which kids are not allowed “frivolous” things such as sleepovers, computer games, TV, “playdates” or school plays, and have to master a musical instrument, specifically either the piano or the violin. And they have to get straight A’s, all the time. Note: an A- is a failure.

The article (extracted from Chua’s book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”) was published in the Wall Street Journal, and an interview with her was published in yesterday’s Guardian, in the Family supplement. It actually reveals that one of her daughters actually rebelled (in public), leading to Chua back-pedalling on some aspects of her parenting methods.

The article made me smell a rat from the beginning, actually. Where are all these Chinese math whizzes and musical prodigies? I’m sure they exist, but they exist in other ethnicities as well. It’s no secret that the Chinese minority in this country has among the best academic results, but the idea that they always get A’s is ridiculous. After all, if it was that easy to get an A, then not every A would be an A. And there is the small fact that there are plenty of Chinese in Europe doing menial jobs, or running restaurants (OK, it’s a skill, but you don’t need to be an academic to run or work in a restaurant). Go to any Chinatown and you won’t find lots of Chinese playing violin concertos, you’ll see them selling food. And if you value playing a musical instrument, why must it be the piano or violin, rather than the cello or the oboe? You can’t have an orchestra only composed of pianists and violinists.

Other writers in the WSJ (including parents and children who were brought up by Chinese immigrant parents) have pulled apart Chua’s arguments better than I can. Hanna Rosin, in an article on WSJ titled Mother Inferior, counters that although people hothoused to master an instrument may achieve technical mastery, that doesn’t mean they will learn to enjoy listening to music — even the Chua women, she says, “rarely express pure love of music; instead they express joy at having mastered it”; one friend who had been raised similarly to the Chua daughters (albeit by German parents) came to hate classical music and has not picked up a violin in a decade. Another mother notes that her dyslexic daughter put herself a punishing programme so as to learn to read, against her parents’ advice, so Chua’s thesis that nothing is fun until you can do it, and kids will not learn on their own initiative but only because of parental bullying, is shown to be groundless.

Then there are the other issues, such as what exactly is wrong with kids staying the night with a friend, or having one over to play? I didn’t have sleepovers, as far as I can remember, as a kid (I hated staying at other people’s houses, even my aunt’s) but my sister did, and it didn’t do her (or her friends) any harm. There can be some embarrassments such as if they wet the bed, but as long as it doesn’t stop them doing things they actually need to do (it’s actually possible to make friends with your kids’ parents, you know, such that you can arrange that they will do their homework there), I fail to see why it’s something to be avoided altogether. Kids have to have fun, rather than spending every waking moment learning to do something they will never particularly enjoy.

(Image source)

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  • joanne

    In regards to the sleepovers, although I am far from draconian I wouldn’t permit my children to attend sleep overs. My daughters, over the past year, have made the acquaintance of many a Muslim child who, on first impression, comes across as genuinely sweet,kindly and responsible but with at least three out of the four friends they’ve been close to, the friends have revealed themselves as lying, manipulative, domineering and materialistic bullies who attempted to turn me against my daughters and used them as scapegoats for their own misdemeanours.

    None of these girls come across as rough, chavvy and would probably fit quite neatly into the teacher’s pet category.

    I don’t think the aforementioned girls were a reflection of their parents who fall into the very respectable category but more a product of uncontrolled access to the media.

  • George Carty

    Chua was also mentioned in a column in the Sun, but she was not named explicitly and described as “Chinese” when in fact she’s “Chinese-American” — the implication was kind of “we need to be just as ruthless in our parenting in order to compete with China”.

    How likely do you think it is that democracy will be threatened because of people envying China’s ability to Get Things Done, without worrying about NIMBYs or other protesters? Will some people be saying “Why can’t we run this country like China, then we could have 10% growth per year as well…”

  • Of course, people forget that China is a developing country, and is growing from a base of enforced underdevelopment under the Mao regime. Of course they are going to be growing faster than us, much as a 13-year-old girl will grow faster than a 20-year-old woman, because the latter is already grown.

    China is also being allowed to grow at the expense of our economy because western corporations decided they no longer cared to employ their own people at wages they would expect, rather, they want to employ people at tiny wages in a country where there is a police state and workers cannot organise, and pocket the difference, and our governments have simply allowed this to happen. (Some things, like computers, have come down drastically in price as a result of this, while others — like clothing, which is often made cheaply in the Far East even if it’s expensive — haven’t.)

  • George Carty

    How would you counter the argument that some people make, claiming that trade protectionism is immoral and racist?

  • It’s nothing to do with racism. It’s to do with the fact that workers are being undercut for demanding living wages. Open markets only work when it’s between two countries with economies of roughly the same strength, which is why workers from eastern Europe were not allowed to work anywhere in Europe after the accession in 2004.

    It is not only European workers that lose out when jobs move to China; those in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and anywhere that has decent wages and union rights do as well. It is all about maximising profits and weakening unions at the expense of lost jobs in Europe and the old Asian economies, and dangerous, underpaid jobs in dictatorial “red” (actually not at all socialist) China.

  • M Risbrook

    Why is it only Nationalists who call for protectionism and the restoration of trade barriers? Is common sense that rare?

  • George Carty

    Perhaps because protectionism is a policy which can only be justified in terms of patriotism (not the same as nationalism, but which has also fallen into disrepute in post-WWII Europe).

  • M Risbrook

    Not quite. The long term objective of the political ‘left’ is a single world government and the abolition of nation states. Now tell me, where do you put the trade barriers?

  • George Carty

    One reason I brought up here the stereotype of “Chinese are selfless industrious angels, Westerners are lazy good-for-nothings” is because of some of the posts on Dunner’s blog with this sort of message (here and here).

  • joanne

    On the subject of sleepovers (horrible American term), I think they should be avoided as, especially in the case of girls,they are likely to be exposed to older brothers in a fairly relaxed and famlar setting. We know that most rapes/sexual assaults are perpetarted by those familair to the victim so a sleep over situation is one where the chances of such an occurence are increased. Muslim females are not supposed to remove their clothes anywhere but in their own homes (to guard against the above as well as more contempoarrary threats such as peeping toms who’ve rigged up cameras in school swimming pools). Lastly, a child could, in such a situation, be exposed to corrupting influences and ideas that they feel uncomfortable discussing with their own parents and thus end up accepting as normal.

  • My parents, Nigerian immigrants never let us kids sleep over at any of our friends’ houses - they may have felt some sense of protection but I think primarily it was seen as a source of shame. Whenever we asked, we’d be told, “you already have home” so there’s no reason you’d need to sleep anywhere else unless things at home were not sufficient.

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  • Umm Layth

    as salamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu

    My parents never allowed us to have sleepovers (they are not Muslim - May Allah guide them to this beautiful way of life, Ameen). I only allowed them with one friend whom I trusted with my life who now moved masha’Allah as well as with grandpa and grandma. I don’t even like allowing them with grandparents as we are stricter in our parenting and even grandparents don’t agree (we don’t like them watching television or on the computer freely) and are a lot less vigilant. It is hard but the wisdom is obvious. I believe it is important to keep the children by our sides as much as possible, especially when we are raising them before they become young adults so that we remain their main influence (hopefully a good and strong one inshaAllah).

    • Umm Layth