Spare the rod, spoil the child?

Emma Fahy Davis
Practical Parenting

Given China’s ‘one child’ policy, it’s hardly surprising that most Chinese parents pour all of their energy into ensuring the success of their offspring, and according to a new book, the key lies in controlling their child’s every move.

'As kids, they have no judgement about what’s right and wrong, so I teach them,' Xiao Baiyou says in his bestselling book ‘That’s why they go to Peking University’.

Controversially, Xiao even says he is not afraid to beat his children if they fail to meet his high standards, justifying his use of corporal punishment by suggesting that it teaches them to remember what is right and what is wrong.

'You need to adopt a very scientific way, which means you need to know when, how and where to beat the kids,' he says. 'In my family, there are clear home rules and punishment measures, and the kids need to know what is right and what is wrong, and which part they did wrong.'

Xiao claims to spend 90 % of his time and energy on parenting, and rules his household even when he is not there. When he is away on business, his children must call him to ask for permission to watch television or drink a can of Coke.

Other methods Xiao uses to ensure compliance from his children include forcing them to learn and recite Chinese classics, and controlling nearly every aspect of their lives - from cartoons, snacks, and pocket money to extracurricular activities and friendships.

But Xiao does not take credit for developing the 'wolf dad' technique; instead, he says he inherited it from his mother, who often beat him as a child. He credits these beatings with helping him to become a successful businessman, and he says the technique is also the reason his three oldest children have all been accepted to the prestigious Peking University. He expects his youngest child will attend the Central Conservatory of Music when she graduates from high school.

And he is certainly not alone in his strict approach to parenting. In her recent book ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’, Chinese-American mother Amy Chua details her children’s upbringing, describing how following a strict, Chinese-inspired approach to discipline set her children up for successful lives. Her book received a mixed reception in America, where many considered her methods ‘extreme’.

But even in China, where the ‘wolf dad’/’tiger mother’ approach is more closely aligned with traditional cultural practices, it is not without its critics. Many say that using higher education as a measure of success is not a true representation, arguing that for some students, vocational schools and blue-collar jobs offer a greater opportunity for happiness than being forced to attend a prestigious university and struggling to keep up.

Li Xinghua, a student at Luxun Middle School in Beijing, says he would never want a wolf dad.

'I would rather go to a second-rate college in exchange for tolerant parents. There is no universal standard for success,' he says. 'Steve Jobs dropped out of college, but he changed the world.'

In fact, Xiao’s own son at one stage rebelled against his father’s strict rules, planning to run away after his father forbid him from growing plants after he didn’t score highly enough on a test. But he changed his mind, and is now one of his father’s greatest advocates.

'The atmosphere in our family is very good. We are very united and help each other in study and in life,' he says.

Amy Chua’s daughter Sophia agrees. In January 2011, she thanked her mother in an open letter published in the New York Post, saying, 'If I died tomorrow, I would die feeling I’ve lived my whole life at 110 per cent. And for that, Tiger Mom, thank you.'

What do you think? Is the 'wolf dad' approach too harsh, or do our kids need stronger discipline? Share your thoughts with other parents on the PP Forums.

Related links