What do American parents in general get right about parenting?
Expression. One major thing post-Baby-Boomer American parents get right is that they allow children to express themselves.
We talk about expression in terms of freedom of expression (much like freedom of speech). In many ways, we’ve taken for granted how valuable it is. This very freedom of self-expression underlies all the ways that people of my generation and subsequent generations in America are changing society and the way we live—in essence, changing the world.
Children who are allowed to express themselves have the opportunity to tinker in what appear to be useless or less useful activities, like spending too much time building computers or writing software instead of focusing on schoolwork. Their parents allow them to pursue this type of self-expression instead of forcing them to spend more time in school.
But a good Tiger Parent, a label which refers to strict Asian-American and Asian parents, would make sure that they are tied to the hip of their child (who obviously needs reining in). A Tiger Parent constantly hovers and manipulates their child’s time and energy so that they can never engage in frivolous activities.
Microsoft, Apple, Paypal, Facebook—these have been the fruits of a particular kind of self-expression that doesn’t make for good institutional learners (students). To a Tiger Parent, these ventures appear very much a waste of time.
Yet I cannot blame the mentality of Tiger Parents when I consider the origins of this parenting style. Parents who practice excessive control and place restrictions on self-expression often come from cultures where expressing yourself can get you arrested, tortured, and/or disappeared (killed). Sure, Tiger Parents look neurotic, obsessive, and even crazy here in the West, but move them to the continent where this mentality came from and they look quite sane.
It is no coincidence that today’s Chinese social media is full of double entendres and the usage homophone-equivalents between numbers and words; the safest way to express yourself in some cultures is to shroud it in riddles and codes, knowing that speaking what you truly think can invite harm to yourself and your family.
But here in America, parents do not have the same degree of concerns about allowing their children to express themselves. Here, parents can encourage their children to be pioneers and risk-takers. They can serve as role models of specific causes and actively advance specific movements. American parents can encourage and support their children in coming out of the closet, while parents in other countries may need to forcefully deny or suppress these feelings or desires of their children to keep them alive in that society.
American parents in general do a good job of being parents in America, similar to the way parents in other countries generally do a good job of being parents in their countries. The kind of parenting we practice is mostly indicative of the society we live in. The fact that, here in America, we get to debate the many approaches to parenting shows how permissive our society is.
The longer I am a parent, the less I subscribe to the whole idea of getting it right, because I recognize how contextual and cultural parenting truly is. Maybe I am making excuses for all the mistakes I have made and the countless mistakes I have yet to make (but probably I will) as a parent in America. But hey, it is what it is.
This post originally appeared on Quora via the Fatherly Forum.