Feb. 4, 2014 at 10:42 AM ET
Amy Chua, who (literally) wrote the book on strict parenting with "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" in 2011, and her husband Jed Rubenfeld are back with a controversial new book about what makes people successful. After discussing their new book, "The Triple Package," on TODAY, they agreed to answer a few questions that you, our readers, submitted on our Facebook page.
Shannon Wanlin: When will her children be taught decision making on their own? What about their happiness? Not everyone measures success by monetary measures, but by being happy with the life THEY choose.
Amy Chua & Jed Rubenfeld: Dear Shannon, you might be surprised to hear it, but we totally agree with you. Teaching children to make their own decisions — hopefully good decisions — is crucial, and one of the things we're most proud of about our own daughters is how strong-minded and independent they are. And we don't measure true success monetarily! To us, success means achieving your goals, whatever they are, whether you want to be a singer, an artist, a doctor, or whatever. Our older daughter, Sophia, has decided to join the Army after her education and has been getting up at 5 in the morning to do ROTC drills for the last 3 years. That was totally her decision. We were stunned when she first told us, but now we couldn't be prouder that she wants to serve our country.
Alice Faye: What are a few ways I can make sure my son is educationally successful? He is in first grade and should be able to read chapter books but he is still struggling with beginner books. We read every day and do writing work. His educational success is so important; I want to set him up to have options, what do I do?
Amy Chua: Hi Alice. First, it sounds like you're an amazing mother, doing a wonderful job. Second, I'm not a child psychologist but I do know from personal experience that kids develop at totally different rates. For example, one of Jed's best friends — now the head of Genetic Psychiatry at Harvard — didn't speak until he was 5, causing panic! Needless to say, things worked out great. I would just say don't put too much pressure on your son, listen carefully to what he is telling you, and try to keep things fun. Too much stress can be counterproductive, as I learned the hard way. (You might also focus on whether the books he has are interesting to him; maybe there are other books that would be more up his alley.) Most important — and I am sure you are already doing this — always convey unconditional love, and take the time to explain to him why you make the efforts you do. Good luck, and I'm confident everything will work out great!!
Christine Royce: I've read your "Battle Hymn..." book as well as several books related to self-esteem and the resultant impact on students (i.e. "NurtureShock"). In your opinion do you think the past few decades' push on constantly "building self esteem" in children helps or hurts students/children?
Jed Rubenfeld: Hi Christine. Amy and I are critical of many aspects of the the self-esteem movement. According to psychologist Carol Dweck, in the last couple of decades parents and teachers in America "decided that self-esteem was the most important thing in the world — that if a child had self-esteem, everything else would follow." Unfortunately, the facts have proved otherwise.
It's now well established that increasing self-esteem does not improve academic performance. Asian-American students have the lowest self-esteem of any U.S. racial group, yet get the best grades. In a controlled experiment, students who received self-esteem-boosting messages did worse than other students. In another study, telling students how intelligent they were lowered their scores on standardized test questions — and apparently made them lie when asked how many questions they'd gotten right! Meanwhile, psychologists report that kids raised on a high-self-esteem diet often suffer depression and anxiety as adults, along with higher rates of narcissism.
Amy and I believe that the core problem with the self-esteem movement is that it severed self-esteem from esteem-worthy conduct. People are told to feel good about themselves no matter what they have or haven't done; kids are praised lavishly even when they haven't put their best effort into what they did. True self-esteem has to be earned. You can read much more about this in our book. Thanks for your question!