Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Parents Sue School over Son's Cheating

I read a recent article in the San Mateo County Times: Helicopter parent sues school over son's punishment for cheating. The father, Jack Berghouse, a family law attorney, believed the school district was wrong for kicking his teen out of an English honors class for copying someone else's homework. He argued that the school had conflicting policies and that the penalty of being kicked out of a class was too harsh and detrimental to his hopes of getting into an Ivy League School.

Once the story came out on the internet and beyond, Mr. Berghouse receive hate calls at his office and the story received nationwide attention. He had clearly hit a nerve. Beside the irony that the lawsuit's popularity in the press probably put his son on the "questionable character" list on Ivy League admissions, Berghouse did his son no favor by not allowing him to take the consequence and learn from his mistake.

I think people are becoming aware that one result of helicopter parenting is the creation of a sue-happy society: an accepted model of lashing out when things don't work out the way we had hoped. Everyone seems to want something for nothing, and this is why our children have become so entitled.

Berghouse did not dispute that his son had cheated, but his lawsuit against the school was clearly an attempt to patch up his son's wrongdoing. So when our teens are spewing out demands, and snapping at us- telling us we need to buy them a smartphone because, "everyone else has one," we need to take one big look at ourselves. One great big look.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Three-Part College Admissions Formula

The Three-part College Admissions Formula

Did you hear Gunn had four go to Stanford this year? Did you hear York had two?

Can you hear the buzz?

High school juniors are listening to the seniors gossip about the girl with the 4.0 who got into Harvard when the guy with a 4.8 didn’t get into Harvard. It’s the talk of early Spring.

Everyone is trying to figure out the formula.

When students with 4.0 G.P.As and perfect S.A.T. and A.C.T. scores receive denial letters from selective colleges, students and willing parents are anxious to know exactly what universities expect from the incoming freshman class. What is the protocol? What are the steps?

Instead of urging your student to join a dozen clubs and to play on several sports teams, I challenge you to have your student make their mark by completing a project.

The independent project is not just something that will separate your child from other college applicants. The success it generates greatly enhances the young person’s chance of success in LIFE.

The Three-part Road Map

When I start with ninth, tenth and 11th-grade clients, I give them the formula proven to work the best. It is a three-part road map to getting into their target college. I have helped my clients go on to Stanford University, UC Berkeley, UCLA and Claremont McKenna and have handled graduate admissions for 35+ years. From this experience, I conclude that your child needs to master three things to stand out in college applications:

  1. G.P.A.
  2. S.A.T.& A.C.T.
  3. The Project

Our kids are so bright, yet not all are motivated. It is my job to find out just what makes them tick. What is their passion in life? What will drive them to get out there and improve this rich and vibrant world? Of course grades and test scores get their college application looked at, but it is the project that sets them apart and secures their admission into college.

What is the Project?

The high school project for a college-bound student is the creation of an original event, organization, business, publication, production/film, or experiment. It stems from something the student is curious about or engaged in. The work includes planning tasks, setting up a budget, finding a mentor, making sponsor kits and press kits, and things like applying for non-profit status, applying for grants, setting up a website and organizing an event. The project is designed for the young person to plan and execute independently, to gain leadership and life management skills, and to foster self-confidence and self-worth, thus quite naturally, creating young citizens and caring community members with a real place in this world.

It is important for my clients, who begin their work as early as eighth grade, to select a project that they are interested in- because they will be intimately involved with the project for years- at least until high school graduation.

So far we have had a colorful array of world-changing projects come out of the Merit program. Here are some of the projects that improved my high school clients’ chance of getting into college.

Created “Loves and Heat Music Festival”:

Engineered the Progressive Brake Light System:

Wrote the book, “Who’s Controlling Your Candidate?”

Organized and created Harry’s Tru School Hip Hop Concert Tour:

Built a hydrogen fuel cell

Started a nonprofit: Kids for Hydrogen

Wrote, advocated, and accomplished the passing of a new California law for pharmaceutical drug disposal

Created public education website on the uselessness of anti-bacterial soap based on her own research

Founded Give it up for Teens (GIFT), a fund-raising effort for teen domestic violence survivors

Created, an anti-Iraq war website with peace petition and digital art piece for image distribution made up of the faces of 4,300 soldiers killed in the Iraq war

A Note From a Parent…

“It is really incredible, Susan, not only did the project get him into the college of his choice, but he is meeting so many amazing people. He tells them his dream and when he adds that he has already manifested some part of it, they immediately take him seriously, want to know him, meet with him. He is loving UCLA and the WAC program. Thank you for your vision and your passion.”
-- Marian

I Have a Dream
As a private
college advisor, I encourage my clients to select projects that position them to be competitive in the admissions game. Projects win scholarship dollars and at the same time, fix problems that our government does not, in this economy, have the resources to tackle. Even though my high school clients work on projects in hope that they will improve their chances of getting into the top colleges, they inevitably realize that their projects make them better people.

Imagine if every college-bound student completed a project? One project at a time, I believe these two million students entering our high schools can solve our energy, housing, health care and civil rights problems.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Time for Part II for Amy Chua: Slumber Parties and a Saxophone

I just read a thoughtful new interview that a Star Tribune reporter conducted, "Tiger Mom Has Few Regrets,"in response to Amy Chua's "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" paperback release and book tour this February. The headline was a little misleading, because the article covers some of Chua's big-time regrets. At the end of her book she said the ultimate question was:"What does it mean to live life to the fullest?"

And when one is asking that kind of question, isn't it a reflection on that word we tend to use, "Oops!" Now she thinks she should have given her kids more choice.

Chua still stands by the decision to write an honest but rebellious memoir, without toning it down. She wishes people understood her intention to make the book funny, and she wonders why she received the flood of angry e-mails, like the one that said, "I hope both your daughters commit suicide."

Her rebuttal: You need to actually read the book before you decide, then come to the table.

I am one of the people of the thirty countries where the book sold, who actually read the whole book. In fact, I wrote, Our Entitled Children, An American Tiger Mom's Story in response to her book. So I'm coming to the table wondering why, in her interview in the Star Tribune, she said she is changing her parenting stance. More details please. This could be really helpful material for those of us who constantly evaluate the process of parenting.

"I really did change in many ways cold turkey-" Chua was quoted. "I'm still a parent with very high expectations school-wise. But, you know, Lulu (her 16-year-old) is a very social girl, so we've had a party at our house every weekend. She had a big sleepover for her 16th. She's a great student. She went back to violin, but the rule is: I cannot interfere. Ever. Period."

Quite frankly, now I'm confused. It sounds like Chua is still in the process of finding her philosophy. She is talking from both sides of her mouth. "Why didn't I say, try the saxophone?" Chua admits at the end of the interview.

I'm sure I am not alone when I say, Amy Chua, we are ready for Part II. You need to write another book. You admit you gave your kids too few choices. Now let's hear what you have to say about finding that wonderful place called Balance. Have you found it yet?

In my experience raising two daughters, I put myself in constant check. I also found it imperative to check my ego at the door. I learned through experience that, as a parent, you must help your children find thier place in the world. You find out who they are as humans- their hopes, interests and talents. Next, your place as a parent is to hold them to their commitments so they can learn to honor themselves and others in the community.

If Chua had her daughters work on a project (and kept her hands out of it) her daughter may not have fought so hard- ripped up sheet music and said things like, "You're selfish, you're insane, you're wrecking our lives." If Chua could have looked closely at her daughter and recognized her daughter's need to be social, she could have had her daughter work on a project that incorporated her social gifts, like fundraising and recruiting others for a good cause. Her daughter would be even more desirable for colleges if she had a project under her belt, and her self-identity would not be sacrificed in the process.

In my experience as a college advisor I have seen the worst in regards to extreme parenting. On one side of the spectrum we have the Helicopter Moms, who write their kid's papers and cushion their kids from any type of failure. Then we have the Tiger Mothers like Chua, who are on the opposite side of the spectrum, who force their kids to conform to the educational system's highest standards, with no goofing off. I choose the middle ground.

Parents are drawn Chua's book because they need to examine the extremes so they may define their own parenting style. I ask parents which style (Helicopter vs Tiger Mom) they lean toward with one objective in mind: I want them to think about it. They have more influence then they think. There is a fine balance between forcing your children to do something, and guiding them along on their personal journey. My students and my daughters are taking a well-supported, tried and true course in life. I wouldn't call American Tiger Mom style a parent philosophy. It is a tried and true technique.

It would be helpful for us to read how Chua is learning to balance. Our interest is at its peak. Now how about another book about her daughter's new world that includes slumber parties? I would like to read a Part II, and like her editor said, no need to sterilize it. Give us another honest memoir about how you have changed. There is no doubt it will be helpful.

Monday, November 7, 2011

How to be an American Tiger Mom

Only extremely gifted children are capable of thriving regardless of their circumstances. For the rest of us, raising children to realize their full potential requires 18 years of proactive, creative, and dedicated parenting. My daughters were no exception. My husband and I are normal people of average intelligence, so Nicole and Jaclyn certainly didn’t get any super genes from us. How, then, did they get accepted to the most selective colleges in the country? Personal drive and tenacity.

Instilling these values within my girls has been my life’s work, and it wasn’t always easy. Because we were raising them in sunny, laid-back Santa Cruz, where terms like "First Place" are frowned upon, I found it especially difficult to ensure that they received a strong academic foundation. But I wanted to give my daughters the best. Despite the dispiriting state of education here in America, I’m not the type to sit back and blame others for our system’s lousy outcomes, nor was I about to let my daughters become just another statistic.

When Nicole was two, I decided to start a preschool program for her, which got a lot of raised eyebrows from other moms. At a time when other children were only encouraged to play, with the understanding that learning to read was something that would happen once they got to kindergarten, I found that both Nicole and Jaclyn enjoyed playing educational games that taught reading, math, and science readiness skills at an early age. They adored their preschool program, and the joy that they got from mastering these early challenges stoked the love of learning that all children are born with. Encouraged by these successes, I invited other children to join the program so they could play together and learn to socialize.

Eventually, Nicole started kindergarten at a private school, where she enjoyed the social interaction but was bored with the academics. One day, she asked why she learned more at home than she did in school. Realizing that I had no good answer for her, I decided then to start my own private school – Merit Academy – for my daughters. Once again, they thrived in the small classes of 3 to 6 students. As the director of the school, I was able to tweak the curriculum to meet their exact needs. They studied grammar, history, literature, and math at an accelerated rate, and were writing research papers by third grade. Once they’d reached high school, I reduced the class size to just one student so they would be able to engage with their teachers without the limitations of peer pressure.

My daughters and their classmates got an incredibly rich education at Merit, which not only consisted of individually tailored lectures, comprehensive research papers, and opportunities to acquire in-depth knowledge, but also included frequent field trips all over the world for them and their teachers. Most importantly, I designed their curriculum so that by the time they turned 18, they would have the academic, social, business, and professional skills to become anything they wanted. The girls helped me design the classes, and each trimester, they would select their own courses and teachers. While all of this may sound extravagant, it didn't cost me a penny because the costs of running the school were covered by the other students' tuition.

The girls were already flourishing at this point, but as Merit Academy’s college advisor, I encouraged each student to further demonstrate their creativity, initiative, and tenacity by doing an original, independent project. Nicole's first project was building a hydrogen fuel cell, and Jaclyn's was starting a videography business. Developing these projects on their own was the ultimate step to the girls’ empowerment. They had to learn how to overcome real-world obstacles, communicate with adults, and manage their time by balancing their multiple dance classes with their academic load.

Each success only further bolstered their confidence. By the time they’d started to apply to colleges, they both had four-page resumes that included the businesses and non-profits they’d started, the articles and books they’d published, and the research they’d conducted. Not only did they breeze through their college interviews with all of the interesting stories they had to share, they also received 80% of the scholarships they applied for. Nicole is currently in her third year at Stanford Medical School and Jaclyn has accepted a job offer as a newly-minted graduate of Claremont McKenna College.

While I certainly did my best to give my daughters everything (within reason), I’m no Helicopter Mom; I neither tried to protect them from failure nor did any of their work for them. Likewise, I might seem like a Tiger Mom on the surface, given how actively and fiercely I was involved with their education, but that label doesn’t fit either. My girls had the freedom to choose their own classes, interests, and social activities, and they always knew that they had my unconditional love and support. I was neither an enabler nor a martinet. Rather, I believe I found the happy medium between these two extremes, a place from which I could be a guide to my children and provide them with the opportunities they needed to become accomplished, intelligent, responsible young adults. I am an American Tiger Mom.

Friday, November 4, 2011

I was interviewed recently by Christine McFadden at, about my thoughts on Tiger Parenting. The article took looked at the scrutinized parenting style from a new perspective: from that of the Tiger Cubs.

In response to Christine’s questions, I helped her differentiate between Tiger Moms, American Tiger Moms, and Helicopter Moms. While each of these parents sincerely has their child’s best interest in mind, I was quick to point out that often parents’ actions do more harm than good. We hear these terms thrown around, yet surprisingly many people don’t actually know what they mean. So, what is the difference between a Tiger Mom and a Helicopter Mom; and why is being an American Tiger Mom better? I am happy to explain.

The most widely used example of a Tiger Mom is a woman by the name of Amy Chua. She, along with other Tiger Moms, boast that their children are deprived of having any sort of social life. They must master either piano or violin, but if they are interested in learning any other instrument, they are strictly forbidden. They are also not allowed to play with other children, explore the arts, attend parties, or any other form of “normal” American social interactions. While this style of parenting may have been the norm in the past in Eastern societies, it is widely viewed as cruel and unusual in today’s societies.

The Helicopter Mom… well, she hovers. She is always two steps ahead of her child to prevent them from failing in any sort of manner. She fights their battles, argues with their teachers, does their homework, and essentially coddles them so to avoid any discomfort. She thinks she is being a good mother by ensuring their happiness, when in reality she is doing them a great disservice. How on earth are these children supposed to make it on their own as adults when their mothers did everything for them? These are the type of kids that end up living with mom and dad well into their thirties; and to be honest, the Helicopter Mom couldn’t be happier about that.

The American Tiger Mom is different. I proudly place myself in this category, and with good reason. Unlike the Tiger Mom, I allowed my children to have social interactions and to pursue their passions. They were allowed to play any instrument and they deeply loved theatre and dance. They were encouraged to do the things they found interesting, with the understanding that they would do each and everything to the best of their ability. They would give each project and interest one hundred percent of their time and effort. They were not allowed to drop something if they became bored, but knew they must stick it through till the end. Unlike the Tiger Mom, I never saw the need to call my children degrading names in order to get them to succeed; and rather than denying them socialization, we were the party house. By throwing all of the parties, we got to supervise the girls in a safe and healthy environment.

I am confident that my parenting style contributed to both their happiness and success. They are both well-rounded, well-educated and happy adults who are able to move around in the world without their parents hovering over them, or insulting them.

I understand that long ago, Tiger parenting was the norm in Eastern countries like China and Japan. Today, those countries are utilizing western parenting methods instead, with the hopes of fostering happy and passionate children rather than successful work-machines devoid of personalities. For a mother to bring her children up today under the Tiger Mom style, is in my opinion, both cruel and unusual. Parenting has changed so dramatically that to utilize that old style is just plain counterproductive and mean.

I enjoyed McFadden’s article because it provided the children of Tiger Moms’ perspectives. While some of the children (now young-adults) say that they will likely follow in their parent’s footsteps, I have to wonder: do they truly believe that this form of childrearing is productive and healthy, or are they approving of their parent’s actions because of the natural instinct children have to protect their parents? Similar to children that have been abused by their parents, and even battered wives, it is common for the victim to justify the wrongs done against them as an attempt to deflect attention to the abuse they’ve received. I believe that is the case here, and not that the children of Tiger parents actually appreciate the abuses they’ve been inflicted over the years.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

American Tiger Mom, Helicopter Mom or Tiger Mom....Know the Difference

I am an American Tiger Mom. What kind of parent are you? Have you wondered if your friends parent the same way in the privacy of their own homes as they do in front of others? Perhaps you appear calm, collect and in control while others are watching, but behind closed doors, your kids rule the roost. Speaking for myself, an American Tiger Mom’s parenting style is unwavering whether there is an audience or not. So again I ask: what kind of parent are you… and why? Is your method of parenting going to result in your children’s success or demise?

New parents don’t receive a how-to book on the proper way to raise our children; so we utilize every resource we can to help us raise our children into happy, healthy, and independent adults. We reference our own childhoods, examining what our parents did that worked and what didn’t. We look to other parents to admire and emulate their successes, while scrutinizing other’s blatant failures. Much of parenting is trial and error, but it all comes down to one thing: we don’t want to lose our kids. As parents leave the hospital with their precious newborns in tow, and without that ever-desired parenting manual, they can find solace in knowing that there are some tried and true ways of successful childrearing. Having raised two daughters who are well-rounded, happy and extraordinarily successful, I want to share with others what has worked for me as an American Tiger Mom.

I know that my children are intelligent, skillful leaders. I made it a priority to provide them with a strong academic foundation so that they would be able to choose the best-fit college and career, enabling them to lead happy and fulfilled lives. An American Tiger Mom exposes her children to music, dance and the arts so they may lead enriched lives, complete with a strong academic foundation. While some may scrutinize my way of parenting as overly-strict, I am quick to remind them that I never deprived my children of their social lives or striped them of their personal identities. They are confident young ladies with their own interests; I am only here to support and reassure them that they are fully capable of accomplishing anything.

In the parenting world, we are labeled and categorized based on our parenting styles. The most widely used titles include the Tiger Mom, the Helicopter Mom, and more recently, the American Tiger Mom. Each subcategory of mother is quite different, although we do have something in common: we all think we are doing what is in our child’s best interest. I can assure you however, that each of these parenting styles is very different.

The Tiger Mom has been called the dictator of all mothers. You may recall Amy Chua’s book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” where she boasted that her children were never allowed to attend a sleepover, have a play date, watch television, play video games, or choose their own extracurricular activities. They were forced to master the piano and violin, and were strictly forbidden to explore other musical interests. She proudly admits to calling one of her daughters “garbage.” Convinced that her kids are successful because of her authoritarian parenting style, she is eager to claim that all Tiger Mom’s are superior. Where then do we see the individuality and leadership in these children? The Tiger Mom is afraid that her children are incapable of finding the correct passion, so she makes executive decisions and drills them relentlessly until they have become the people she wants them to be. While this may work in some societies, it denies the children the opportunity to explore their interests and to experience their youth like their peers in our American culture.

Another infamous type of parent is the Helicopter Mom. Simply put, she hovers. She is always one step ahead of her children so that she can fight their battles. She prevents any possible failures, and will even boast that her child got an A on their last science project…. Because she did it herself! The Helicopter Mom often does her child’s homework so that they are not inconvenienced by doing “busy work.” By doing their schoolwork for them, Helicopter Moms are sending a message to their children that they don’t believe they can succeed on their own. There was an incisive article published by CNN recently titled “What teachers really want to tell parents.” The article aptly discussed the many ways that helicopter parents are helping their children fail in school (and in life for that matter) because of their parenting style. In addition to doing everything for their child short of eating their meals for them, the Helicopter Mom is adamant that her kids are signed up for as many activities as possible. Keeping up with the Jones’ is extremely important to her, and she gets an immense amount of satisfaction from being able to say that she spent her entire day driving her kids to every paid activity that her community offers. Even if their actions are genuinely well-intended, Helicopter parents are setting their kids up for a lifetime of failure.

Surely if you are reading this article, parenting is an important aspect of your life. As an American Tiger Mom, an educator, and the founder of one of the nation’s most elite private schools, I can honestly say that as I reflect on the way my daughters were raised, I am proud! My girls have made inspiring contributions to society, have graduated from Stanford University and Claremont McKenna College; and they did not have to sacrifice their childhoods to do so.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

In Response to an Article I Recently Read on The Wall Street Journal

I recently came across an article on The Wall Street Journal that discussed Amy Chua's book, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother." As you know, I wrote a book in response, but also felt the need to respond to this article. I find the comments extremely compelling, although not surprising in the least. As a mother, Asian-American or not, how do you feel about Chua's thought process? Does your parenting style fit one of the styles I describe below? As always, I value your input and comments.

As an Asian-American mother of two, I was appalled when I read Amy Chua’s text, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. I was compelled to respond to Chua’s claims, and did so by publishing my responsorial book, Our Entitled Children: An American Tiger Mom’s Story. Like many parents, when I became a mother, I was determined to provide my daughters with the essential tools and skills required for an extraordinarily successful future. When they entered school, I was discontented with the level of education they were receiving and sought to find a school that met both their educational and emotional needs. When I saw they were not being challenged enough in school, I took it upon myself to create and start Merit Academy, a private school which offered them a prep-school education that was stimulating and engaging. Today, both of my daughters are exceptionally successful, having attended Stanford University/Stanford School of Medicine and Claremont McKenna College. My book, Our Entitled Children: An American Tiger Mom’s Story, details the path that led our children into successful and fulfilling lives, without denying them the basic rights of their youth, as Amy Chua proudly describes doing to her own children. My book outlines the success of my program which is exhibited through the lives of my daughters as well as the plethora of students that have made their way through Merit Academy over the decades.

Like the throngs of readers that picked up Chua’s book, I was outraged on many different levels. Her now infamous book has elicited responses from her readers, and I could not agree more. Chua openly admits to calling her children “garbage” and even threatened to ignore one of her daughter’s future birthdays if she failed to learn a very difficult musical piece within the next day. Clearly, it is easy to relate to the outrage that came in the wake of her book. My indignation took on a life of its own, and instead of simply disagreeing, I took it upon myself to write a book about how crippling her parenting style is to a child, and how success can be achieved without such cruelty. This is not only my opinion, but a proven method that has served my family well over the years.

Chua also lumps all "Western" parents together under one label. Besides the Tiger Mom, I believe that western parents are also further divided into two more labels. First, there is the Helicopter Mom; those hovering mothers who do their children's homework and attack anyone who steps on their children's self esteem. The second type is the American Tiger Mom; those mothers who steadfastly guide and support their children as they become successful young adults. This type of parent works diligently to ensure their child’s success and happiness without depriving them of their autonomy. I have actively raised my daughters by setting them up with opportunities so they could explore business models, change consumer perspectives on energy, and start non-profit organizations to reach the world. By putting them in the driver's seat, they experienced let downs and disappointments (a helicopter mom would have fixed the problem for them) and learned to overcome unforeseen obstacles. This built character and strengthened their self esteem. Unlike the children of a tiger mother, my girls selected their projects and businesses, thereby learning that hard work pays off. My girls are both masters of time management because they learned early on that they need to first complete all of their homework and project tasks before they can go out with friends and have sleepovers. They learned to have their cake and eat it too; a luxury that everyone deserves, yet most don’t quite know how to attain.

Another common and weighty reaction to Chua’s text was that through publishing her perspective, she was perpetuating the ethnic stereotypes that so many Asian-American women have been fighting to diminish over the years. Not only does she perpetuate this damaging image, but she does so proudly. If she has found a parenting method that works for her, that is her prerogative; but to say that all Asian-American mothers are superior because of their rigorous and cruel parenting is detrimental to the efforts that have been made to rid ourselves of the damaging ethnic stereotypes that we have fought for so long.

In my book, I discuss the successful process of raising our daughters. Unlike Chua’s children, mine were permitted a healthy social life while simultaneously excelling in their educational careers and extracurricular activities. They were allowed to express themselves creatively. They were encouraged to do projects that would benefit themselves, their community and ultimately help them get into great colleges. Once they began a project, they were never allowed to give up on it. I believe that if you start something you finish it, and you finish it to the very best of your ability. Their projects not only gave them an immense sense of personal accomplishment, but they also allowed them to win upwards of eighty percent of their college scholarships. My children were able to succeed in their lives without being called degrading names, without denying them their youth, and they are able to reflect on their childhood as just that: a childhood rather than a boot camp.

Chua’s book is still a hot topic in the realm of parenting, education, and Asian-American ethnicity. Its highly controversial contents are widely debated and my book discusses all of these issues while simultaneously opening up a dialogue for all parents who ponder their child’s future success.