Peter Singer rebuts the tiger mothers out there:

I agree with Chua to this extent: a reluctance to tell a child what to do can go too far. One of my daughters, who now has children of her own, tells me amazing stories about her friends’ parenting styles. One of them let her daughter drop out of three different kindergartens, because she didn’t want to go to them. Another couple believes in “self-directed learning” to such an extent that one evening they went to bed at 11pm, leaving their five-year-old watching her ninth straight hour of Barbie videos.

Tiger-mothering might seem to be a useful counterbalance to such permissiveness, but both extremes leave something out. Chua’s focus is unrelentingly on solitary activities in the home, with no encouragement of group activities, or of concern for others, either in school or in the wider community. Thus, she appears to view school plays as a waste of time that could be better spent studying or practicing music.

But to take part in a school play is to contribute to a community good. If talented children stay away, the quality of the production will suffer, to the detriment of the others who take part (and of the audience that will watch it). And all children whose parents bar them from such activities miss the opportunity to develop social skills that are just as important and rewarding – and just as demanding to master – as those that monopolise Chua’s attention.

We should aim for our children to be good people, and to live ethical lives that manifest concern for others as well as for themselves. This approach to childrearing is not unrelated to happiness: there is abundant evidence that those who are generous and kind are more content with their lives than those who are not. But it is also an important goal in its own right.