Interestingly though, most of the literature presents itself as universal, and Western child psychologists seem convinced that their findings apply to all children around the world. After leaving the US and moving to Singapore, I have been struck by how un-universal Western child rearing and parenting styles are, and I have also become increasingly aware of the very different value systems that inform Western versus Eastern parenting.
A big qualifier: I'm making massive generalizations here based on a very limited sample, and there are bound to be many exceptions to these broad stereotypes and statements. In fact, I've worked with many students and parents that defy these stereotypes completely. I have encountered extremely intense and high pressure Western parents and very relaxed, laid-back Indian parents. Obviously, one should never pre-judge a child/parent/person, but nevertheless, I have noticed broad trends and am interested in exploring them further.
Here are some of my findings:
Where Westerners may view personal sacrifice as oppressive, Indians view it as noble and good. One's duty or dharma, in Indian terms, often entails making sacrifices for the sake of the family and community. For example, a child may want to play instead of study, but clearly for both the child’s own good and the family’s good, it is better for the child to study. Therefore, the Indian parent would feel absolutely justified in making the kid study, regardless of what the child wants. The stereotypical Western parent, on the other hand, would engage in a discussion with the child, and then second-guess herself, wondering whether she is somehow infringing on the child’s individual rights and squelching the child’s creativity by “forcing” him to do something against his will.
One of my Western colleagues used the word "oppressed" when she described the ways in which an Indian/Asian child is "limited" by his parents. In the Western mind, dictating terms to a child is oppressive because it is a violation of that child's individual rights. In contrast, in the Indian mind, it is absolutely necessary because it ensures that the child understands his/her role in the family and it keeps the child on a path that the parent believes will lead to future success and happiness.
In contrast, Westerners have dominated the world for the last four hundred years. They have good safety nets: their kids can work at Starbucks and still live somewhat decently, they can rely on the state for public services of a reasonable quality, and they know that the world still favors them over others. In some ways, they can afford to consider “happiness” over “success.”
They are big fans of the Singapore Math curriculum, and even the most liberal and low-maintenance moms admit to supplementing the school’s Math curriculum with frequent Math sessions. The Indian moms I spoke with in Singapore uniformly believe that you cannot trust “International Schools” (read “Western schools”) when it comes to Math because Western schools don’t value Math sufficiently.