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David Hornik

General Partner, August Capital

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Tiger Mother or Pussy Cat, makes no difference -- anyone who's raised more than one child knows it is all about Nature (not nurture).

There has been an amazing reaction to the recent WSJ op ed from so-called Tiger Mother, Amy Chua (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704111504576059713528698754.html). My experience raising 4 children is that no amount of haranging, threatening, bribing or loving my children will change who they fundamentally are. Each one is different and each one responds differently to me as a parent. From where I sit, Nature has a significant leg up on Nurture. Seems to me Ms. Chua is giving herself a lot more credit than she deserves. Which is precisely why I take no credit for the good stuff my children do, nor do I beat myself up about their failings. What do you think? Am I just letting myself off to easy? Am I just lazy? Or am I right?

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  • Feb 15 2011: On nature vs nurture, I recommend Steven Pinker's talk, http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/steven_pinker_chalks_it_up_to_the_blank_slate.html
    and also his book, "The Blank Slate".
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    Feb 14 2011: Oh, THAT article.
    One of my girls recently showed me that article, asking why didn't we raised them like that...
    Of course she was just teasing me. Or this is what I like to think.

    I agree with you, that each children is different and responds differently, and that threatening, bribing not work.
    I believe that personal example and loving is important.

    I think this talk is related to the subject and may help you:
    "Let's talk parenting taboos: Rufus Griscom + Alisa Volkman" - taboo number four.
    http://www.ted.com/talks/rufus_griscom_alisa_volkman_let_s_talk_parenting_taboos.html
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    Feb 18 2011: Well, if those are my only choices, then you are lazy. :-)

    As to the article, I think many people are missing the boat on the whole tiger mother discussion. One of the things that seems clear to me is that the core of the conflict is this: a parent who has difficulty making her own way and finding her own place within a culture will face enormous challenges teaching her children to operate within that culture. The difference between her own learned cultural values and paradigms and the ones in which she is raising her children is an index of just how much difficulty she will face.

    I think many people will say "Oh, yes, if I go to another country than I would of course integrate into that culture". But it is not as straightforward as all that. If you are raising your children in a place that values conformity you are as an American likely to confront the traces of American Exceptionalism which have marked your understanding of the world. And you are going to have to resolve that one way or another because the conflict does not go away.

    So yes, I think who our children fundamentally are is to some extent a given. And I also think that parenting is a two way street -- it is not just who the children are but how who they are interacts with how you are that forms parenting.

    However, no, I do not think that how people function within their society is a given. That must be taught, because while the creation of a society seems to be an innate human impulse, the form that society takes and the options presented to the members of the society are not innate. They vary substantially and are taught. A particular child may become a leader of men, if s/he has what it takes to do that. But whether s/he becomes the leader of a prison gang, a human slavery ring, an air force squadron, an ad agency, or the local literacy project remains to be seen. That is partially coincidence and partially nurture, it seems to me.
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    Feb 15 2011: Well, in my opinion, there are several things that can make such differences in parenting succeed or fail.

    First of all, the final goal of the process. On one hand there's the happiness of the child/future adult, on the other hand there's his/her success. One focuses on who the child is, while the other focuses on what the child can do. I believe you cannot force children to become happy, even if indeed there's a lot of fun in being really good at something. Unless that thing you're becoming excellent at is something you really dreamed of, there will always be a yearning for your real dreams, that you weren't allowed to follow. So, each type of parenting will serve its own goal.

    Then, there's the environment in which you apply the parenting. What the children see as examples outside their homes. The values of the community. If the community values success over happiness, then the harsh parenting is likely to have better results. But if it is the other way around, I believe success will be a sad consolation prize when compared to the carefree happiness of those around you. Unless, of course, that is what you really dream of.

    Another one would be the way you apply this parenting. They will both fail unless, as a parent, you genuinely love your children, and genuinely believe in them. Fake encouragements and praises can be just as harmful to one's self esteem as insults that are meant as insults and not motivators. Loose, free parenting has no value if it comes from not wanting to be bothered with the child. At the same time, despotic parenting will be harmful if that's all it is. Despotic.

    As a sort of conclusion, I believe there's little influence to be had over the child's intelligence, but a tremendous one over the values that they guide their life upon or over their definition of happiness and success and the way these depend on each other. And yes, this is all my humble opinion. :)
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    Feb 15 2011: To the best of my knowledge, research on monozygotic twins who were raised separately shows that you are right in general. In most cases the family environment cannot increase IQ. There are, however, a number of exceptions:
    1. In cases of deprivation, such as poverty, the family environment (or more correctly what is known as "shared environment") has a much higher effect than genetics.
    2. While the family environment has a minimal effect on IQ in normal situations, it has a large effect on skills. This means that as a parent your actions will not change your child's IQ much, but they can certainly determine how skilled she will be in math, science, music, sports, etc.
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    Feb 15 2011: Is anyone aware of a connection between a healthy wild nature and the resilience of nearby communities? Are there any metrics to suggest that Nature Needs Half is equally critical to the needs of women and girls in communities on the edge of wild places on the planet?