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Reporter's Notebook: Western dad reflects on raising children in 'Tiger Mom' Thailand

Sometimes I feel like I’m becoming a "Tiger Dad."

At other times I feel like a wimp Western father who questions if we are being too hard on our kids.

The recently published book the "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" by Yale Law Professor Amy Chua had a huge response in the U.S. with opinions varying from hating the ideas put forward on child rearing, calling them "torture," to those who support the idea that parents should be stricter with their kids.

My two and three year old girls, who are half English and half Chinese-Thai, are getting an infusion of both worlds here in Thailand.

My wife, Ansinee, denies she is turning into a "Tiger Mom," but I am already seeing a few worrying characteristics already.

She has, for instance, already enrolled my oldest, Nathinee, who has just turned three, into ballet and piano classes. She is also already learning the Chinese language.

And my daughter already has homework, and is doing it under protest I might add.

I can’t remember doing any homework until I was at least 12 years old back in the U.K. and even then nothing serious until I was about 15.

I watch as my daughter does her Chinese language homework and worry that we are pushing her too hard already.

But when I see her school reports and we are told already she doesn’t concentrate as well as other kids at the international school she attends -- which includes kids from China, South Korea, Japan and Thailand -- I am changing my opinion on what is best for her.

Most of the other children arrive at school quietly and are well behaved, while mine descend like mini typhoons seemingly more interested in playing than learning.

I peeked through the school window the other day to see what was happening in class. While most of the children were diligently coloring in some character on the paper my oldest daughter had obviously had enough. She had scribbled a bit on it and then decided she had finished and was waiting to play again.

I spoke with Martin Lowe, her teacher, who comes from the U.K. and he admitted to me my daughter was more interested at the moment in the playground outside than him teaching her.

Martin also admitted that he has had problems adjusting to the strict work ethic the International School here preaches, as it has a totally different outlook on the way children are educated compared to the West.

“It seems to me that the western teaching philosophy is very much child-centered, an 'every child matters' ideal, in which success is nurtured through a variety of subjects not exclusively academic.

In Asia, I think that the child's choices, thoughts and wishes are far less important than the school and parents expectations of success in the 'traditional' academic subjects.”

The latest survey by independent think-tank, The Grattan Institute, is grim reading for those who worry if their children can compete in the world.

According to its study, which used data from OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment, Western school children are up to three years behind those studying in Shanghai China.

It went on to say that students in South Korea were a year ahead of those in the U.S. and European Union.

Grattan's School Education Programme Director Ben Jensen was quoted by the Associated Press as saying, "That has profound consequences. As economic power is shifting from West to East, high performance in education is too."

But -- and it’s a big but -- this success is not just because of pushy "tiger" parents according to the study.

The report said: "Nor is success culturally determined, a product of Confucianism, rote learning or 'tiger mothers'."

One answer, according to the study, is that East Asian schools are focusing on the practical side of learning. Shanghai’s success, it suggests, is for instance its decision to increase class sizes to up to 40, which usually is too many for one teacher but balances that by giving teachers more time to plan classes and for research.

I’m not so sure the Confucian ethic of respecting authority including their parents can so easily be discounted though.

It dominates many societies here still particularly in Chinese societies spread across this region from Singapore to Hong Kong.

And it’s not just a problem for Western parents. Even in Asia there seems to be stark differences in education levels.

A friend of mine is an English professor at a top university in Tokyo, Japan.

He highlighted to me the difference between Chinese and Japanese students in his class.

He said the Chinese worked much harder than the Japanese and it was embarrassing how far they were generally ahead in class.

Having lived in Tokyo and seen the vibrant youth culture there, it's easy to see where a lot of the kids’ focus is rather than at school.

Walking the streets of Beijing or Shanghai, though, you won’t see the same teenage rebels or signs of individualism.

Raletree Phechu, a child behavior consultant based in Bangkok, Thailand, deals with children from both the East and the West everyday.

“I think one of the biggest factors in a child’s development is the environment they live in. If parents are strict they will concentrate more at school, if not then that is where there could be problems”

One argument against this all-powerful drive for good grades at school and obedience is that it inhibits creativity and innovation in children and in society.

Teacher Martin Lowe believes this is still the case.

“One major difference I have noticed is how in the West children are encouraged to use their imagination more and are actively advised to think for themselves and be original. This seems to be a concept that is lacking in Asia. “ Many Asian countries do understand that perceived weakness and have been pushing over the past decade to try to instill innovation in their students but the jury is out as yet on whether they have been successful.

The argument will probably not end until China or another Asian country invents something fundamentally unique such as a new form of travel to replace the car or a communication innovation that would make the Internet redundant.

On the subject of communication I have been advised by a number of experts that leaving children to watch television also limits their development.

We have tried it and I haven’t seen Barney, Dora, and Little Einstein for days now, and I don’t miss them.

Interestingly my children don’t seem to either. They seem to be much more active (if that’s possible) and interested in building things and speaking instead of passively watching the TV.

I was, though, told by my oldest daughter today that "I don’t want to do my homework, I want to play Wii.”

The Nintendo Wii game machine, an innovation from Japan, could though also soon be switched off for good soon as one expert warned playing games can limit a child’s development.

I have refused so far to give up the Wii and it has proven to be a good bargaining chip in the battle to get my kids to do their homework.

My mantra to them now is "No homework. No Wii."

David Piper is a Fox News contributor living and working in Asia.