Tag Archives: Culture

The Tyranny of Saying, “Be Careful”: Parenting Without Borders, Part 5

In the Introduction, we broached the idea that the way other cultures parent might be more “right” than the way that the culture in North America parents, as discussed in the book Parenting Without Borders. In Part 1, we looked at some of the different cultural thoughts around sleep. There was also that stunning example of how it’s normal for babies in Scandinavia to be found taking a nap on the terrace in the dead of winter! In Part 2, we explored “stuff” and how having more of it might not be best for our children. In Part 3, we looked at how different cultures relate to food in the context of parenting. In Part 4, we looked at how saying “good job” to our little ones might not have the effect we think it does. In Part 5, we’ll look at hoverparenting and self-control.

I suspect that if you’ve read any of the previous posts in this series (and are a parent), you probably took issue with some of the things espoused and if by some miracle you didn’t, I’d be very surprised if at the end of today’s post, you haven’t taken issue with something.

Hoverparenting is everywhere. Heck, you don’t need to take it from me — there was a whole book on the subject written a couple of years ago: “The Overparenting Epidemic: Why Helicopter Parenting Is Bad for Your Kids . . . and Dangerous for You, Too!” I’m not going to get into any of the details in that book (truth be told, I haven’t read it), but I suspect that the idea of hoverparenting isn’t foreign to you and you’ve probably heard, to some degree, how it isn’t good. Here’s Gross-Loh:

If we take over tasks our children could be doing, even if they are kind of stressful or a challenge, when we are over-involved and do not allow a child his own autonomy, we can make a child anxious by giving him the message that he isn’t capable of doing things himself. We orient our children to ourselves, instead of to their own growth and accomplishments.

That last sentence is key — we orient children to us, rather than themselves.

I’ve mentioned before how great it is that this book sheds light on other culture’s perspectives on a given topic, but this one is particularly interesting. For instance, did you know that in Japan, it’s normal for kids to hit each other? Well, I might be stretching the usage of the word normal, but:

In Japenese yochiens, skirmishes between children weren’t nipped in the bud by adults; rather, kindergarten was regarded as a time — the time — in life for kids to experiment socially in a fully engaged, unhindered way; not only to play but also to fight and to cry.


Teachers didn’t see aggression as a sign of aberrant behavior or the mark of a “problem child” who would grow into a violent adult, but something normal that arose in childhood and would naturally fade when it had been allowed to run its course.

Whoa. Can you imagine the vitriol that would be directed at you, as a parent, if you took your kid to the playground and allowed your kid to hit the other kids?

Don’t get me wrong, I think there’s so much merit to this idea. Of course it makes sense that kids are still trying to learn about how to relate to the natural world around them and if they don’t have the language to express themselves, physical aggression (rather than verbal aggression) might be a strategy that is put into place.

Circling back to the “Japanese way,” it seems that there’s more to it than simply a parenting strategy of letting the aggression run its course. There’s the idea that kids are still tied to the spiritual world and are too young for discipline. Parents don’t want to push their way into their children’s experiences of joy, either.

You might be wondering about how Japanese kids turn out to be when parented in this manner. Well:

One study compared American and Japanese 4th and 5th graders and their thoughts on hitting, fighting, talking badly about someone, or spreading rumors. 92% of the American children talked about not wanting to get caught, or not wanting to get in trouble with a teacher or parent. 90% of Japanese children, on the other hand, did not talk about the punishment or getting in trouble. They said they shouldn’t misbehave because it would hurt a friend’s feelings, it would be wrong, it would hurt they group.

Whoa. I gotta be honest — when I first read through this chapter, I had to check myself a number of times because of how unexpected some of the results were. So, as parents, what can we do? How can we help our little ones turn out like the Japanese 4th and 5th graders?

The most important principle was that teachers should be constantly attentive and aware of what’s going on, but hold themselves back from getting involved too soon. If they see trouble brewing — two kids who were starting to fight with each other — they try not to react immediately. You had to give them that moment and sit on your own discomfort or desire to rescue the child from the situation.


Being too involved deprives the kids of experiencing the good feelings that come only from mastering the situation on their own.

And that’s it, in a nutshell, isn’t it? If we think about the juxtaposition of the two culture’s parenting styles, the hoverparenting found in America doesn’t allow kids the chance to master new situations. Parents are always there trying to direct the learning or direct the play. On the flip side, in Japan, there’s space given to the kids, so that they can figure out how to interact and relate to the world around them.

Another great example of this — how many times do you hear parents say, “Be careful,” or “slow down.” Sure, parents have their kids’ safety at heart, but how can they learn the consequences of their actions, if they never experience the consequences of not being careful or not slowing down (I’m not advocating we let our little ones run into traffic, here). Whenever I hear parents utter these words, I cringe (I also cringe when I hear “Good job“). How does telling a little person, “be careful” help them, unless you’ve had a conversation around the inherent ambiguity of the word “careful.”

A short personal example: this past winter, as the snow began to melt, it rained and a layer of ice formed on the snow at a nearby park. When my son and I went to the park, I knew that there was a 100% chance that he was going to slip and fall on the ice. Instead of me telling him to “be careful” as he strode out onto the ice, I watched and let him slip — a number of times. After letting this happen a little bit, I walked over to him and talked to him about what it was like to walk on the snow versus what it was like to walk on the ice. We talked about having to walk more deliberately on the ice because of the lack of friction between our boots and the ice (yes, I talked about friction!). And wouldn’t you know it, after a few times of doing this, there was a noticeable difference in the way that he walked on the ice versus the snow.

The Tyranny of Saying “Good Job”: Parenting Without Borders, Part 4

In the Introduction, we broached the idea that the way other cultures parent might be more “right” than the way that the culture in North America parents, as discussed in the book Parenting Without Borders. In Part 1, we looked at some of the different cultural thoughts around sleep. There was also that stunning example of how it’s normal for babies in Scandinavia to be found taking a nap on the terrace in the dead of winter! In Part 2, we explored “stuff” and how having more of it might not be best for our children. In Part 3, we looked at how different cultures relate to food in the context of parenting. In Part 4, we’ll take a closer look at self-esteem in the context of parenting.

If you have kids or you’ve been around kids, I feel pretty confident in making the assumption that when your kid (or the kids you happen to be around at the time) do/does something well, you almost reflexively say, “Good job!” Of course, though — why wouldn’t we? We notice someone doing something well and we want to praise that, right? Well, it turns out that this might not be the optimal way of interacting with our little ones:

It turns out that when parents and educators send children the message that their needs and their individual happiness and dreams are more important than other things, like being a compassionate, ethical, hard-working person, it makes them unhappy.

I think that we can all agree that it’s probably a good idea that our children grow up to be compassionate, ethical, and hard-working, right? Not to mention, happy. It appears that somewhere along the way, parents got the idea that the best way to achieve these ends were to focus on a child’s self-esteem by telling him how good they are. As it happens, this may have been a perversion of the initial way of thinking about parenting and self-esteem:

But the earliest proponents of raising self-esteem to ensure children have a successful, productive future actually believed this could be done best through a child-rearing style that employed clear rules and limits. Research backs this up: it is parents who allow children freedom and independence within clearly set guidelines, while treating children with respect and love (as opposed to being top-down dictators) who tend to raise confident adults.

One of the best parts about the book Parenting Without Borders is that it give the reader a flavour of different cultures. And when it comes to this chapter, that’s very helpful. In North America, we’re used to focusing on individual happiness and to instill that in our kids, we often tell them how well they’re doing. This has the effect of kids thinking that they’re great. You might expect a child raised in North America to say, “I’m awesome!” If an American kid were to ask a Japanese kid how to say, “I’m awesome,” in Japanese, the Japanese kid would be dumbfounded, as this isn’t something that a Japanese kid would even think to say. Consider this:

Students reflect frequently, especially after a big event, like the annual sports day, or a field trip, or a class presentation, but also after more ordinary moments. On many class handouts our kids received at school, there was a space to write down, “what I can do better next time; what I’ll try to work harder on next time.” Children are taught the habit of always remaining attentive to how they can improve. (By contrast, children in our country are typically asked to reflect on what they did well.)

There’s even a word for this process of self-reflection in Japanese: hansei. How great that at such a young age, kids are learning how to reflect on their process. It’s almost like taking the scientific method and reappropriating it. Can you imagine how different American culture would be if every kid in America were taught to think about how they could have done better on an assignment rather than being giving the customary, “Good job, let’s go out for ice cream,” speech.

Now, I understand that some parents will balk at the idea of not telling their kid how well they’re doing and that’s not what I’m saying (nor is it what the author is saying). However, it’s important to consider the ramifications of our decisions to praise our kids, especially as it relates to labels that they then have to live up to:

A child who is told he is very smart, will begin to define himself through this label. While this sounds like it would be a good thing, even so-called positive labels can be harmful when they give a child a fixed view of himself, since it is a view he must protect.



What a lot of parents don’t see is what happens when we boost our kids too much. If we let “making kids feel good” be our guiding principle, we are buying short-term goodwill at the expense of their future resilience.

In this way, telling our kids that they are smart isn’t so much a nice thing to do as it is a curse. Telling them how smart they are might handcuff them to this label that they have to continually live up to. Not that we want to handcuff our children to labels, but might it better for them and for others if we handcuff them to labels that have them perpetuate actions of compassion and ethics?

Maybe it’s as Gross-Loh alludes to that telling kids how smart they are has more to do with how we feel. Maybe telling our kids they’re smart has to do with us wanting our kids to like us. Gross-Loh has certainly given us a lot to think about in this chapter, but before I close this post, I wanted to leave you with something else that can be done. That is, instead of telling our kids, “Good job,” what else can we say?

Dweck’s research shows, a good parent doesn’t undermine her child’s motivation through empty praise and encouragement. She scaffolds her child’s ability to face challenges and even accept failure as something that anyone can grow from.

So, instead of focusing on the outcomes and the end goal, maybe it might be better if we focus on the effort and the steps that our children take to get from A to Z.

Babies Aren’t Meant to Sleep Alone: Parenting Without Borders, Part 1

In July, I began working on a series about the book Parenting Without Borders. Little did I know that I wouldn’t be able to write the second post in that series until about 4 months later. To refresh your memory:

Christine Gross-Loh exposes culturally determined norms we have about “good parenting,” and asks, Are there parenting strategies other countries are getting right that we are not?

With that out of the way, let’s get straight to Chapter 1 — Sleep.


Without a doubt, sleep is probably one of the most controversial topics when it comes to parenting, in part because if the baby/toddler isn’t sleeping, it usually means that Mamma/Dadda aren’t sleeping and when everyone’s not sleeping… it can be a recipe for disaster. Easing back on the hyperbole, when the parents aren’t sleeping, it makes it harder for them to patient with their young ones, which is usually what’s required most of the time.

In this chapter, I was struck by the range of methods that parents around the world use when it comes to sleep. For instance, it’s probably no surprise to you that in North America, it’s common for the baby/toddler to have their own room and for them to sleep on their own. But, would you believe that across the world, North America stands as an outlier int this regard? That is, it’s far more common for parents in the “rest” of the world to sleep with their baby (this is what’s known as co-sleeping).

For many of the cultures that co-sleep with their baby, they believe it fosters a sense of independence. That may seem counterintuitive at first, but think about it for a moment. If we put the baby in the other room and it needs comforting, it’s not able to get that when it wants. However, if we’re co-sleeping with the baby and it needs comfort, that need is able to be met instantly. Research bears this out, too. Gross-Loh discussed a study that showed children who co-slept with their parents (from birth) later became more independent and self-reliant (than their sleeping alone counterparts).


The big theme from this chapter is busting the myth that the baby has to sleep in its own room (for its own good). Science seems to support the idea that co-sleeping is better for the baby (and for the parents), but breaking through that cultural norm would be tough for lots of parents. I’ll leave you with one last bit from the chapter that even I bristled at, initially:

In Scandinavia, it’s customary for babies to take their naps outdoors despite the cold winters. (The Finnish government assures new mothers, “Many babies sleep better outdoors in the fresh air than in the bedroom. Sleeping outdoors is not dangerous for a baby.”) Babies are bundled up and left in prams [strollers] on terraces or outside of stores to sleep.

Can you imagine walking down the sidewalk in New York, Michigan, or Minnesota, in the dead of winter to see three or four strollers parked outside with sleeping babies in them!?

Parenting “Truths” are Culturally-Based: Parenting Without Borders, Introduction

It’s been some time since my last series (almost a year and a half ago) and even longer since the last time I did a series about a book. I’ve definitely read a number of books since then, but one that I’ve recently, I wanted to explore a bit more in-depth, so I thought I’d write a few posts about it in a series.

As you already know, I became a parent last year and as many parents do when making this transition, I was interesting in reading about this new stage of life. I’m aware that there are plenty of books on parenting out there, but I wasn’t interested in reading them all. Luckily for me, during one of my “Bringing Baby Home” classes, the teacher talked about this very thing. Given her experience teaching the course, recommendations from other parents, and her own personal experience, she suggested that the two best books we could read were:

  • The Wonder Weeks: How to Stimulate Your Baby’s Mental Development and Help Him Turn His 10 Predictable, Great, Fussy Phases into Magical Leaps Forward

As the title of this post suggests, we’ll be exploring “Parenting Without Borders.” Part of that’s because the topics within the book are so juicy and part of that’s because my little guy is already beyond the “10 leaps” from The Wonder Weeks. I will say, though, if you’re about to have a young one or you’ve just had a young one, The Wonder Weeks did wonders when helping me to understand why my little guy might have been fussier at times. This is really important because it helps you, as a parent, to understand a little better the things that your baby/toddler might be experiencing. There’s also a Wonder Weeks website.

So, what’s Parenting Without Borders, you ask?

Christine Gross-Loh exposes culturally determined norms we have about “good parenting,” and asks, Are there parenting strategies other countries are getting right that we are not?

The only word that I take issue there is “right,” but that gives you an idea of the kind of material we’re going to be exploring in this series. Let’s get right to the introduction of the book.


Right away, Gross-Loh paints a picture of her childhood. Born to two immigrants of the US (via South Korea), she was always given lots of space to do her own thing, but she knew that her parents were worried that they were doing right by her. Her folks would meet with other Korean families to discuss schools, among other things.

Before Gross-Loh had kids, there were things that she “knew” before her kids were born:

They would eat no junk food, watch no violent TV. If my children were raised peacefully, they would never show interest in weapons or war. I would be attentive to them and watchful of their feelings. I would be an accepting, protective parent to give them a secure base.


I’d been taught it was important to put our kids’ needs first, to give them lots of choice, to praise them to make them feel confident. My American friends and I sought out the right classes, toys, and books to foster our young children’s development, helped oversee their relationships and disagreements with other children, went to bat for them with their teachers and coaches, and guided what they did in their free time.

I think that’s probably a pretty accurate description of how many parents want to be.

But as my own children attended local Japanese schools and we spent time with Japanese families, I saw children raised in a very different way who were clearly thriving — just as much — and sometimes more — than our own. Moms in Japan were surprised by how uptight I was about allowing sweets and were startled by how I monitored what my kids were allowed to watch on TV and the way I tried to stay on top of their behavior. My Japanese friends, unlike me, left their children on their own to figure out their relationships with other kids. But despite how lax these Japanese moms seemed to me, I was constantly surprised by how mature and well-adjusted their children were, how capable, and how pleasant. These were kids being raised in ways that the American parents I knew might look at as simultaneously too permissive and too strict, yet they were clearly thriving.

Which leads us to the most important sentence from the introduction [Emphasis Added]:

It was during that time that I realized something that would change me completely: The parenting assumptions I’d held to be utterly and universally true were culturally based.

And this is why I’m writing a series on this book. There is so much value to be had in exploring the “truths” of different cultures, especially as it relates to shaping (or not shaping?) our young ones.

Pitch Perfect 2: A Sociological Perspective?

A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to see Pitch Perfect 2. In fact, it was the first movie I’ve been able to see in the theatre since becoming a parent and I have to say, I’m glad that it was one like this. If you’ve been reading the things I’ve written, you know I like to take a look at things in the grander picture. (In fact, I didn’t realize this until I started writing this post, but I wrote something about Pitch Perfect a couple of years ago.) Anyhow, the grander picture.


I should warn you that I plan on talking about elements of the movie that may spoil it for you, if you haven’t seen it, so either stop reading and go watch Pitch Perfect 2 right now (and then finishing reading when the movie ends) or read on with the knowledge that you may have part of the movie spoiled. If you’re reading on past this point, you’ve been warned…

The portion of the movie I’d like to discuss is right near the end. The Bellas are at the a capella World Championships and their nemesis — Das Sound Machine — has just given a great performance. Halfway through the Bellas performance, I’m thinking to myself, there’s no way the writer(s) could have written something that the Bellas could do to top what Das Sound Machine just did and the first half of this performance is proving that. At this point, it’s looking like the Bellas are ‘toast’ as they’ve begun singing an “original” song (is that a no-no in a capella competitions?). And then all the lights go out on stage and the singing stops momentarily. When the lights return, we see more than just the Bellas on-stage, we see Bellas from previous generations! Women that have long since graduated from Barden University have returned to help the current Bellas in their time of need.

Of course, that was enough to convince me that the performance was worthy of being deemed better than their opponents, but the more important part for me was the symbology of these previous generations of women who had come back to help the current generation of women. Forget for a moment that this is ‘simply’ a singing competition — this competition means a lot to these women. They’ve put their heart and soul into this and they really want to win. Their desire is no different from athletes who really want to win the championship in their sport of choice. So, seeing the previous generation of women come back to help the current generation was a very touching moment.

As a “white male,” I feel like don’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to talking about the experiences of any minority (women included), but just the image of these mothers (and grandmothers?) who were doing what they could to help out the young folks was heart-warming. It feels like in today’s society, there’s a greater collective awareness of the plight of women. In fact, the first bill that President Obama signed into law was the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Even with this greater collective awareness feminists alike will tell you that we’ve still got a long way to go before there’s parity between the genders. With that in mind, I enjoyed seeing a movie that starred, was produced and directed by, women.

“What’s Your Background:” Cultural Differences Between Canada and the US

Growing up in the Greater Toronto Area, it was fairly common to meet people of different ethnicities and cultures. As a kid, when you’re first meeting someone — at least when I was growing up — one of the first questions (after learning someone’s name) was probably some iteration of: “What’s Your Background?”

Until I moved to mid-Michigan for university after high school, I didn’t realize that asking this question may have been a norm where I grew up and not anywhere else. I still remember when I first asked someone about their “background” when I arrived at university. They looked at me funny and so then I rattled off some possible answers, Irish, Italian, English, etc. The response I received was a stern: “I’m American.” I responded by saying I assumed that, but that I was also curious to know about their cultural heritage. The person reaffirmed that they were American.

And thus was the eye-opening experience for me — ingrained in a Canadian’s identity is that they aren’t necessarily from Canada or that they didn’t necessarily start in Canada. Canadians know that there was something before Canada.

At this point, I should clarify that it’s really not fair to make sweeping generalizations about all Americans or all Canadians. It’s probably not even fair to make generalizations about Americans from mid-Michigan or Canadians from the Greater Toronto Area. While I might hypothesize that something along the lines of what I just said in the above paragraph, my point in sharing this today is to highlight to you that there may be some “blind spots” that you’re unaware of, if you remain nestled in your own culture.

In fact, you may not even have to leave the country to notice your “blind spots.” Simply by taking up a new activity or popping into a different community, you may find that the way you think about something is vastly different from the way someone else thinks about that same thing. You may also find that your group’s “norms” are borderline blasphemous to another group (sidenote: while asking about someone’s background as a kid was normal, I learned that continuing to do this after moving to mid-Michigan was seen as ‘rude.’)

Corporate Culture Directly Affects Financial Performance

The question as to whether corporate culture has an effect on financial performance has been asked before and it will likely be asked again. In a study published in the Cornell Hospitality Quarterly, research demonstrated a link between corporate culture and financial performance. However, not all corporate cultures are created equal. Some corporate cultures had a positive effect, some had no effect, and some even had a negative effect.

First, let’s look at the 4 kinds of corporate culture from this study (there’s a picture above for those that prefer to see it visually):

  • Market – (External, Controlled) – Tend to be results-oriented, with a focus on competition.
  • Adhocracy – (External, Flexible) – Tend to be dynamic and entrepreneurial, with a focus on innovation.
  • Clan – (Internal, Flexible) – Tend to be family-like, with a focus on mentoring.
  • Hierarchy – (Internal, Controlled) – Tend to be structured and formalized, with a focus on efficiency.

It’s important to note that the research was conducted on a group of hotels in South Korea, so the generalizability of the findings is a bit limited. Nonetheless, this research could provide a foundation from which future studies can be conducted. Here are the findings between culture and financial performance:

  • Market – no significant effect on financial performance.
  • Adhocracy – positive effect on financial performance.
  • Clan – positive effect on financial performance.
  • Hierarchy – negative effect on financial performance.

The researcher went one step further and tested how strategic orientation effected financial performance in the context of these corporate cultures. Before we look at the effect strategic orientation had on corporate culture, we need to look at how the researcher delineated strategic orientation:

  • Leading: always trying to innovate
  • Future analytic: focusing on research for future activities
  • Aggressive: undercutting competitors
  • Defensive: maintaining careful control
  • Adventurous: risk taking
  • Conservative: avoiding risk

Some of the strategic orientations have obvious clashes with corporate culture. For instance, a Hierarchy culture would be ill-advised to try and implement a Leading strategic orientation. Likewise, we wouldn’t expect an Adhocracy culture to successfully implement a Conservative strategic orientation. The research found that Clan, Adhocracy, and Hierarchical cultures could improve their financial performance if the adopted a Leading or Defensive strategic orientation.

The one finding that I found interesting had to do with the Aggressive strategic orientation. The researcher found that this strategic orientation didn’t have a significant impact on any of the culture’s financial performance. Meaning, undercutting a competitor in an effort to gain market share was not an optimal strategy for any of the corporate cultures. Of course, as stated earlier, this study was only conducted on Korean hotels, but it would be very interesting to see if this particular finding help up when studying hotels in a different part of the world. Moreover, I’d be interested to see if this finding would also remain true across industries. That is, some folks think that competing on price is the way to go (Hi Walmart!), so if this study’s findings can be replicated in another industry, it might have an effect on the way that some firms compete. In particular, it might dissuade some from competing on price.

ResearchBlogging.orgHan, H. (2012). The Relationship among Corporate Culture, Strategic Orientation, and Financial Performance Cornell Hospitality Quarterly, 53 (3), 207-219 DOI: 10.1177/1938965512443505