Parents of Asian ancestry are not as concerned about the self-esteem of their children as Western parents are. They push their children to work hard and hold them accountable for results.
In order to excel at anything you need to work at it. Few children will naturally want to work or practice the necessary time to excel. Asian parents push their children to work hard and are not as concerned about overriding what the child wants to do as Western parents are.
Asian parents actually create a "low-esteem" environment for their children. They do not praise their children for their talent. They praise their children for their work ethic and effort. Asian students are no more "talented" that anyone else. Their success is a function of the expectations of the family and just plain old hard work, practice and study.
Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers attributes it to a "rice paddy" attitude. Simply stated, tending to a rice paddy is a 360 day, 3,000 hour per year activity. It is exacting, hard work where effort and dedication make a huge difference in results. The peasants that tended these rice paddies may be long gone but the culture carries on in their progeny. Gladwell makes the point that there is nothing that indicates that Asians are naturally any better at math, science or music but each requires hard work, persistence and doggedness. It is more attitude than aptitude.
I think it also stems from another factor. The sheer number of people on the Asian continent that anyone has to compete with in that part of the world. It is simply harder to feel that you are unique or special when you are competing against BILLIONS of other people.
I came across an infographic recently that illustrates this point in a compelling way.
Take a look at this chart prepared by radicalcartography.net based on global population in 2000 that shows where humanity lives on the planet based on longitude.
If you live in the Western Hemisphere it is almost as if you are living alone.
However, do you think that someone who comes from an Asian background might understand that they are competing with a few other human beings in anything that they want to do?
It reminds me of my college graduation day when I was feeling pretty good about myself having earned my diploma but then looking around at the other 3,000 students in the building that had done the same thing. I felt pretty good walking into the ceremony, I didn't fell quite as good walking out. I realized I was a number. Everyone else was also a number.
What was I going to do to distinguish myself against all those others who were just like me? I realized I had really accomplished little to that point. It was up to ME to find ways to separate myself from the crowd going forward. I came in thinking I was at the end and realized I was really just at the beginning. There is no end if you want to excel and separate yourself---Asians parents understand this better than anyone else in the world.
Here is the chart that shows the world's population distributed by latitude.
There are also a lot of humanity living within a relatively small bandwidth of latitude in the world. Again, a lot of this is owed to major population centers in India, China and Japan.
Of course, in the world we live in today it does not matter which longitude or latitude you live in.
You and your children are potentially in competition with all 7.6 billion other human beings.
Asian parents understand this better than anyone.
If you doubt it look at the entrance data for high schools in New York City that are based on a competitive exam.
Asian students make up only 15% of the students in the New York City school system.
However, this year they received 53% of the offers for placement at the top high schools.
On the other hand, Black and Hispanic students make up 71% of New York City schools but only received 10% of the offers.
Even more interesting is the fact that more Asian students (who only make up 15% of enrollment) took the entrance exam than any other ethnic group!
Do you think all those students decided on their own to take the entrance exam?
If you don't have any expectations, how will you ever get any results?
Perhaps Asian parents know something that others don't.
Their attitude as parents is the result of the longitude of their family culture. As a result, they understand competition in a much more personal way.