The 6 Most Controversial Parenting Books

There isn't one manual on how to raise kids, and some moms have revealed their parenting styles in books that have gotten mixed reactions. We've rounded up a handful of the most controversial parenting books that have been published in recent years and consulted child experts for their opinions.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

Controversy: An excerpt from Chua's memoir, "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior," sparked backlash and a national media debate when it was featured in The Wall Street Journal in 2011. In her book, Chua reveals how she raised her daughters, Sophia and Lulu, according to traditional Chinese ways of parenting. Her strict methods (repeated drills to perfect challenging piano pieces, reminders not to get grades below an A) reveal fundamental differences in Western (American) and Eastern (Asian) parenting styles, leading to the nickname Tiger Mom.

Many parents believe Chua's lofty expectations are unhealthy and overbearing, forcing her children to succeed at all costs. "Chua's attempt to even the playing field by focusing on the importance of structure, rules, and consequences push the pendulum to the opposite end, weighing too heavily on harshly punitive, rigid rules, expectations, and punishments," says Fran Walfish, M.D., a child and family therapist. "To only love and nurture your child is to do 50 percent of parenting. To go the other way and be a tough sergeant and cop also scores 50 percent. You must do both to raise happy, healthy children." Still, others think Chua's methods are refreshing and not "too soft," compared with more laid-back styles.

Why the Book Is Important: Tiger Mom's revelations led to a nationwide discussion of effective parenting styles, a conversation that many parents are still having today. The Western style nurtures kids, respects their individuality, and encourages interest in trying new things; the Eastern style enforces a strong work ethic, good grades, and respect for authority. Parents were inspired to reexamine their own stereotypes and feelings of inadequacies about parenting as well as their own parent-child relationships.

Cinderella Ate My Daughter, by Peggy Orenstein

Cinderella Ate My Daughter

Controversy: When Orenstein's daughter started school wearing overalls, princess mania quickly took over, and Orenstein soon faced the challenges of raising a happy daughter in a world saturated with lip gloss, rhinestone tiaras, high heels, and other princess merchandise. Orenstein decided to venture into the depths of girly-girl culture -- Miley Cyrus concerts, child pageants, an American Girl store, and Disney -- to examine and document the princess complex, which she believes teaches girls that they are judged by outer beauty and possessions instead of their inner beauty, intelligence, and personality.

Orenstein discovered that princesses were no longer for pretending but were teaching girls to be materialistic and self-centered. Some parents agree that princess culture seems to be growing out of control; others believe it is harmless make-believe and pretend play. "No question, we are currently raising a generation of narcissistic, entitled people, but it is not due to princess costumes or themes," Dr. Walfish says. Instead, parents had to set limits and "enforce boundaries with where and when costumes can be worn."

Why the Book Is Important: Orenstein's book highlights the unease some parents have about the fine line between allowing little girls to have fun with princess culture and allowing the princess identity to take over. Although pretending to be Cinderella, Rapunzel, or Snow White is fine, these characters shouldn?t take over a child's personality or life. Instead, girls should focus on being themselves and raising their self-esteem through empowering achievements.

Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting, by Pamela Druckerman

Bringing Up Bebe

Controversy: When Druckerman, an American journalist, gave birth in Paris, she didn't want to become what she called a "French parent," a laissez-faire parent who leaves kids alone to explore their surroundings at their own pace and who doles out appropriate punishments only when they misbehave. But Druckerman realized that obsessing over and overparenting her children wasn't good either, and she noticed that French mothers seemed more relaxed than their American counterparts.

Druckerman's memoir, released a year after Amy Chua's, reignited dialogue about whether there are right and wrong ways to parent and cast the American parenting style in a negative light again. Druckerman shows that parents don't need step-by-step instructions on how to raise well-behaved, happy, and healthy children; following one's intuition and being more open-minded could allow everyone to thrive. Of course, some parents feel that American parenting methods are being criticized as too involved, too careful, and too soft.

Why the Book Is Important: Druckerman's reflections provide new viewpoints about parenting with dignity, common sense, and patience. She believes it is important for parents to have high expectations for their children and be involved in their lives, but that they also need to adopt a more relaxed approach to parenting. Instead of constantly worrying about and hovering over their children and shuttling them off to different classes and events all the time, parents should help them lead simpler lives.

The Heavy: A Mother, A Daughter, A Diet--A Memoir, by Dara Lynn Weiss

The Heavy

Controversy: Weiss made headlines in 2012 when she put her 7-year-old daughter, Bea, on a strict diet and wrote about the experience in a Vogue article ("Weight Watcher") that lead to a book deal. In both the article and the book, Weiss recounts the severe tactics she used to make Bea lose weight, such as calorie counting in public. Her credibility and methods were questionable, as she had her own personal food issues. "Tactics that include public humiliation, deprivation, and larger portions of food to siblings will surely imprint damage on her young 7-year-old's self-image, identity, and self-esteem. And it defeats the goal of teaching kids self-discipline," says Aviva Braun, a social worker specializing in body image and eating issues.

Infuriated moms believe Weiss was strict and shallow; for example, she rewarded Bea's weight loss with a glossy photo shoot for the Vogue piece, which emphasized that dieting meant looking thin and pretty. Critics believe that having Bea go on a diet at a young age might lead to self-esteem issues later, but supporters believe Weiss was simply looking out for her daughter's best interests.

Why the Book Is Important: Childhood obesity is still a serious issue and Weiss helped bring attention to it, even though her methods did inspire disagreement. Although Weiss makes it clear that she loves her daughter, and was trying to reach the goal of keeping Bea healthy and not simply thin, her book ignited debate about what it meant to have a healthy body image and how to raise girls with high self-esteem.

Beyond the Sling: A Real-Life Guide to Raising Confident, Loving Children the Attachment Parenting Way, by Mayim Bialik

Beyond the Sling

Controversy: Attachment parenting, advocated by William Sears, M.D., has been a controversial parenting style since its beginnings, as it supports the idea that parents should rely on their instincts and satisfy their child's every need. So when Bialik, the Blossom and Big Bang Theory actress, dived deep into the topic and revealed personal and intimate details about her parenting lifestyle, many were surprised and squeamish. Attachment parenting contradicts the popular belief that parents should wean kids off certain dependencies, such as breastfeeding, cosleeping, and baby wearing, by certain ages. Naysayers believe that attachment parenting creates a codependency between parent and child, and that a lack of rules can cause children to disrespect authority.

Why the Book Is Important: A Time cover article published in May 2012 brought a spotlight onto attachment parenting; Bialik's book, released a few months later, in September, increased attention on attachment parenting. The scientific and personal aspects of the book fed into the ongoing conversation about good versus bad ways of parenting and about how to balance love and attention when caring for a child without catering to his every whim and hindering his development.

Parenting Style: Attachment Parenting

    Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry), by Lenore Skenazy

    Free Range Kids

    Controversy: Skenazy's book, inspired by her 2008 piece in The New York Sun, "Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Ride the Subway Alone," garnered national attention. Parents were up in arms and thought Skenazy's parenting style gave her child too much independence and put him in dangerous situations. Skenazy argued that many parents didn't see a difference between letting their kids walk to school and letting them walk through a firing range. Childhood is full of risks, she posited, but protecting them does more harm than good. Free-range (or slow) parenting focuses on trusting kids and letting them go, and Skenazy's book examines allowing kids the freedom to develop at their own pace, without structured activities or organized schedules. But some parents believe kids need structure and guidance at a young age and learn more with goals and expectations.

    Why the Book Is Important: Free-range parenting challenges the approach of overparenting and helicopter parenting. It introduced and highlighted the idea that in today's overscheduled world, kids still need to be kids by having fun and time to explore, instead of being bogged down by scheduled activities. By doing certain things on their own, children learn self-reliance, self-confidence, and awareness of their surroundings, which help them succeed later in life.

    Copyright © 2013 Meredith Corporation.

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