Should the Tiger Mother be Tamed?
by Gideon Ticho and James Scalfani
Yes – Gideon Ticho
A few years ago, Yale law professor Amy Chua caused a national sensation with the publication of her memoir, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” in which she recounts the upbringing of her children according to the strict, demanding principles traditionally associated with Asian culture. She furthermore asserts that this approach is superior to the more relaxed, hands-off one employed by many Western parents. Plenty of readers were appalled by some of the extreme examples of discipline that characterized much of the book, from calling one daughter a “piece of garbage,” to throwing the other one out of the house at age three, and even threatening to cancel Christmas (the horror!). As a result, her parenting style was regarded by many as rigorous at best, and downright cruel at worst.
However, the proper designation for Chua’s parenting style, at least in academic terms, is “authoritarian,” as described in developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind’s 1966 parenting styles matrix. By combining what she saw as the two greatest variables in raising children – parental responsiveness and demandingness – Baumrind was able to articulate four principal styles of parenting which are still widely recognized today: authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, and neglectful. The ideal, or authoritative, parent lies at the intersection of responsive and demanding. They expect a lot from their child and demand respect for parental authority, but are receptive to the child’s demands and willing to compromise or negotiate. This, according to Baumrind, will be the most likely parenting style to guide a child towards a happy, successful and well-adjusted life. An authoritarian parent, like Chua, is just as demanding as an authoritative one, but much less responsive to their child’s emotions and desires. They are singularly focused on their child’s obedience, even at the expense of happiness. Inversely, a permissive parent, which Chua insinuates that many Americans are, is very responsive, but not demanding. These are the parents who often give rise to spoiled, bratty children. And then there are the neglectful parents, who are neither responsive nor demanding; essentially, they just couldn’t care less about their child.
So is there any validity to Chua’s claim that her authoritarian, “tiger mom” parenting style is the best way to go about raising kids? The short answer: it depends on what your definition of “best” is.
If happiness and fulfillment are the most desirable goals for your child, then the answer is certainly no. One of the beliefs that Chua repeatedly asserts is that “Chinese parents understand that nothing is fun until you’re good at it” (Chua, 2011). This notion takes the concept of operant conditioning to an extreme. To a Chinese parent, according to Chua, the reward for a child working hard and succeeding at a task is simply their increased aptitude for that task as a result. This indirectly leads to other rewards, like peer recognition, which make the activity “fun.” However, the punishment for failure at a task is usually harsh, swift and non-negotiable discipline. Through this conditioning, a Chinese parent instills in their child a drive to succeed at the highest level in everything he/she does. But do success and happiness really correlate that simply? Is being forced by one’s parents to be good at something enough to make a child satisfied in life? Extensive evidence indicates that this is not the case. Children of authoritarian parents are significantly more likely than others to develop depression or anxiety, along with an increased propensity for substance abuse (Driscoll et al., 2008). Why is this? For the most part, it’s due to internal conflict within the family. A recent study by Desiree Qin of Michigan State University compared Asian and white 9th-graders at a highly competitive private school, polling them on their grades, their mental states, and their levels of “family cohesion” (Qin et al., 2008). She found that Asian children reported significantly higher levels of internal tension within the family, often as a result of parent-child conflict over academics. They were also more frequent to report difficulties in social situations, and displayed higher rates of depressive symptoms. Clearly, the authoritarian style of parenting does not consistently produce happy kids.
However, it’s undeniable that tiger moms do tend to produce successful kids, at least in the sense that they are generally very talented academically. So if this is your definition of “best,” then perhaps the answer to the previous question might be yes. As explained before, operant conditioning, specifically positive punishment, is used extensively by authoritarian parents to push their children to work hard at mastering certain tasks. In addition, studies like one conducted by Kristie Neumeister of Ball State University have indicated that authoritarian parenting can promote a desire for perfection and mastery in children, in order to live up to their parents’ incredibly high standards (Neumeister et al., 2006). However, in the same study, Neumeister notes that “desire for mastery” is a healthier motivation than “fear of failure.” For children of authoritarian parents, though, the latter would logically be a greater motivator than the former, which may also explain some of the trends in depression and anxiety.
Ultimately, the question of which parenting style is best is somewhat of a shot in the dark. There are so many additional variables that affect parenting styles outside of the ones examined by Diana Baumrind in her matrix (such as socioeconomic status, family size, etc.), and these obviously account for a significant part of how a child is raised. Even so, the evidence does generally seem to tip the scales against authoritarian parenting, especially if, like the majority of parents, you value your children’s mental wellbeing. Would you rather have a depressed, alcoholic genius for a kid, or a happy, stable, average member of society? I’m no tiger mom, of course, but I’d choose the latter any day of the week.
Chua, Amy. “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.” Online.wsj.com, 2011. Web. 15 Apr 2014. <http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB100014240527487041115045760
Driscoll, A. K., Russell, S. T., Crockett, L. J. (2008). Parenting styles and youth well-being across immigrant generations. Journal of Family Issues, 29, 185-209.
Neumeister, Kristie L. Speirs, and Holmes Finch. “Perfectionism in high-ability students: Relational precursors and influences on achievement motivation.” Gifted child quarterly 50.3 (2006): 238-251.
Qin, Desirée Boalian, Niobe Way, and Preetika Mukherjee. “The other side of the model minority story the familial and peer challenges faced by Chinese American adolescents.” Youth & Society 39.4 (2008): 480-506.
No – James Sclafani
The term “tiger mother”, recently popularized by law professor Amy Chua, concerns an Asian mother that is extremely demanding. This terminology can be applied universally: “tiger mom” is to Asian culture as “authoritarian parent” is to the world. Authoritarian parents are defined by their tendencies to be highly demanding and not adequately supportive to the child’s needs. Chua asserted that this parenting style was the best. She claimed that western cultures place to high a priority on a child’s self-esteem. Research has highly supported the notion that Chua is incorrect- authoritative parents, who are demanding but also highly responsive to a child’s needs, yield the best results in terms of the child’s future success and mental health. However, it is important to note that the results of authoritarian parenting are not universally negative. It’s important to examine instances in which authoritarian parenting yields positive results. In these select cases, it can be argued that Chua is correct in her assertions that authoritarian parents are better.
Overall, in the vast majority of cases, scientific data shows that Chua is wrong. She claimed that academic success is more important that emotional health for children- a common viewpoint of authoritarian parents. However, many studies, including a study done by Snarey & Valiant (1985) showed that emotional intelligence, one’s ability to regulate their emotional response to stimuli, was the most reliant indicator of future success. The child’s IQ had almost no relation to their future success. This strongly supports that notion that authoritative parenting is the best parenting style, as authoritative parents provide emotional support that authoritarian parents do not provide.
Despite this, there are instances when authoritarian parenting actually is the preferred parenting style. A study by Rudy & Gruesec (2006) indicated that in collectivist cultures, authoritarian parenting styles do not have the same negative effects that they do in individualist cultures. The self-esteem of children of authoritarian parents is not lower than the self-esteem and emotional health of children of authoritative parents in collectivist cultures. Instead, authoritarian parenting pushes children to seek out their full potential. The study postulated that the negative ideas surrounding authoritarian parenting in individualist cultures (such as in the U.S.) are the cause of the emotional damage in children.
Additionally, a study done by Pezzella (2010) found that authoritarian parenting has different affects on certain groups of children. Children at high risk for engaging in delinquent behavior, particularly high risk African- American children, were less likely to engage in such behavior compared to the children of parents with different parenting styles. This is significant- when children engage in violent or delinquent behavior, they are potentially destroying avenues for future success. In these cases especially, authoritarian parenting seems to be the preferred parenting style.
Parents who raise their children in collectivist societies or who raise their children in areas with a high propensity for delinquent juvenile behavior should consider adopting a more authoritarian style parenting approach. In these situations, their child may actually benefit from this parenting style in contrast to the traditionally preferred parenting style, authoritative parenting. While they may not be right for the entire world, in some places maybe Tiger Moms are better.
Pezzella, F. S. (2010). Authoritarian parenting: A race socializing protective factor that deters african american adolescents from delinquency and violence. (Order No. AAI3398173, Dissertation Abstracts International Section A: Humanities and Social Sciences, , 1451.
Rudy, D., & Grusec, J. E. (2006). Authoritarian parenting in individualist and collectivist groups: Associations with maternal emotion and cognition and children’s self-esteem. Journal of Family Psychology, 20(1), 68-78.
Snarey, J. R., & Vaillant, G. E. (1985). How lower- and working-class youth become middle-class adults: The association between ego defense mechanisms and upward social mobility. Child Development, 56(4), 899-910.