New Study Shows “Tiger Mom” Wrong

Last year, I wrote about Amy “Tiger Mom” Chua, who wrote a book celebrating her abusive parenting practices, which she said were both typically Chinese American, and yielded a better outcome than supposedly permissive mainstream American ones. (“Better outcome,” of course, defined narrowly as a compliant child who excels in school and work). After widespread condemnation (mixed in with a few plaudits from conservative organs like The Wall Street Journal), she recanted somewhat and admitted that her daughters do receive compensatory nurturant parenting from their dad.

No matter–Chua got her fifteen minutes of fame and thousands of book sales.

Now, a recent study in the Asian American Journal of Psychology further debunks her message. You can read the abstract, and purchase the entire article, here. And here’s an excellent summary by journalist Annie Murphy Paul:

“Does ‘Tiger Parenting’ Exist?” That’s the title of an article in the latest issue of the Asian American Journal of Psychology. The authors, led by Su Yeong Kim, identified parenting profiles in Chinese American families and explored their effects on adolescent adjustment.

Over the course of eight years, from early adolescence to emerging adulthood, teenagers and their parents in 444 Chinese American families reported on eight parenting dimensions (for example, “warmth” and “shaming”) and six developmental outcomes (for example, the teens’ GPA and the academic pressure they feel).

Kim and colleagues identified four parenting profiles: supportive, easygoing, harsh, and “tiger.” Over time, the percentage of parents classified as tiger parents decreased among mothers but increased among fathers.

The researchers’ analysis showed that the supportive parenting profile, which was the most common, was associated with the best developmental outcomes, followed by easygoing parenting, tiger parenting, and harsh parenting.

Compared with the supportive parenting profile, a tiger parenting profile was associated with lower GPA and educational attainment, as well as less of a sense of family obligation; it was also associated with more academic pressure, more depressive symptoms, and a greater sense of alienation.

The researchers conclude: “The current study suggests that, contrary to the common perception, tiger parenting is not the most typical parenting profile in Chinese American families, nor does it lead to optimal adjustment among Chinese American adolescents.”

Bolding mine–and please note that the last paragraph substantiates critics who said that Chua’s book was not merely wrongheaded, but racist in its stereotyping of Chinese American parenting.

The other famous “carnivore Mom” at the time was Sarah Palin a.k.a. “Grizzly Mom.” What does it say about some right wingers that they need to turn our most tender and nurturant activity into something harsh and devouring? Is it mainly a religious (“Spare the rod and spoil the child?”) thing? Or is there something else going on?

Remember: if your goal is to increase your own (or someone else’s) productivity and effectiveness, perfectionist coercion and harshness are never the answer. With few exceptions, the best you’ll likely achieve with these tactics is short-term compliance, followed by rebellion and learned helplessness. For true growth, evolution, and capacity building, nonperfectionism (a.k.a. compassionate objectivity) is the way to go.

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