Tiger parenting

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Tiger parenting (老虎妈妈, "tiger mother" or "tiger mom") is a term which refers to the process of strict or demanding parents who push and pressure their children to be successful academically by attaining high levels of scholastic and academic achievement, using authoritarian parenting methods regarded as typical of childrearing.[1] The term was coined by Yale law professor Amy Chua in her 2011 memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.[2] A largely Chinese-American concept, the term draws parallels to strict parenting styles typically enforced throughout households in East Asia, South Asia and Southeast Asia.[3][4][5][6][7] Since the rise of Amy Chua's memoir and the tiger mom phenomenon into the American mainstream during the early 2010s, the tiger mom has since then been a caricatured figure in modern Chinese society as well as in Overseas Chinese communities around the world. Chua's rise to fame quickly popularized the concept and term "tiger mother" spawning numerous caricatures while also becoming the inspiration for the 2014-2015 Singaporean TV show Tiger Mum, the 2015 mainland Chinese drama Tiger Mom, and the 2017 Hong Kong series Tiger Mom Blues. The stereotyped figure often portrays a Chinese mother who relentlessly drives her child to study hard, to the detriment of the child's social and physical development, and emotional well being.

The tiger mom is analogous to other parenting stereotypes such as the American stage mother who forces her child to achieve career success in Hollywood, the stereotypical Japanese kyōiku mama who takes an enormous amount of effort top directing much of her maternal influence towards development their children's educational and intellectual achievement, or the Jewish mother's drive for her children to succeed academically and professionally, resulting in a push for perfection and a continual dissatisfaction with anything less or the critical, self-sacrificing mother who coerces her child into medical school or law school.[8]

History and origin[edit]

The origin of the tiger mom concept, term, and neologism traces its roots in ancient Confucian teachings articulated through classical anthologies such as the Analects of Confucius written more than two millennia ago.[9][10][11][12] The concept has been heavily influenced by Confucianism, an ancient Chinese philosophy developed by the philosopher Confucius in the 5th century BC that promoted values such as respect for one’s elders and authority, harmonious relations, bringing honor rather than shame to the family, hard work, enduring hardship, keeping one's place in society, honesty, and dedicating oneself towards academic excellence through the pursuit of knowledge.[13][14][15][16] As Chinese and East Asian society is permeated by values reflecting the teachings of the ancient Chinese scholar, Confucianism remains still very much a core part of everyday life in Mainland China and the rest of East Asia.[17][18][19][20][21]


Many contemporary Chinese families strive to inculcate the value and importance of an education in their child at a young age. Higher education is an overwhelmingly serious issue in Chinese society, where it is viewed as one of the fundamental cornerstones of Chinese culture and life. Education is regarded with a high priority for Chinese families as success in education holds a cultural status as well as a necessity to improve one's socioeconomic position in Chinese society. These values are embedded deeply in Chinese culture, parent-child relations and parents' expectations for their children. For the Chinese, the importance of education was considered a crucial means for channeling one's upward social mobility in ancient and medieval Chinese societies.[22][23] In contemporary Mainland China, national examinations such as the Gaokao remain the primary path for channeling one's upward social mobility.[24][25]

Characteristics[edit]

While "tiger mother" is a generic term for the tiger parenting phenomenon, representing a concept that was not commonly known until the publication of Chua's book, the broader phrase "tiger parenting" also acknowledges the fact that fathers or other parent-figures can also instigate, participate in, or be accomplices to the behavior.[26][27] Western parenting tries to respect and nurture children’s individualism while Chinese parents believe that arming children with in demand job skills such mathematical and scientific proficiency, strong work habits, and inner confidence prepares them best for the future.

Harsh regimen[edit]

Parents who set up rules that overstep conventional parental boundaries are regarded as either tiger mothers or (less commonly) tiger fathers. Tiger parents prioritize schoolwork above all else and only allow children to participate in activities in order to potentially win awards[28][29] which they believe will increase the chance of the child's acceptance to the best schools. It is said that "Asian American parents provide a constant wind beneath their children's wings";[30] meaning tiger parents constantly propel their children towards their commitment towards excellence. In a similar way, Chinese tiger parents pay more attention to students core academic subjects such as math, science, and language arts and ignore other non-academic activities such art and sports in order to ensure their children's superior performance in their core academic subjects.[31]

Demanding[edit]

Tiger parents emphasize a commitment towards excellence in academia and award-winning non-academic achievements such as performing classical music instruments. Some also choose to incorporate competitive sports for their children.[32] This unusually high level of expectations may stem from parental love and care, as well as a strong desire to pave the way for their children’s future success, as playing an instrument or being proficient in a competitive sport often serve as a cosmetic addition of extracurricular activities that may look good on college applications. Many Chinese tiger parenting families have a huge emphasis on academic achievement. Extrinsic rewards play a role in the Confucian cultural value system Chinese parents communicate and inculcate in their children at a young age. The strong emphasis on high academic achievement is often seen as a source of stress for Western parents while Chinese parents see the stress of academic achievement on their children as a sign of good parenting reinforced by the entire Confucian cultural value system.[33]

Psychological control[edit]

Tiger parents try to reinforce higher levels psychological control over their children than other parents. Tempering a child's self-esteem may be part of this strategy. Advocates of tiger parenting criticize the Western parenting methods for coddling their children with overindulgence of leisure time when that extra off-time could have been better spent be doing extra math problems or practicing piano scales.[34] Proponents of reinforcing psychological control consider these parents as rewarding their children with low expectations and deteriorating academic standards ultimately leading them to a life of mediocrity and underachievement.[35] In Chua's memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, she mentions an incident that she yelled at her daughters, calling them ‘garbage’ in public.[28] It has been shown that tiger parents are less likely than other parents to compliment their children in public as well.[32] Children raised by tiger parents may be met with emotional threats and low-impact physical punishments if they failed to practice their piano scales and meet their her expectations.[36] Moreover, some tiger parents do not allow their children to make some decisions on their own, whether in academia or daily life. For instance, Chua's daughters were not allowed to watch TV at night or have sleepovers with their schoolmates.[28]

Causes[edit]

High expectations and commitment to excellence[edit]

Chua cites her parent's newfound immigration experience in the United States and underwent an intense struggle to set their roots in a foreign land, which inevitably prompted them to adopt a more utilitarian approach towards raising their children. In her memoir, Chua brings up Confucius to elucidate why Chinese parents feel that their children are indebted to them due to all the sacrifices the previous parental generation made to secure a better life for their children.[37][38] Tiger parents enforce high expectations and may harbor snobbish and inflated views regarding their children’s academic performance. In some cases these expectations may be held unrealistically high regardless of the child's ability or passion for studying.[39] Tiger parents may exhibit harsh and unrealistic expectations for the child's academic performance where "B" and even mid to low end "A" grades are not tolerated.[40] Tiger parents put a heavy emphasis on the pursuit of academic success at the expense of other character traits that are just as crucial for future career success such as soft skills, social skills, dealing with people, and emotional intelligence. Tiger parents eschew the lax parenting style typically exhibited by many liberal Western parents but also disregard other soft skills that are just are as crucial for their children's future career prospects and the lack of such skills may put them at a disadvantage when competing for job positions. Tiger parents may impose choices on their children as to which interests they choose to pursue. Critics of the tiger parenting argue that this approach will restrict their children's ability to discover their individual talents and passions thus denying the child a sense of belonging, self-esteem, and purpose. On the other hand, proponents for tiger parenting argue that their parenting strategy imbues children with self-control, self-regulation and self-discipline and won't produce excellent academic results if they let their child to drift freely to develop their own interests.[41] Chinese Confucian philosophy has traditionally emphasized self-improvement. As a result, tiger parents often make sure that their children work conscientiously on their schoolwork to help secure better grades and an overall superior academic performance.[42]

Exam-oriented education[edit]

East Asian countries often adopt a strict exam-oriented approach in teaching, which encourages rote memorization. Some argue that this approach encourages uniformity while eschewing creativity, questioning, student participation, self-determination, autonomy, diversity and critical or independent thinking. Tiger parents often put children in tutorial classes as early as the preschool stage. Typically, throughout the child's academic career, the mother's attempts to help the child obtain outstanding results in exams to secure a seat in prestigious schools, with the end goal of entering a top-notch university in mind.

Cultural influences[edit]

In East Asian societies, a higher education level is perceived as a guarantee of promising career prospects; and as a tool to climb up the socioeconomic ladder or to lift a family out of poverty. In the classical Chinese anthologies Analects of Confucius by the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius in the 5th century BC, education is a central theme in the book with philosophical ideas and sayings that placed great value on work ethic and the pursuit of knowledge. The Confucian ideal argued that education is a passport to higher socioeconomic status and wealth. In ancient and medieval East Asian societies, Scholar-officials had a high social status and intellectuals were held in high esteem, well above than that of wealthy landowners, businessmen, and merchants. Thus, tiger parents pin high hope on their children, taking much pride in their children's academic achievements and may flaunt them to other parents when comparing their own children with the academic achievements of others. Chinese immigrant parents in the West argue that "high academic achievement" reflects "successful parenting" while parents who have children that bring home inferior academic records are seen as irresponsible parents who are not doing their job.[28] One historical explanation for the strict examination approach stems from the Imperial examination system of China for civil service government positions. Success in the civil examination administered by the royal court was seen as a sure conduit improve a family’s socioeconomic position. Since such positions were scarce with many applicants applying for few opening positions, competition was fierce and these positions were highly coveted, as only a select few could succeed and attain them. Tiger parents recognize how crucial self-discipline is in gaining success, so they may try to instill the value of an exam oriented education into their children as early as possible.[43]

Views on success and achievement[edit]

Tiger parents perceive a narrow definition of success that is rooted solely in a high level of academic and intellectual achievement. As academic success is often a source of pride for families and within Chinese and East Asian society at large, tiger parents typically view "success" as graduating from a top university such as Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Oxford, and McGill is the ultimate marker of prestige, high socioeconomic status, promising marriage prospects, and a highly respectable lucrative white collar career path such as becoming a high end neurosurgeon for Mayo Clinic, a high powered lawyer at a top law Wall Street law firm, a software engineer in Silicon Valley, a management consultant for Boston Consulting Group, or as an investment banker working for Goldman Sachs.[44] Tiger mothers also incorporate classical music training or extracurricular enrichment activities such as joining a sports team, including those with competitive structures and awards systems to bolster their child's university entrance application.[45] This kind of early life training illustrates the tiger parent's zeal for education and the desire for their children to get into a prestigious university as tiger parents see the entrance into a top tier higher educational institution as a ticket that leads to a prestigious, rewarding, and lucrative white collar career filled with socioeconomic success.[46] Tiger parents may look down on careers beneath their expectations - that is a truck driver may be viewed as less socially respectable than a neurosurgeon.[47]

Effects[edit]

Advocates suggest a strict approach to parenting produces an exceptionally high proportion of top performers – children who display academic excellence across the board with great musical ability and professional success later in life.[48] In a three-part series on competition in Hong Kong's education system by the South China Morning Post, many Hong Kong parents revealed that cultural fears over economic hardship motivated them to begin thinking of their children's futures as professionals soon after birth, striving to find the best playgroups, and encouraging competition among children in academia, sports and music, in the belief that this fosters competitiveness and increases their children's chances of entering into a better pre-nursery school and elite kindergarten, and determine their eventual success at primary schools, secondary schools and universities. However, many other Hong Kong parents, psychologists and educators assert that pushing children too hard does not work, and can even harm children. There is a growing trend of children aged five to 12 seeking psychiatric help and even contemplating suicide. In reaction, some parents have relaxed their formerly strict discipline with their children, and some schools have made their admissions requirements less strenuous.[49]

According to some sources, children raised under an strict, controlling, and punitive tiger mother will suffer a chronic social and psychological toll. This included some young Asians as well as children from immigrant families of Asian ancestry who live in other parts of the world outside Asia. Children raised with a less supportive type of parenting have developed chronic mental health and psychiatric problems such as anxiety, low self-esteem, depression, and contemplation of suicide. These mental health and psychiatric problems may create psychological problems that make these children feel like "failures".[50] When parents do not provide coping strategies to their children and guide alongside to manage negative feelings, such loneliness may transition into depression and suicide.[51]

Tiger parenting has been blamed for high rates of suicide in East Asia, particularly South Korea, which has some of the highest suicide rates in the developed world.[52][53] In South Korea, stress from constant study and limited social life pressured by harsh and demanding parents on a student may be taking a psychological and social toll on younger generations, causing an increase in aggression, mental health problems, impaired cognitive development, and drug and alcohol abuse. Other adverse effects, such as depression, anxiety, antisocial behavior, and increased risk of physical abuse, have also been linked to the increasing amount of academic pressure placed on young South Koreans.[54]

The tiger parents' belief in the importance of academics [55] on its students is considered by many to constitute child abuse is seen as acceptable by some Asian parents.[56][57] Many have described their traditions as including physical and emotional closeness that ensures a lifelong bond between parent and child, as well as establishing parental authority and child obedience through discipline.[58]

Balancing disciplinary responsibilities through violence within parenting is common in many Asian cultures, including China, Pakistan, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam.[58] To some cultures, violent parenting may be seen as abuse, but in other societies such as these, the use of violence is looked at as a reflection of parental devotion.[58] Severe forms of violence may include spanking or slapping the child with an open hand or striking with an available household implement such as a belt, slipper, cane, clothes hanger, meterstick, hairbrush, paddle or bamboo feather duster.

According to the sources cited by the website Parenting Science, children from authoritarian families may find it more difficult to fend for themselves and make friends,[59] but whether or not most families with tiger parent could be considered authoritarian is a matter of debate. Studies published by the Handbook of Child Psychology have shown that children under tiger parenting were rated as less helpful and less popular by their teachers and classmates.[60][pages needed] Also, they are more likely to show aggressive behavior towards others when they are forced to learn without recess. They were rated as less self-reliant and are not able to be independent thinkers since their life is organized by their parents.[citation needed]

In popular culture[edit]

Movies[edit]

TV series[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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