Are all Asian-heritage parents "Tiger Parents"?

This article dispels some stereotypical, monolithic notions of Asian-heritage parenting by offering a more nuanced and accurate perspective so that readers can see beyond the myth of the tiger mother.

By Linda P. Juang

(Note: This brief article is based on Juang, L. P., Qin, D. B., & Park, I. J. K. (2013). Deconstructing the myth of the “tiger mother”: An introduction to the Special Issue on Tiger parenting, Asian-heritage families, and child/adolescent well-being. Asian American Journal of Psychology, 4(1), 1-6.)

Amy Chua’s memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother describes in detail her endeavors to push her two daughters to succeed, and in the process, deny them a social life, sleepovers and play dates. Chua’s depictions and the ensuing media attention thrust Asian-American parents into the limelight, their parenting debated and contested throughout the media and on social network sites. In March 2013, the Asian American Journal of Psychology published a Special Issue entitled “Tiger parenting, Asian-heritage families, and Child/adolescent well-being”. The special issue contributes to the tiger mom debate by bringing together scholarly work addressing questions such as: What defines tiger parenting? How common is this type of parenting? What implications does tiger parenting have for child and adolescent development and well-being?

According to Amy Chua, tiger mothers are mothers of Chinese (or other ethnic) origin who are highly controlling and authoritarian, denying their children free time, play dates and extracurricular activities in order to drive them to high levels of success at any cost, unlike the softer and more forgiving Western parenting style. This stereotypical and caricature-like image seems to confirm the worst fears about Asian parenting –that it is excessively controlling, harsh and demanding unquestioning obedience with little to no concern for the child’s needs, wishes or emotional well-being.

According to empirical social science studies, however, the picture of Asian-heritage parenting appears to be quite different. In fact, the special issue may help deconstruct this myth of the tiger mother (Juang, Qin, & Park, 2013) by pointing to emerging research. In the special issue, the authors of six empirical articles present studies focused on Chinese American (Cheah et al., 2013; Kim et al, 2013) and Mainland Chinese (Way et al., 2013), Korean American (Choi et al., 2013) and Hmong American families (Lamborn et al., 2013; Supple et al., 2013). Collectively, the authors employ both qualitative and quantitative methods and present findings on Asian-heritage parenting (including tiger parenting), focus on within group differences and examine how different types of parenting contribute to children’s educational outcomes and psychosocial well-being. In addition, several scholars provide commentaries based on their review of the six empirical articles and chart directions for future research (Deater-Deckard, 2013; Juang et al., 2013; Lau & Fung, 2013). Taken as a whole, the collection of papers in this special issue suggests several take-home messages. One, although tiger parenting (defined as harsh, demanding and emotionally unsupportive) exists among Asian-heritage families, it is not common. Two, tiger parenting is not linked to the best child outcomes — both academically and socioemotionally. Third, the studies collectively show that there is much more variation in Asian-heritage parenting behaviors and practices beyond being strict, controlling and demanding high academic achievement of their children. Using a range of samples and methodologies, the findings suggest that Asian-heritage parents are also warm, supportive, and loving toward their children, which has not been emphasized (and perhaps even de-emphasized) in the literature. The special issue dispels some of these stereotypical, monolithic notions of Asian-heritage parenting by offering a more nuanced and accurate perspective so that readers can see beyond the myth of the tiger mother.

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