“Tiger parenting” entered international lexicon in 2011 following Yale law professor Amy Chua’s Wall Street Journal article extolling its effectiveness. Subsequent studies have demonstrated that while high-achieving children raised under this approach can achieve superior academic results than their peers, they also tend to have increased levels of stress and depression than others raised with similar techniques.
Reason? Studies show that when children prioritize academic achievement over other areas, they lose the capacity for developing intrinsic motivation and self-validation – in other words, they no longer see success as being for themselves, but instead for the approval of parents, teachers and peers. Although some children might eventually regain this ability through hard work and circumstances beyond their control; nonetheless forcing them into it cannot be justified.
There is another perspective to take. Conflict between Tiger Parents and their kids might not be defined solely in terms of right and wrong but by an interaction of ethea; ancient Greeks had a word for this phenomenon: tragedy; these tragedies often depict clashes of values or clashes of ethea between two individuals or parties.
Chua’s book tells the tale of Jennifer Pan, whose story inspired his book. In their efforts to ensure their daughter excelled academically (music competition and university admissions were prioritised over fun activities and personal interests), their parents applied a cutthroat ethos that prioritized her success above almost everything else – leading her to lie to them about not being able to concentrate due to an overwhelming home environment, eventually leading her to kill herself.
What makes this story remarkable is its roots in Asian middle-class immigrants’ experiences. While historically many Asian cultures were intensely hierarchical, World War I and revolutions of the 20th Century dismantled these structures to form a middle class determined by three criteria – academic credentials, competitive accolades and career achievements – where individuals with dedication towards meritocratic ideals aspired to attaining this status.
At this juncture in history, it is crucial that we pause and consider if this type of child rearing is indeed beneficial. Instead of perpetuating an imagined Asian-Western culture-clash framework – which often results in stereotypes about both Asians and strict American parenting – let’s understand how tiger parenting first emerged, then discuss how we might alter it. Let us remember Jennifer Pan and take note from her tragic death: her suicide wasn’t due to failing grades; instead it occurred because her parents denied her access to self-drive and joy – let us ensure this doesn’t happen again with any of our kids!