What Is Tiger Parenting?
Tiger parenting is a strict parenting style that pushes children to excel academically at all costs.1
Specifically, tiger parents tend to micromanage their children’s lives in ensuring they meet their high expectations. There is little to no room for the child to negotiate how their days are planned as the tiger parent will respond in a “because I said so” manner.2
The approach includes limiting the child’s socialization with friends in favor of studying and/or participating in high-status extracurricular activities, using emotional threats and corporal punishment when the child misbehaves, lacking trust in the child’s ability to make decisions on their own, and disrespecting the child’s privacy.
History of Tiger Parenting
The concept of tiger parenting originates from the teachings of the fifth-century philosopher, Confucius. Confucian philosophy promotes hierarchical family structures, loyalty, strong work ethic, honesty, and commitment to education and academic achievement.
Although Confucius published his books over two thousand years ago, his teachings still have a strong influence over East Asian countries’ views of education.4
For many East Asian families, education is seen as the gateway to success in improving one’s socioeconomic status. Higher education is a symbol of status and power. This is especially true for immigrant parents who made the decision to uproot their lives as a way to provide a better future for their children in the West.5 There is an expectation for their children to succeed and take advantage of the opportunities their parents did not have.
The term “Tiger parenting” was popularized in Western culture by Amy Chua’s book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” Chua writes about her childhood being raised by strict parents and offers stories about her attempts to implement tiger parenting strategies with her two daughters.
Chua stated that the book was meant to be a memoir of her experiences parenting within two cultures, not a how-to guide that suggests Asian parents are better at raising successful children than Western ones. She emphasized that at the end of the book, her daughter rebels at the age of 13, and that caused her to rethink her approach and transform her role as a mother.
Characteristics and Examples
Tiger parenting enforces many rules and gives full control to the parent. There is a power differential between the parent and the child that prevents open and honest conversations. Respect is a one-way street and there is no reward for positive behavior, only discipline for negative behavior.
- Overly strict: Tiger parents focus on enduring hard work and sacrificing work-life balance for long-term success. This may mean saying no to birthday parties, sleepovers, or other fun events that may distract the child from their achievements. Tiger parents forbid risky behavior such as alcohol, drugs, and romantic relationships as they are seen as threats to their child’s goals.
- High expectations: Tiger parents expect their children to excel and put their best efforts into everything they do. If a child fails, they are reprimanded for bringing shame to the family. In order to meet these high expectations, children spend almost all their time dedicated to schoolwork, studying, practicing, and participating in extracurricular activities that increase their chances of getting accepted into a prestigious university.
- Fear-based approach: Tiger parents are in a position of authority. The child is expected to respect them. Children cannot talk back to their elders and/or challenge their opinions. If the child disagrees, they are disciplined with emotional threats and/or corporal punishment. This may mean throwing away their favorite toys deliberately in front of them, not giving them meals, hitting, yelling, name-calling and belittling.
- Lack of autonomy for the child: Tiger parents have full control over their child’s life. The child is raised to make decisions based on the approval of their parents. There is no emphasis on self-regulation or independent thought. Tiger parents have no patience and/or desire to understand and get to know the child’s personality, thoughts, feelings, and perspective as a unique individual. It is expected that the tiger parents’ dreams are also the child’s dreams.
- Success is defined as achievements: Tiger parents define success based on power and status and how much honor they can bring to the family. Examples include becoming a doctor or lawyer, getting straight-As, making lots of money, and winning competitions. Emotional intelligence, creativity, critical thinking, self-determination, relationship-building, and other soft skills are not seen as important in the mission to success.
Effect on Children
Children who grew up with tiger parents lack a nurturing and unconditionally loving environment. Overly strict and punitive parenting styles may cause children to:
- Have an increased risk of anxiety, low self-esteem, and depression 6
- Be more likely to be psychologically maladjusted
- Have difficulty with decision-making on their own
- Have difficulty forming close relationships with others and fending for themselves7
- Have a greater fear of making mistakes as they don’t want to disappoint their parents
- Have a lower sense of family obligation, lower grade point average (GPA), higher level of alienation, and a higher level of academic pressure8
- Have an increased risk of self-harm and suicidal behavior among Asian children and young adults
- Have issues with self-discipline as they were not taught to set limits for themselves9
Tips for Avoiding Tiger Parenting
No one ever prepares you for the parenting role. Most parents will make decisions based on how they were raised, what they’ve read or seen, and advice from family and friends. Parenting is stressful and it can be difficult to know whether you’re doing a good job. It’s easy to resort to what you’re conditioned to. Here are some different parenting practices to consider if you or your partner were raised with tiger parenting:
- Don’t jump to discipline when your child has a problem: Take the time to listen to your child and understand what is going on for them on a mental and emotional level. Instead of assuming they did something wrong, practice patience, allow them to express themselves, ask them questions, and validate their emotions. When you provide a safer environment for your child to share their frustrations, you can build trust with them. If your children trust and feel safe with you, they are more like to come to you when they need help and support.
- Spend time getting to know your child: Life can get busy. Schedules get filled up and there are many things to do around the house in addition to work responsibilities. However, giving your child your full and undivided attention even for five minutes where they can tell you what happened during their day gives them an opportunity to build a closer and long-lasting relationship with you.
- Encourage your child to share their thoughts and ideas: When their sharing is valued, they feel valued. It builds their confidence and self-esteem and empowers them to have independent thoughts which can set them up for greater success in life. Ask questions instead of shutting down an idea that you don’t agree with. You don’t have to agree with them but you can show your support for their thinking process. This helps them understand that it is okay to have different perspectives and can increase their empathy and emotional intelligence.
- Respect your child’s privacy to help build trust and self-confidence: Research has shown that invading a child’s privacy can be damaging to trust and self-esteem. Privacy is the right to be left alone with thoughts, feelings, and ideas. This is important as your child explores new ideas, emotions, and social relationships. Sometimes, parents may need to invade their child’s privacy to help protect their health and safety, but if these are not at risk, it is important to honor their personal boundaries. Threatening them or going behind their back to find out what they may not be ready to share will create distance and resentment. Instead, reassure them that you are always available if they need you.
- Give your child choices: Yes, they live under your roof and you’re paying for their expenses; however, it doesn’t mean they need to do everything you say. When they grow up, they will need to make many decisions in life and they cannot rely on you to make them. If they’re constantly seeking your approval, they will never gain the confidence to make these decisions themselves.
- Praise your child when they’re doing well: Tiger parents are never impressed even when their child exceeds their expectations. However, children need to know when they’re on the right path. When their efforts aren’t validated, they’ll grow up questioning their self-worth. It doesn’t mean praising them for every little thing they do or else it comes across as disingenuous. Finding the right balance of positive feedback lets your child know you have their back.
- Offer support and gentle feedback when failure happens or mistakes are made: It can be disappointing when a child experiences failure or makes a mistake. However, children need to understand that learning is a process that requires making mistakes and overcoming challenges. Instead of blame, shame and judgment, encourage them to keep trying and collaborate on ways to help them improve. Create a supportive environment that encourages them to keep trying but avoid micromanaging their efforts. Use a coaching approach so they can own their success.
- Seek professional help: Seeing a family therapist can help you identify, address and manage past experiences that affect the way you relate to your child. Therapy can help you learn how to manage your emotions, deal with daily stress and develop coping mechanisms that allow you to take care of your children in a healthier way.
A Word From me
We learn to parent in response to what we have experienced ourselves growing up, from our own parents. Family patterns can be passed on, including parenting styles and childhood trauma. Encourage reflection: What was helpful for you from your parents growing up? What was not as helpful even if your parents were well-intentioned? How did you feel, and how would you like your children to feel?
Acknowledge how hard, difficult, uncomfortable, and strange it can be to approach things differently. Acknowledge how our parents did the best they could with what they knew, and as we know better, we can do better. Encourage compassion with yourself as you try doing things different with different results for your relationship with your child. Provide support for parents who have the courage to try a new and different way of interacting with their children that will hopefully be helpful and healing for all.