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Lessons And Red Flags Gleaned From The Tiger Mom Controversy

Updated on October 31, 2012

Lessons And Red Flags Gleaned From The Tiger Mom Controversy

The furor that was sparked by Amy Chua's book titled "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" surprised me at first. As I listened and read more intently, I began to understand the cause of the hysteria. The education scores of American children have been dropping precipitously over the last several years. The United States economy took a major hit in 2008 leaving American parents feeling ever more insecure. China and other Pacific Rim nations have been growing their economies much more rapidly than the U.S. and other western nations. American parents have to work longer hours to make ends meet . They fear that this economy is passing them by and their children will be adversely affected.

These are legitimate fears and there are many aspects of this dilemma. I would like to explore many of these fears and issues while also examining the utility of this extreme "Tiger Mom" parenting method. There are true fears to be dealt with and also exaggerated fears. This is often the case. I will attempt to show in this article the things American parents can learn from Amy Chua's book while also retaining the best aspects of their own more progressive parenting methods. With any luck we may discover a new more effective parenting model.

The basic parenting tenets of the Tiger Mom as described by Amy Chua are for her to be involved in and directing every aspect of her children's lives. She also demands absolute excellence from them. Recreational distractions are strictly prohibited. Television, games, sleepovers, and almost any extracurricular activities are not allowed by the omnipresent Tiger Mom. Any disobedience to her edicts will bring swift and almost draconian punishments. Scholastic grades below an (A) bring strong rebukes from the Tiger Mom towards the offending child. She also demands of her children the development of proficiency in classical music by way of the violin or the piano.

Ms. Chua is a 48 year old Chinese American law professor who was raised by Chinese parents. Therefore she knows both cultures and both methods of child rearing. She has chosen the strict Chinese form of parenting over the Western form. Ms. Chua acknowledges that her way is not the only way to raise children. But for her it was the only way to promote excellence and self esteem in her children. Her husband is a Jewish American law professor who has come to the same point in life by way of the more liberal and permissive Western style of parenting. He acquiesces to his wife's strict upbringing of their children though not agreeing at all with many of her methods. He often acts as a moderating factor on the family relationships. Many times he is a safety valve for their children.

Ms. Chua readily admits that she does not see herself as a role model for other parents. She also offers that moderating some of her parenting methods would have been advantageous in retrospect. She was raised in this "Chinese Way" by her parents and feels it is what made her successful. Ms. Chua also observed during her childhood that many of her classmates were either failing or not living up to their potential because of too many outside distractions and poor study habits. She became determined to not allow this to happen to her children.

Let us now examine the pros and cons of the Western style of parenting. My belief is that American parents are for the most part very involved with their children's lives and scholastics. The major difference is that unlike the Tiger Mom, American parents prefer to give their children more of an opportunity to explore, innovate, and make mistakes. This includes allowing the child to choose most of his or her recreational activities.

Another difference between these two sets of parents is the time each generally has to devote to their children. American and Western parents have had to work increasingly longer hours over the last few decades. Often both parents need to hold down a job just to balance the family budget. As a result, these parents have little time to oversee their children's schoolwork and are often too tired to do so even when they have the time. It becomes easier to allow their children more autonomy and responsibility for their scholastics. Television and the internet often become the outlets to entertain their children.

This is not to say that Western parents are generally callous towards their children's education and lives. But adverse circumstances can certainly influence these relationships negatively. Many wealthier parents are more heavily involved in their children's education and push them from the cradle to achieve excellence. This is similar to the Tiger Mom. They utilize expensive pre-schools to prepare them for elementary school. Elite prep schools are often used as substitutes for public schooling to enhance their children's chances for successful academic performance. Unfortunately they also sometimes use these schools as a surrogate for raising their own children.

As you can see, Western parenting is a mixed bag with many different modes of parenting. These modes usually depend on wealth, time constraints, and the dedication of the parents.

So which culture of parenting is the correct one? Is there a preferred method? My belief is that both forms of parenting are valid and have their strengths and potential weaknesses. The "Tiger Mom" form of parenting was quite similar to Western parenting as it existed before World War II. Children had a very limited amount of recreational distractions as compared to modern times. American family incomes skyrocketed after the war leaving families with a lot of disposable income. Media innovations beginning with television began to be introduced at this same time. Parents felt much more secure and slowly began to indulge their children more. This did not become a problem until the late 1970's when the economy began to pinch the pocketbooks of families. Soon both parents in many families needed to work. The combination of growing distractions and lesser parental supervision became a growing problem that began to adversely affect American children's academic grades.

Contrast this with the Asian parent model. Most Asian countries have recently developed economies. Therefore most Asian parents know with urgency that the key for their children to succeed in this growing and competitive environment is a solid education. Many of these families also have grandparents living within the family unit. They assist with the children and household making it easier for the Tiger Mom to concentrate more on her children's lives and academics. The dedication and discipline being instilled into these children is admirable and very effective. But is there something missing?

Most American parents were raised in the Western style where they were taught to make their own choices and utilize independent thinking. Thus they know from experience that this is one of the ways that children learn responsibility. It is also a key factor in developing innovative and creative minds. My belief is that the discipline and strong direction that the Tiger Mom gives to her children is essential in developing her child's dedication to their academic studies. A child will probably not work hard at his or her studies if the parent does not show interest and urgency in their child's schoolwork. On the other hand, too much control and direction of a child by the parents could lead to the development of a robotic child.

The bottom line is that the Western form of parenting has led to a very creative and innovative society in the United States. We do not want to lose this. All of us must take a step back and realize that we must reassert more direction in our children's lives especially in respect to their academics. The education standing of the U.S. compared to the rest of the world has been slipping steadily. We can not allow this to continue.

Parents must provide a stronger presence in their children's lives no matter what their work situation happens to be. Efforts must be made to go over their children's schoolwork each day for a significant amount of time. This does not mean skimming over their assignments. Ask probing questions of your children concerning their school day and school work. You will still be allowing them the freedom to create on their own while showing them that their academic work is important to you and themselves. You will be combining the best of both worlds of parenting and hopefully finding the ideal method to ensure your child achieves their maximum potential. The key is you must consciously make that effort every day. Your child will remember this in later years and pass this on to their children. They will thank you.

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    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      It is a balancing game but I think that American parents now seem to get overly involved in their children's lives. To some extent kids need some room to grow on their own.

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      Howard Schneider 6 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      I agree with you that it is a balancing game. In my experience, parents are working so hard that they are not as involved with their children as they should be. Parents do need to strike the right balance and find what is correct for their child. My parents gave me room because my grades were always good but maintained tighter control of my younger sisters. We all ended up with very good marks. Thank you for your comments and observations Dahoglund.

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      Pam 6 years ago

      Of course parenting style will affect the outcome of our children. However allow me t share that in the past I worked as a school nurse. This gave me a direct view concerning how the demise of the American family has had a direct impact on our children. As my sociology professor once said, the quickest road to poverty is to become a single parent. I have thought about and discussed what the ROOT cause is concerning the increased number of single parents in America, but I do not have any answers.

      We have so many more single parent homes than even 25 years ago, which makes child rearing much more difficult. When a father is neither involved, nor offering financial support, this creates quite a burden for the single parent.

      It’s not unusual for that single parent to work 2 – 3 jobs just to keep food on the table. This results in less supervision when the parent must be at work, rather than at home.

      So what is the root cause? Why are young people not using easily available birth control methods?

    • profile image
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      Howard Schneider 6 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Thank you for commenting Pam. Single parents are also a huge problem and one I did not address for this article. It does fits into my analysis. Single parents usually must work much longer hours to pay the bills. Therefore their time to oversee their children is quite limited. These children will generally fall behind because they have no one to show interest and prod them on. I do not have any answers for why this occurs and no answers for you to help solve the problem. My best guess and it is not an educated one, is that these parents were raised by absent parents. Of course this is not a strict rule. We know though that bad parenting habits have a tendency to perpetuate themselves.

    • DTR0005 profile image

      DTR0005 6 years ago from Midwest

      I think my mother was a bit of a "Tiger Mom" well before her time. And she was not Chinese.

      I am on the fence as well with this issue. I tend to believe that childhood should be just that - a childhood. But I am well aware that historically, our idyllic view of childhood didn't exist until the very late 19th Century/ 20th Century.

      I tend to tell my kids to "do their best," but I do sit down on them hard if they clearly didn't even try. I don't know.. this is an interesting issue/phenomenon. I certainly don't want our children to become mindless automatons. But I do realize they have some strong competition out there - from other nations.

      Excellent piece my friend.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 6 years ago from the short journey

      Mixed bag, indeed. Reminds me of watching schools load elementary children with homework while senior high students played at all kinds of extra-curricular activities day after day, going on to college via non-academic scholarships. Ultimately parents are responsible for not paying attention to this sort of thing.

      Lots of food for thought in your hub!

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      Howard Schneider 6 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      I agree with you that parenthood is a fine balancing act DTR. Our children need to know that we care about their school work and that it must be done well. I also agree that it is also important not to rob a child of their childhood. The parent must know their child and how best to get the full potential from that child. Thanks for your comments.

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      Howard Schneider 6 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Thank you RTalloni. You are quite right. Vigilant parents are what's best. Not knowing what is going on with them and their schools is wrong. Staying interested and assisting your child goes a long way to a child's self esteem leading to strong academics. Not to mention happy children.

    • Deni Edwards profile image

      Deni Edwards 6 years ago from california

      I have not read this book, but I have heard plenty about it. I saw the author on Stephen Colbert, too. Honestly, I think she is slightly nutty, and perhaps she might have OCD.

      I think you did a great job analyzing the Tiger Mom and analyzing the pros and cons. You brought up points I would not have thought about simply because I came to the swift conclusion the woman is not in her right mind. After thinking it over, I think the woman is not in her right mind. LOL.

      H, great job on this hub!

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      Howard Schneider 6 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Thank you Deni. I agree that Ms. Chua is way over the top with her methods. I wonder what long term emotional effects it causes. I also listened to her and tried to relate it to the problems students and parents are having now. As always, there are lessons to be learned as well as methods to be shunned. Simply stay involved with your children from the beginning and shut off the TV.

    • Monisajda profile image

      Monisajda 6 years ago from my heart

      While I believe we need to be involved in our children's lives and make sure they are prepared for school, I am an advocate of giving them some choices. Ms. Chua is raising super obedient kids who may fear her and never love her enough to come to her deathbed. Of course, we want our kids to listen to us and not run wild but we need to allow them some autonomy and happiness. I am still struggling in my relationship with my mom who was very controlling.

      Very interesting hub!

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      Howard Schneider 6 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      I agree with you Monisajda that the "Tiger Mom" takes parenting too far. I believe that parents from developing poorer countries such as hers and yours drive their children much harder. This is because they know how difficult and competitive a world it is. Parents need to allow their children room to be creative and make mistakes to become creative and also grow to be a healthier child and adult. Thank you for commenting.

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 6 years ago from South Africa

      Thanks for a stimulating and enlightening Hub. I think that the kind of authoritarian parenting regime that Tiger Mom advocates could have the effect of raising children who are either cowed and submissive or inappropriately rebellious and lacking respect.

      As parents we need to respect our children, give them much loving attention, and give them appropriate and sufficient space in which to be children. After all, high achievement in academics, sports or any other field is not the most important thing in life.

      Love and peace

      Tony

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      Howard Schneider 6 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Thanks for commenting Tony. I totally agree with you. The problem in my country that has developed is that many parents are working one or several jobs. Therefore they have little time to afford for their children. These children then fall behind on their scholastics and get into all sorts of trouble. I believe that the furor this book has caused here is that parents recognize this problem as well as America's falling academic standing. My offering is that U.S. parents pay much more attention to their children's studies no matter what. This can be accomplished while also allowing them room for creativity and recreation.

    • spkellyo profile image

      spkellyo 6 years ago from Greensboro, NC

      I work as an English Language teacher in Korea and I have seen first hand how kids in Asia differ from kids in the states. For one thing, they idolize people who are smart. One of my upper level classes told me about a man who is in a lot of commercials here, he's in the commercials because he is good at studying not because he is good looking. Intelligence is prized here, and unfortunately at home kids still think it's stupid to study and dream of being on MTV instead of going to MIT.

      It is true however that the pressures the parents put on their kids is immense. They go to school from 8-1 and then they go to academies for math, English, Korean, Piano, Science and Computers. They don't get home until 8 or 9 at night and these are 10 year old children. They drink coffee and eat loads of candy to stay awake. Then they do several hours of homework. I have a student whose parents blocked every channel on TV except the news stations. It's intense but these kids do it without complaint and are highly competitive which explains how quickly Korea has been able to rise on a global scale. In the same amount of time US test scores compared to other industrialized nations have drastically fallen. We're now ranked 17th when 20 years ago we were first. I liked the hub and I think you presented a very balanced argument.

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      Howard Schneider 6 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Thank you Spkellyo. It is a fine line of parenting to be walked and it often depends on what stage of development your country is at. The Asian countries started from a lower point but have been accelerating rapidly. They know knowledge and academic excellence is key and they go for it. Americans have fallen complacent and it shows. I am hopeful it will change because the furor over this book has brought out parent fears. I congratulate the South Koreans but the conditions the parents place on their children are incredibly harsh. Children do need a childhood and also space to be creative.

    • Tom Cornett profile image

      Tom Cornett 6 years ago from Ohio

      Interesting hub. It is about balance. Parents and teachers have to be creative and work with children. Most children are responsive to learning if learning is related to their interests.

      There is a time to learn and a time to play....for all of us.

    • profile image
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      Howard Schneider 6 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      You are right Tom. Balance is key. Parents must also remain interested in their children's academic work and encourage it strongly. Most of my book reports as a child were on sports figures. My teacher told my parents that it was fine as long as I kept reading. Sports were a strong interest so the teacher said keep on reading and think and write critically about it. The key is to stay involved with your child. Thanks for commenting.

    • Aficionada profile image

      Aficionada 6 years ago from Indiana, USA

      Excellent analysis and excellent Hub!

      I think I received the best of both worlds as a child... but I'm not so sure that I've done so well with my own children.

      I think also that, in addition to the two contrasting styles of parenting, it is wise to be aware of a child's own temperament and adapt either style of parenting to work well with the individual. (I guess, in retrospect, that leans more towards the American model, doesn't it?)

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      Howard Schneider 6 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Thank you Aficionada. I agree with you that one needs to know one's own child well to determine the proper parenting method. All children as well as all people are different. It may be cliche but it is true. Yes, I think it does lean much more to the American model. The key I believe is to pay as much attention to one's child as you can. Taking an interest in their education is key.

    • somethgblue profile image

      somethgblue 4 years ago from Shelbyville, Tennessee

      Interesting article and well written however because the paragraphs are much too long it makes reading difficult.

      The difference between reading words on paper and on a screen is that on a screen we have light shining through the letters which is difficult on our eyes whether or not we are aware of this information.

      This makes our eyes work harder (strain) to isolate the letters and hence to read. When we bunch the letters into long paragraphs which is how we are taught traditionally, this makes it even more difficult for us to read.

      At the point that reading becomes irritating it doesn't matter what the subject matter is we turn away instinctively, because our eyes hurt . Then we must reacquire and read on, the process repeats itself and we lose interest.

      As Hub writers we must make it easy for our younger generation to 'in essence' scan the information to assimilate it.

      As far as the article goes I liked it, although I vehemently don't agree with it, it was well written.

    • profile image
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      Howard Schneider 4 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Thank you for your comments, Somethgblue. I have been breaking my Hubs into much smaller paragraphs for the last several Hubs. I agree that it was difficult to read for many Hubbers.

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      Download Sniperspy 4 years ago

      I’d like to thank you for the awesomely helpful thread, your very informative and that really helps better comprehend the topic in a easy manner.

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      Howard Schneider 4 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Thank you very much for your kind comments, Download Sniperspy.

    • Aunt Jimi profile image

      Aunt Jimi 4 years ago from The reddest of the Red states!

      There are advantages to both ways of educating a child, but I do think most people go too far in both methods. One should control their child's environment, but it can go too far. One should give their children the opportunity to learn to make decisions by making them, but again, most parents allow too much freedom, I think.

      One problem is that so many people have been programmed to believe they must have so many things that in fact we can do without. So they stash their children in institutions and go to work to provide things that really aren't necessary. Their children learn the importance of material things from their parent's example -- ignoring them in pursuit of the almighty dollar. This shows that 'things' are more important than 'people,' including one's own children.

      I have a dear friend who gave up many many of those 'things' and stayed home to educate her child herself. That child is grown up now and very smart and productive.

      Nowadays most children who succeed do so in spite of public schools, not because of them.

      Very interesting and informative article. Well balanced and well written. Up and awesome!

    • profile image
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      Howard Schneider 4 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Thank you for your comments, Aunt Jimi. Our society and parents certainly seek material things way too much. I totally agree that personal attention paid to your child will yield the most positive results. This is in regards to scholastic achievement and a more happy and well rounded child.

    • Seafarer Mama profile image

      Karen Szklany Gault 3 years ago from New England

      I enjoyed how you presented two sides to an argument and discussed the advantages and disadvantages of both.

      You are correct in relating the cultural differences reflected in this issue as related to your view of Amy Chua's book...and that sometimes multi-generational households may pose an advantage for parents who want to spend more time with their children.

      My family does not watch television, and we limit the "screen" time of our daughter. We also home-school her (not for religious reasons). She loves to read, so it is not very hard for her to make the transition from game time to reading time. She reads for herself, reads to me, and reads to some of the younger children in our community.

      It is so important now that our culture, beginning with the adult population, communicate a value of appreciation for wisdom and determination. It is important for children to find their passions, then run with them....and for us to encourage their efforts toward developing greater skill with them...and perhaps making livelihoods out of them. It is possible, but it does take hard work. That also means making sacrifices (purchasing supplies for passions may mean not having the latest Wii game or other App).

      Funny how the Republicans tout "family values" while they advertise on billboards temptation after temptation to the average citizen to accumulate stuff. Real family values means spending time together, not working out tails off for stuff. I think that so many cities have gang problems because they don't feel the family connection....they are from marginalized groups where parents need to work two jobs just to survive...and they need a sense of community that somehow isn't satisfied in school. So sad.

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      Howard Schneider 3 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      You stated the case very well for a dedicated and involved parent, Seafarer Mama. Too often we get caught up with material things and our everyday work lives much to the detriment of our children. I'm sure this attention and caring reflects in your children. Thank you very much for your comments and compliments.

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