Tiger parenting is a form of strict or demanding parenting. Tiger parents push and pressure their children to attaining high levels of academic achievement or success in high-status extracurricular activities such as music, using authoritarian parenting methods. The term “tiger mother” (“tiger mom”) was coined by Yale Law School professor Amy Chua in her 2011 memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. A largely Chinese-American concept, the term draws parallels to strict parenting styles ostensibly enforced throughout households in East Asia, South Asia and Southeast Asia. The rise of Amy Chua’s memoir brought the tiger parent phenomenon into the American mainstream during the 2010s. The tiger parent has since 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 parent” 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 parent 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 in directing much of her maternal influence towards development of 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 parent who coerces their child into medical school or law school.
- 1 History and origin
- 2 Characteristics
- 3 Effects
- 4 In popular culture
- 5 See also
History and origin
The origin of the 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. The concept is influenced by Confucianism, an ancient Chinese philosophy developed by the philosopher Confucius in the 5th century BC that promoted attributes such as filial piety, family values, hard work, enduring hardship, honesty, and dedicating oneself towards academic excellence through the pursuit of knowledge. As Chinese and East Asian society have been influenced by the thought of the ancient Chinese scholar, his teachings still plays a role in attitudes toward education in East Asia.
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. In contemporary Mainland China, national examinations such as the Gaokao remain the primary path for channeling one’s upward social mobility.
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. Western parenting tries to respect and nurture children’s individualism while Chinese parents believe that arming children with in-demand job skills such as mathematical and scientific proficiency, strong work habits, and inner confidence prepares them best for the future.
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 which they believe will increase the chance of the child’s acceptance to the elite universities. 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 sometimes (but not always) ignore other non-academic activities such as art and sports in order to ensure their children’s superior performance in their core academic subjects.
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. 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 serves 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.
Psychological and behavioral control
Tiger parents try to reinforce higher levels of psychological and behavioral control over their children than other parents. Tempering a child’s self-esteem may be part of this strategy. Psychological control comes in many forms but it rooted when parents work to constrain children’s autonomy through psychologically manipulative tactics such as the withdrawal of love or induction of guilt. While behavioral control is focused on setting limits on children’s activities, often referring to academics and limiting behavioral problems.
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. It has been shown that tiger parents are less likely than other parents to compliment their children in public as well. Children raised by tiger parents may be met with emotional threats and physical punishments if they failed to practice their piano scales and meet their expectations. 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.
High expectations and commitment to excellence
Chua cites her parents’ newfound immigration experience in the United States and intense struggle to set their roots in a foreign land as the reason inevitably prompting 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. 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. 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. 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 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. 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.
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.
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. 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.
Views on success and achievement
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, or other Ivy League institutions as the ultimate marker of prestige, granting 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. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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 academics, sports and music, in the belief that this fosters competitiveness and increases their children’s chances of entering 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 modified their admissions requirements to be less demanding.
According to some sources, children raised under a strict, controlling, and punitive tiger mother will suffer a chronic social and psychological toll. The affected children include not only those residing in Asia, but some 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”. 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.
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. 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.
Tiger parents’ belief in the importance of academics for their children is considered by many to constitute child abuse, but is seen as acceptable by many Asian parents. 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.
Use of violence within parenting is common in many Asian cultures, including China, Pakistan, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam. Outside of Asia, violent parenting may be seen as child abuse, but is considered parental devotion within cultures where it is accepted. 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, meter stick, hairbrush, paddle or bamboo feather duster. This is common also in parts of Africa, such as Somalis, Kenyans and many more.
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, but whether or not most families with a 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. 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.
According to this source, tiger parenting could bring benefits to their children economically. The strict rules and high standards that tiger parents establishes, if done correctly, develops their children to live by these high standards. Children of tiger parents who go by these high standard starts to make choices that are preferred by tiger parents throughout their life. They start to value academia/award-winning non-academic successes and hard work more. This leads to Asian Americans from authoritarian families to be more successful if they continue to go by these values.
In popular culture
- Authoritarian parenting
- Helicopter parent, a similar parenting style in the United States
- Hong Kong Kids phenomenon
- Jewish mother, a similar parenting style among Jewish families in the Jewish diaspora and Israel
- Kyoiku mama, a Japanese equivalent which employs a similar parenting style in Japan
- Monster parents, a similar parenting style in Hong Kong
- Stage mother, a similar parenting style but within the context of stage acting and entertainment
- Jennifer Pan and Sef Gonzales – children who murdered their parents, with tiger parenting a contributing factor