Few parents in Hong Kong need an introduction to the concept of ‘tiger moms’; mothers who parent by strict discipline, focus almost entirely on academic performance and stringently limit leisure time. The parenting style is ubiquitous in Asia. Extra classes, tutoring and practice sessions in lieu of free time are the norm, even for most non-tiger parents. Tiger parenting goes beyond spending exceptional amounts of time on academics however. Strict discipline, high expectations and use of punishment and shaming as reinforcement are required. These harsh methods have been popularly relinquished by western culture, but books such as Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother are advocating for their value. The question is: is tiger parenting effective?
On a large scale the evidence is fairly supportive of tiger parenting. Academic rankings by nation are invariably a mixture of typical tiger parenting cultures and more laissez-faire ones. Typically countries like South Korea and Hong Kong find themselves sharing the top spots with the likes of Finland and New Zealand. This measure is limited to standardized academic performance, and it would seem that cultures on both sides of the aisle can score highly. The critique often levied against tiger parenting is the cost at which such performance comes. The psychological cost of tiger parenting has recently been highlighted by a longitudinal study in the Asian American Journal of Psychology.
The study broke parenting styles down into four categories; ‘supportive’, ‘tiger’, ‘easygoing ‘and ‘harsh’. Over eight years measures of achievement and depression were taken at intervals. Children subjected to tiger parenting showed high depressive attributes, which is perhaps not surprising. What was surprising however, was that children of tiger parents had academic scores similar to those of easygoing parents, and worse than those of supportive parents. The study concludes unambiguously with its chief finding: “Tiger parenting doesn’t produce superior outcomes in kids”.
Parents are likely to be asking themselves what traits entail being labeled a ‘supportive parent’. According to the study being supportive includes listening carefully, acting affectionately, parenting democratically and much lower use of psychological control, shaming and punishment, which is a hallmark of tiger parenting.
So it would seem that one does not have to be a tiger parent to have high expectations, nor to nurture academic success. Hopefully further research will be done pursuant to this question, because I have some doubt as to whether a single study can effectively kill the myth that strict parenting is strictly better.