The Drawbacks of Being a Tiger Parent, Now Proven by Science

It's good to push your kids, but only if you're willing to listen to them complain about it.
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Twice a month, a panel of dads discusses a topic of the moment. For today's conversation, they discuss new research on the Tiger Mom phenomenon. Part one of the discussion is below; part two is here.


The world, or perhaps only the Internet, derives great pleasure from ganging up on Tiger Mom Amy Chua. The latest cudgel blow to the famed author of the Chinese-American maternal guide to crushing the spirit of one's offspring in the pursuit of Ivy League early-acceptance: Science!

Such is the upshot of a recent article in Slate,"Poor Little Tiger Cub," in which Paul Tullis reports that "the first major study of tiger moms is out. The kids have worse grades, and they are more depressed and more alienated from their parents."

The research, conducted by Su Yeong Kim of the University of Texas, finds that mercilessly driving one's children to achieve is effective—Harvard or bust, baby!—so long as the parent in question, Asian or no, Mom or Dad, listens to the shrieking plaints of the destined-to-be-high-powered little one. This is what Kim likes to call "authoritative" parenting, or "a combination of high responsiveness with the exercise of power that's open to negotiation." Spare not the rod, then, in the development of one's high-flying whelp—but do so with an open mind.

What works less well is shaming said youngsters, no matter how desperately one's parental self-image (and retirement) hinges on his or her future employment with Goldman Sachs:

Kim also measured the outcomes for each of her categories. Supportive parents had the best developmental outcomes, as measured by academic achievement, educational attainment, family obligation (considered positive outcomes), academic pressure, depressive symptoms, and parent-child alienation (considered negative).... Children of easygoing parents were second in outcomes, while tiger moms produced kids who felt more alienated from their parents and experienced higher instances of depressive symptoms. They also had lower GPAs, despite feeling more academic pressure.

All to the good, and none too surprising—not that it should be. Research is not about novelty, but understanding the world in which we live. But I don't think these findings shed much light on why the prescriptions of Good Mom Chua rankle so many people. Amy Chua's work upsets people because it is based on the belief that conventional, middle-class, (white) American culture is lazy, stupid, entitled, easily exploited, and best resisted.

Perhaps the least unexpected, and most satisfying, of Kim's discoveries was that fewer Chua's exist than her book would suggest. As Tullis notes, "Fewer 'tiger' parents emerged from Kim's analysis than did 'supportive' parents. 'Easygoing' were similar in number as 'tigers,' and the fewest parents were deemed 'harsh.'"

–Theodore

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Matt Gross & Theodore Ross

Matt Gross and Theodore Ross write for the website DadWagon. Theodore Ross is the author of Am I a JewMatt Gross is the author of The Turk Who Loved Apples: And Other Tales of Losing My Way Around the World.

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