Tiger Moms

It was some time ago that a Yale law professor supposedly promoted the idea in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother that raising successful kids required parents to make all the decisions on how they spend their time - mainly studying and practicing music. I never read the book. But TV, computer games and poor grades the like were not permitted.

The rationale was children do not want to work, so overriding this preference is okay even if it is necessary to shame or punish the child. Allowing for the exaggeration of an author selling books, this questions what constitutes social success and what values should be taught. Success here is in terms of individual achievement; the mother calls poorly patented children “losers” or called her own daughter “garbage” at a dinner party.

This parenting style argues lectures, insults and intimidation are the essence to successful parenting. It’s a pretty pessimistic view of human nature requiring confirmation to rigid rules enforced by fear, as exists in some unfortunate countries.

  1. Is this philosophy still championed? Does it have merits?

  2. Is this a fair summary of the philosophy? Do you know people who promote this? Disagree?

  3. If society is becoming more narcissistic, are these the current dominant cultural values in Western countries?

  4. Do you have other opinions about similar topics?

  5. Does this promote or teach a lack of empathy?

  6. How much should free time be scheduled?

Seems like a great way to create adults with deep-seated neuroses about self-worth and accomplishment, interfere with critical social development, and perpetuate a cycle of emotional abuse and neglect. But then what do I know? I don’t even kick my dog or scream at people for being in the grocery line in front of me with only two items.


I think this is not quite a correct characterization of the book. It isn’t a guide for parenting in general, but more a memoir of this one particular mother.

In that sense, tiger moms certainly exist, especially in the Asian community, to which this author belonged.

I think it’s easier to bully your kids into the professions if you come from a shame culture. Guilt cultures (Irish Catholic, Southern Baptist) produce politicians.

Of course if you’re Jewish, you get shame, guilt and fear cultures, and the word is your oyster (to use a cliche that’s also treyf)

The book is by Amy Chua, who seems to be perpetually popping up in the news for controversial reasons. So does her husband, who is also a professor at Yale Law.

I’ve never read Tiger Mom either, but commentary on it suggests that it is nothing like the caricatures that early media reports made of it. It’s over a decade old. One daughter graduated from Yale Law, and clerked for Brett Kavanaugh both before and after he was named to the Supreme Court. The other is currently at Harvard Law. They’ve always defended their mother, to my knowledge.

Try growing up in an Jewish/Italian/Irish Catholic household.

I’ve heard about Chua’s book but I haven’t read it. Does Chua address the issue of how to transition children from being motivated by their parents to being self-motivated? It seems to me that tiger parents run the risk that their children will work hard only to avoid parental pressure. And then as soon as they can escape from their parents’ control, they will do so and spend the rest of their life slacking off.

My characterization of the book is second hand. Certainly many Asian cultures prioritize academics. I cannot say if the characterization is fully accurate - as said it may be over a decade old.

Was she the one who would crumple up hand-made birthday, etc. cards and tell them “do it again. Better?” I would have been so crushed I’d’ve never tried to do well in anything again.

In my experience, 90% the kids have very positive feelings about their parents. I wore a post about this years ago, but I can’t find it. Basically, the attitude is “Westerners are too lazy to stop their own children from walking off a cliff, what the fuck is wrong with them?”. Your traditional “tiger mom” works harder than her kids do on their success, and she does it because she wants them to be prosperous and safe.

It can be deeply problematic and toxic, don’t get me wrong. All cultures have toxic parents. But the Western attitude of “I drop my kid off at school every day, and ground them if they get below a B on their report card. That’s the extent of my role in their education. The rest is their choice” is not always a healthy viewpoint, either.

ETA: found the link.

One big problem is that different people will excel in different fields, and the best judge of what field a person will excel in is that person themself. A “tiger mom” who forces a child to be the best violinist they can be, for instance, might be depriving the world of a great inventor, or politician, or entrepreneur.

I prefer cougar moms myself. :smile:

I’ve met some of these Asian-American high-achievement families here in metro Atlanta. There’s a lot of racism in how they compare themselves to white and African-American families, no compunction against cutting ethical and even legal corners, lingering animosity between Japanese/Korean/Chinese, and caste-contempt by Indians.

This may be true. But the focus of this thread should be on parenting. In Korea there is (according to one book I read) neighbourly competition to hire more tutors out of class time, intense competition to get into the “right” university, widespread ambivalence among students once they get into university. Many other countries also place strong focus on academics and equate this with success.

Should similar intensity seem out of place in the West? I agree that too little concern is also problematic. And one should keep in mind the notion of “good enough” parenting - since it is a hard job, somewhat out of ones control. I’ll bet teachers have a few things to say about the topic.

I teach English in Taiwan and my children are middle and upper elementary school age so I see many of these, although we avoid that much control ourselves. We have our kids in an alternative education school which emphasizes arts, music, drama, nature and such over pure academics so we do see fewer tiger moms than if our kids were in elite schools in Taipei.

Traditionally, in both Japan and Taiwan (and probably Korea as well), the choice of university has a far greater influence in a child’s future compared to the US. The kyoikumama (education mother) in Japan and the similar type here are deeply involved in their child’s entire education experience.

A very high percentage of children go to cram schools. I’ve read reports that 80% of Taiwanese junior high school children take cram school classes.

The amount of homework is insane, and at least a majority of elementary school children attend cram schools, just to help with their homework, if not teaching additional classes in math and English, and possibly social studies and other classes. Children also have too much homework during school holidays and the summer.

Here is an article discussing a poll of children in grades five through eight.

For tiger moms, I have seen parents who:

  • push music on their children to an extreme.

  • dictate the children’s choices of sports based on the parent’s criteria.

  • micro manage the children’s time all week.

Most families are scheduled around their kids’ cram schools, music education and sports,

I don’t like the system, but it works for many people. The cram school teachers often are entertaining and explain things better than the regular teachers at school.

Children study, study, study and study up to the time they take the university entrance exam, then once they are admitted, it’s party time for four years. (Although that depends somewhat on the major.)

They go off and become responsible adults (at least a similar percentage as in any developed country in the world) and have kids who go through the same cycle.

The idea of pushing kids through humiliation and not praise is “old school” and that is changing.

For me, there are no ifs or buts about it. “Tiger parenting” is child abuse, plain and simple. Or, if one wishes to get semantical about my use of that loaded term, let me put it this way: it should be considered an unacceptable way to parent - cruel, inconsiderate, and in fact, often counterproductive toward the child, and in my not so humble opinion, children should have ways of defending themselves against it. Oh, by the way, I experienced tiger parenting.

I have not shied away on these forums from describing my mother’s despotic and narcissistic behavior. This included being a “tiger mom”, which mainly manifested itself when I was in high school and university. I should mention that I grew up in Canada in a Serbian immigrant family, and that tiger parenting seems to be common not only among Asian, but also among, for example, Serbian immigrants. However, in this post, I will use term “tiger parenting” strictly in the sense of a parent’s behavior, and not in any way related to any ethic or racial group.

My story: In elementary school, I had behavioral problems (mainly being testy of teachers in grade 1 and 2 and, through middle school, seeking bad company and attracting my peers’ attention in socially unacceptable ways in an attempt to make friends, which would get me into trouble). As for my academic achievement, it varied from year to year; in middle school, it tended to vary a great deal between subjects. My perfectionist, overachieving mother took this very badly. She simulatneously had high expectations and goals for me, and it created bad blood between us.

However, by the time I was at high school, I had cleaned up my act. I had gotten much better at socializing and was making a genuine effort to apply myself to my studies. My marks went up to the point where you could say I was a relatively very good student. However, by this time, my mother had gone full-out tiger mom. She had uncompromising standards and expected uniformly high marks from me that were slow in coming. Both my parents kept pointing out what could be better. On my winter term report in grade 10, I had achieved the highest grades I ever had, 7 out of 8 subjects were 80% or higher (in Canada, an 80-84 is typically considered the equivalent of an A-). I pointed this out to my parents. This time, it was my father who said. “but you went down in this and that subject”. By that he meant percentage-wise, I.E. there were a few subjects where for example in the fall term I might have had 88 or 89% and in the spring term I had 82 or 84%. As if no fluctation at all were permissible even within a grade range, and as if the on the whole average and level of achievement, which achievent was not altogether easy for me to attain given my earlier more mediocre achievement, did not matter! I can’t tell you how much I resent that lack of acknowledgment.

Do you think that dissatisfaction with my achievement and lack of positive encouragement caused me to do better and better in school and attain my parents’ expectations? Hell, no. In grade 11, my grades slipped and there were two reasons for this, neither of which were my fault, but that of the responsible adults. The first point: my mother chose my electives for me and this included science subjects that I wouldn’t have taken of my own free will. The second: for both science subjects, chemistry and biology, which were already difficult subjects to begin with and not where my talent lay, I had the bad luck of getting the same teacher, Mr. A., an old codger who wasn’t much of a lecturer, but spent a lot of time yelling at students and being demanding (I heard through the grapevine that he was deliberately tough on younger students, to weed out the weaker ones, and that seniors who stayed and took chemistry/biology later would receive his devoted attention). This work overload, combined with the psychological stress of family pressure and other personal factors, caused me to become neurotic, at times tune out in class, and to not perform to my full potential. My marks soon fell from an average over 80% to about 69%. My mother was furious, attributing this to laziness; this resulted in vitriolic screaming sessions, put-downs, threats, and groundings. This did not help in any way. She couldn’t care less that I had a difficult teacher for two difficult subjects. When I tried to point out to her that Mr. A. had unreasonable expectations, she was like: “So it’s Mr. A.'s fault, eh? Am I not the same as Mr. A?” [Yes, mother. In fact you are. The same kind of shrewed and cursed scold.]

I could tell you about the next school year, I would have even more pointed examples of how my mother didn’t learn but only persisted in her imagining I would meet her unrealistic expectations, but it would take too long. Let’s skip ahead to university, to which I had gotten through significant difficulty, not because of but despite my mother’s pressure and domestic terror. I studied what interested me, a liberal arts degree focused on classics (Latin, classical civilization, etc.) I then intended to go to teachers’ college. However, this was not good enough for my mother. She wanted me to go to graduate school and become a professor. This resulted in my trying for a specialist in Classics, rather than just a major (this meant that I only had one minor instead of two, and that I had more subjects in Classics), and this included more Ancient Greek. This was a language that I found very difficult to learn (and my home environment full of constant screaming, threatening and other bullying on part of my mother was not exactly conducive to a good environment for studying) and it kept my average lower than I would have needed for getting into either graduate school or teachers’ college. Finally in my third year, realizing this would get me nowhere, I told my mother I didn’t have what it took for graduate school and intended to switch out of my specialist and aim for teachers’ college. She was furious, but there really wasn’t anything else that could be done. Long story short, I did switch to a major in Classics, which enabled me not to do any more Ancient Greek, and besides my existing French Lit. minor took a minor in English. My grades went up, and I also started working on getting into teachers’ college. This was a sincere effort on my part: it involved volunteering in various classrooms (including one in an alternative school for high school students expelled from the regular program, often for criminal activity, where they were attempting to rehabilitate them); writing about these experiences to the teachers’ colleges I applied to, and taking an extra university course in psychology (which I finished with an A+). Still I was not admitted, because in Ontario there was an excess of applicants to this field, I.E., demand exceeded supply. My mother was very bitter about this.

In the end, I went to the Czech Republic and became an English as a Second Language teacher. It pays the bills, but to say it won’t make you rich is an understatement. And my mother, far from having a well-established professional achiever for a son who is near her and will be a comfort in her old age, has a bitter, neurotic son who wants to be as far away from her as possible.

Now suppose my mother’s tiger parenting had had its desired effect and that I had become a great professor, or a lawyer, or a software engineer, or a doctor, or whatever high-paying learned profession would have made her happy and made me a lot of money. All the same, I would not be thankful for her having pressured me, because her methods were Machiavellian, treated me as a criminal for having had difficulty with a pre-set course of study, and essentially were dehumanizing my young self. The ends don’t justify the means.

This is a very good point. Tiger parents often have this cookie-cutter notion of what acceptable achievement is: at the extreme, they want their child to excel in school, especially in subjects like math and science (if possible, at or near 100%), AS WELL AS to become a virtuoso in a musical instrument, AS WELL AS to be a winner in a sport (some parents may emphasize “only” the sport OR the music part). They don’t take into account that it is unreasonable to expect someone to be good at “everything”, or that there is more to life than just achievement over a broad range of fields.

Or that you can be competent in something not on that official list. Just because you’re not getting high marks in math doesn’t mean you won’t achieve success in something else. Typically, a tiger parent’s ultimate goal will be for their child to enter a well-paid learned profession (e.g. a lawyer, a doctor, an engineer). Or to enter the Establishment (politics, whatever). They may even have a specific career in mind that they have “chosen” for their child. They may not care that their child may have an inclination AND a talent for something else. To them this may be just a waste of time. As perhaps an extreme example, look at Matt Groening. He attended a very liberal, arguably permissive college. He then worked in a record shop. He started drawing “silly cartoons” on the side. Now he is the creator of one of the longest-running and surely extremely financially successful media franchises, The Simpsons (not to mention Futurama, and his original creation, the comic Life in Hell). Now imagine that he had had the likes of Amy Chua for his mother…Bottom line, I don’t think your parents should have the right to steer you toward any specific profession. You have the duty to eventually become a productive and self-sufficient adult. But beyond that, it should be your call.

Also, there’s this obsession with getting into a good university. But technically, you don’t need university to get to a decent station in life. If worse came to worse, you can graduate from high school with a C average or even a D- average. Many community colleges will admit ANY high school graduate, even the one with the poorest marks, and there you can study specific vocations which may get you as far in life as university would have (for example, my best friend from middle school, Mike S., studied robotics at a technical college, and ended up repairing robots for automotive plants, and he’s significantly richer than I am). Disclaimer: this comment should not be used by parents to judge their children incompetent to go to university and LIMIT their education. It should be up to the student how far they will go).

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t encourage children to do well in school, that school is for nothing, or that you should just goof off at school. I don’t wish to excuse genuine laziness. But that doesn’t mean that parents should demand excellence. It should be all right to be “just good”. Not getting all As or not studying advanced math and science does not mean you are set to be a ditch digger. Look around you. A LOT of people who are perfectly successful adults for various reasons did poorly at school, or at least were “just so good” and in no way excelled. While there may be cases where there is a connection, the extent to which one succeeds in school is nowhere near a reliable predictor of their success in adult life. And you don’t help by overloading your child with expectations (making them take various rigorous subjects in school, filling their schedule with extracurricular activities). It’s counterproductive and, quite frankly, treating a young person like shit. If someone’s tiger parenting does bring about the expected results, don’t be surprised if they end up an alcoholic or substance user besides, or if they develop neuroses and psychological problems, or if they become antisocial toward their own family.

Here is something that all parents should be aware of, and not just the most extreme “tiger parents”: not only should parents be able to give appropriate praise even to small improvements (e.g., "I see you’ve improved this C+ to a B-. Good for you, keep it up) but discussions about a child’s marks and report card should not be a linear transaction where parents simply give their assessment of the child’s progress to them and not allow any feedback or participation from the child. Even if your child got all Ds on a report card, it doesn’t mean that you should just dismiss your child as lazy, berate them and punish them. Not only will a slew of criticsm or screaming not be likely to result in your child becoming a better student, it won’t give your child the chance to tell their side of their story. While poor marks may in many cases be the result of nothing but laziness, in many cases there will be other factors: stress from home life or other external factors, unreasonable or unfair teachers, psychological issues, etc. These factors should be taken seriously and not be dismissed, and the child should be included as a partner in the discussion of what can be done to improve their marks as well as whether they themselves are satisfied with their achievement, and if not, what they think is keeping them from doing better. You are likely to achieve more from using the results in the report card as a bilateral discussion session than as a berating session where you do nothing but come down on your child for not achieving the results you have arbitrarily decided they should achieve.

Oh, and there have been children of tiger parents who have killed their parents. One example very close to home: a good decade ago, Jennifer Pan of Unionville, ON just outside Toronto, where I grew up. She was raised by ethnic Chinese immigrant parents from Vietnam, who reportedly had similar restrictive rules and demanding expectations to those that Amy Chua imposed on her daughters, with her father apparently being the ringleader and her mother being the softer parent going along with his rules (the hired killers ended up injuring the father and killing the mother). Pan is a textbook example of how tiger parenting can thoroughly backfire.

Based on my experience growing up and going to school in Southwest Houston with a lot of Asian students- probably 25% of the student body, of which probably half were Vietnamese, 40% were Chinese, and the remainder assorted Cambodians, Thai and Indians, the Chinese approach was extremely toxic and problematic.

It seemed like ALL the Chinese students were in orchestra (not band, mind you), NONE played a sport, and all of them were in perpetual terror of their parents if they somehow made bad grades or otherwise didn’t measure up. The only one I knew who was halfway chill was a guy in the GT classes with me- he was smart enough to actually get good grades without actually worrying about it.

I remember one guy literally burst into tears in the middle of a class because he made a B on a test, which jeopardized his A for the six-week term in that class. Apparently he’d been scraping by with low As, and this B was a low enough B to sink his average to an 89. He was that worried in eighth grade.

What I remember is that it was SO relentlessly competitively minded so early, and it used to make me mad at the time (I was 12, so take it with a grain of salt) that I had to compete with people who were being pushed/enabled by their parents to do nothing else except make good grades and play the violin. It didn’t feel fair- like playing sports, being a Boy Scout, or anything else I did was putting me behind them somehow, and I wasn’t even wanting to compete like that at that age.

To be fair, that guy did end up going to Columbia and Stanford and is some kind of whiz-bang attorney now. But I wonder how much of that was his desire, and how much of it was him feeling like he was being chased by the fear of being unsuccessful.

As it happens, I was wandering in the book store and came across a book called Thrivers. It claims that the Tiger Model is now widespread among parents everywhere. Along with other disruptive influences, it seems expectations are completely off the charts. With Covid making things even worse, of course this has problematic effects.

The book recommends teaching the seven Character Traits: curiosity, optimism, perseverance, self-confidence, self-control, integrity and empathy and gives tips for doing this in many different ways. These traits are not always emphasized in social media or role models. The book also has sharp words for the Tiger Mom approach. It makes a great deal of sense and I would recommend this approach instead.