Amy Chua’s (2011) “Hymn of the Tiger Mother” is causing quite a stir. In this memoir, Chua describes the manner in which she has parented her daughters, with her parenting style depicted as strict and uncompromising. Nonetheless, in this depiction, Chua’s daughters are high achieving in academics and other pursuits (e.g., their playing of the piano and violin) in conjunction with, and perhaps as a result of, Chua’s unrelenting drive to have her daughters reach their fullest potential at, what appears to be, any cost. Because this memoir draws attention to the contrasts between Chua’s self-described Chinese mothering and what may be depicted as permissive Westernized parenting, many individuals now are questioning the value of these different styles of parenting. Certainly, such questions are warranted, as all parents would like to foster the most positive outcomes for their children and adolescents. These questions are not new, however, with seminal works in parenting already having examined these topics.
If one closely examines Chua’s (2011) “tiger mothering” in the context of these seminal works that examine parenting, her parenting easily could be likened to Authoritarian Parenting. In Authoritarian Parenting, mothers and fathers set strict limits and are uncompromising. In their parenting, however, these mothers and fathers fail to provide warmth and nurturance, parenting characteristics that appear to be critically important to overall positive outcomes for children and adolescents (Baumrind, 1991). In contrast, Permissive Parenting (which some would say is more consistent with the alternate Western parenting style presented as a point of contrast to Chua’s parenting style) includes the provision of warmth and nurturance but with a lack of limits and structure (Baumrind, 1991). There are also other styles of parenting, such as Neglectful Parenting (i.e., parenting that includes neither warmth and nurturance nor limits and structure; Baumrind, 1991). Unfortunately, none of these styles may be optimal. Instead, seminal as well as more recent research would suggest that Authoritative Parenting, or parenting that provides limits and structure while still offering warmth and nurturance, is the optimal parenting style (Baumrind, 1991).
In fact, research suggests that Authoritative Parenting tends to promote the most positive outcomes for children and adolescents overall (Baumrind, 1989, 1991). For example, a recent research study suggests that Authoritative Parenting, particularly when both mothers and fathers utilize such a style, is beneficial for adolescents’ outcomes as they proceed through college (McKinney & Renk, 2008). In contrast, the harsh characteristics of Authoritarian Parenting have been related to externalizing behavior problems in children (Shaw, Owens, Giovanelli, & Winslow, 2001; Williams et al., 2009) as well as conduct problems at school (Eisenberg et al., 1999), aggression, and antisocial behavior (Patterson, DeBaryshe, & Ramsey, 1989). Further, when examining both Authoritative and Authoritarian Parenting, both styles were related to college students’ grade point averages. However, Authoritative Parenting was related to a decrease in anxiety symptoms, whereas Authoritarian Parenting was related to an increase in anxiety symptoms (Silva, Dorso, Azhar, & Renk, 2007-2008). These findings suggested that these parenting styles may promote differential mental health outcomes for children and adolescents. Other parenting styles also may not be as optimal as Authoritative Parenting. For example, Permissive Parenting has been related to internalizing behavior problems (Williams et al., 2009) and lower levels of cognitive competency in children (Baumrind, 1991). Thus, different parenting styles may have ramifications for the outcomes experienced by children and adolescents.
Nonetheless, some may say that Chua was able to ‘help’ her daughters achieve desired outcomes. So, then, what is the problem? It is clear that Chua has recognized that children have “enormous potential” (Shenk, 2011). To reach that potential, however, parents serve only as a guide (Shenk, 2011) or a supervisor (e.g., Barkley, 1997). As a result, it might be wise for parents to consider the kind of supervisor with whom they might like to work and for whom they might optimize their performance without any ill effects on their own mental health (e.g., Barkley, 1997). So, would it be the supervisors who are fierce in their pursuit of perfection but who withhold praise for effort and outcome? Or, would it be the supervisors who are fierce in their pursuit of perfection but who offer a warm and engaging environment in which the outcome can be achieved? The answer to these questions might tell the rest of the story regarding the effects of “tiger mothering” and the outcomes that are achieved by children and adolescents.
Barkley, R. A. (1997). Defiant children: A clinician’s manual for assessment and parent training: Second edition. New York: The Guilford Press.
Baumrind, D. (1989, August). The influence of parenting style on adolescent competence and problem behavior. Paper presented at the APA’s “Science Weekend,” New Orleans, LA.
Baumrind, D. (1991). Effective parenting during the early adolescent transition. In P. A. Cowan (Ed.), Family transitions (pp. 111-163). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Chua, A. (2011). Hymn of the tiger mother. London: Bloomsbury.
Eisenberg, N., Fabes, R., Shepard, S., Guthrie, I., Murphy, B., & Reiser, M. (1999). Parental reactions to children’s negative emotions: Longitudinal relations to quality of children’s social functioning. Child Development, 70, 513-534.
McKinney, C., & Renk, K. (2008). Differential parenting between fathers and mothers: Implications for late adolescents. Journal of Family Issues, 29, 806-827.
Patterson, G. R., DeBaryshe, B. D., & Ramsey, E. (1989). A developmental perspective on antisocial behavior. American Psychologist, 44, 329-335.
Shaw, D. S., Owens, E. B., Giovanelli, J., & Winslow, E. B. (2001). Infant and toddler pathways leading to early externalizing disorders. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 40, 36-43.
Shenk, D. (2011, January 14). Beyond Chinese mothering: The science and practice of child success. Retrieved from http://www.babble.com/kid/kids-learning/Chinese-mother-child-success-science/.
Silva, M., Dorso, E., Azhar, A., & Renk, K. (2007-2008). The relationships among parenting styles experienced during childhood, anxiety, motivation, and academic success in college students. Journal of College Student Retention: Theory, Research, and Practice, 9 (2), 149-167.
Williams, L. R., Degnan, K. A., Perez-Edgar, K. E., Henderson, H. A., Rubin, K. H., Pine, D. S., Steinberg, L., & Fox, N. A. (2009). Impact of behavioral inhibition and parenting style on internalizing and externalizing problems from early childhood through adolescence. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 37, 1063-1075.