Everybody Is Stupid Except You

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Does Tiger Parenting Work?

How common is Tiger parenting among Chinese-American parents? And does it work?

In this article in the Wall Street Journal, an excerpt from her book "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” Amy Chua describes how she raised her children:  

“Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do: attend a sleepover; have a playdate; be in a school play; complain about not being in a school play; watch TV or play computer games; choose their own extracurricular activities; get any grade less than an A; not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama; play any instrument other than the piano or violin; not play the piano or violin.”

Many parents, and children, recoiled at this description, and her general approach to parenthood. I was one. But there was one big problem with criticizing: she got results. She has two amazing kids who love and support her

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A new academic article poses two questions. First, does Tiger Parenting work? Second, how common is it among Chinese Americans? 

 The study, titled Does Tiger Parenting” Exist? Parenting Profiles of Chinese Americans and Adolescent Developmental Outcomes, by Su Yeong Kim, Yijie Wang, Diana Orozco-Lapray, Yishan Shen, and Mohammed Murtuza, examined 444 Chinese American families in Northern California over the course of 8 years covering children's "early adolescence to emerging adulthood."

Method

The study tracked eight dimensions of parenting. Four were what would typically be associated with nurturing: parental warmth, democratic parenting, parental monitoring, and inductive reasoning.The other four were: parental hostility, psychological control, punitive parenting, and shaming. 

Statistical analyses categorized parents in four groups: supportive, tiger, easygoing, and harsh. The study also measured academic and personal outcomes in the students. 

How common were Tiger mothers and fathers? 

It depends on when (across the 8 years) and who (the parents or the children) you ask. But the answer is, Tiger parents were not more than about 25% of the sample. Supportive parenting, which was the most common style, was roughly twice as common. 

Does Tiger parenting work?

The short answer is no. The results are correlational by necessity; the researchers couldn't very well randomly assign people to different parenting styles. But they are suggestive. The authors summarize their findings this way: 

"Compared with the supportive parenting profile, a tiger parenting profile was associated with lower GPA and educational attainment, as well as less of a sense of family obligation; it was also associated with more academic pressure, more depressive symptoms, and a greater sense of alienation. The current study suggests that, contrary to the common perception, tiger parenting is not the most typical parenting profile in Chinese American families, nor does it lead to optimal adjustment among Chinese American adolescents."

Why did Amy Chua get great results? It's possible it has to do with her overall talent. She is incredibly successful herself, whereas the median parent in the new study had not graduated from college. This is pure speculation. 

But maybe that's the wrong question. The right question might be, of all the Tiger mothers in the world, which one is most likely to write a memoir about the wonders of Tiger parenting? It only takes one Tiger mother with great kids to write a book. 

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Nate Kornell, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Williams College.

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