Is Being a Tiger Mom Really the Best Example of Good Parenting?

Does Tiger parenting produce the most benefits? Not likely!

Posted Jan 29, 2011

Is Being a Tiger Mom Really the Best Example of Good Parenting?

As I read the article in the New York Times about Tiger parenting, I wondered "Do people really believe this stuff?" Then, as I read more about her book, and listened to MSNBC on my XM Radio, I realized "Yes, they do!"

Usually, I write blogs to provide tips on parenting from the perspective of an older father, who happens to be a psychologist. This blog is a reaction to the principles in the Tiger Mom article in the NYT.  This blog is an editorial of sorts.

Why She's Successful

There are two reasons I believe the Tiger Mom can claim success. First, she defines success narrowly, as achievement and well controlled behavior. Her strategies certainly could produce both, and likely do. Alice Miller, a psychoanalyst (not my usual cup of tea), wrote The Drama of the Gifted Child, and explained how harsh parenting creates the motivation to seek approval through being successful and staying in line. It's not a new concept.

Second, she's unyielding. As a psychologist, I know most research says that even unhealthy parenting, delivered consistently, can be better than inconsistent parenting. Children can learn even the strictest of rules, and learn to rely on a consistent (albeit harsh or cruel) reaction from their parents. Even bad, but consistent, parenting produces benefits-but the question is, "Does it produce the most benefits."

Why She's Not Successful

Tiger parenting falters in at least two ways. First, it promotes conformity over creativity. The use of authoritarian parenting can lead children to do as they are told. The problem is, what if there's a better way to do something? What if there are newer ideas to consider? What if a variation on Bach's music could be even more delightful? The price of conformity is the loss of creative potential. Tiger parenting depends on the parent's views of what's right being, in fact, correct.  If the Tiger Mom is wrong, children can be doomed to thinking in only one, incorrect way. Children reared by a Tiger Mom risk having never learned to think outside the box. They will turn out like the boy in Harry Chapin's "Flowers Are Red" song. 

Tiger parenting also rear children to be ill-prepared for the economic demands of relational economics. While this blog is not the place to debate the pros and cons of different economic theories, most folks understand that the value of relationships and social capital is growing into an economic reality. Certainly relationships are not the only thing that our economy values, but the worth of social connections is growing (think about the value of Facebook or Twitter connectivity). My friend, an accountant, can easily describe the increased worth of relational sales (building long-term relationships through selling) versus transactional sales (making a sale). The Tiger Mom prohibits typical childhood interactions (sleep-overs, for example) that are needed to develop social and relationship skills. The parenting she describes does not model negotiating or give-and-take. Her parenting makes it less likely that children will learn to thrive in an economy that relies on relational capital.

Creativity or Compliance

While the Tiger Mom's approach is seductive to some, I would argue it is also lazy. The approach values making children do as they are told, but de-values parents working to tolerate the chaos and confusion necessary for creativity and new thinking. It is easier to parent in a home where everyone does as they are told. But, it is harder to work within overt chaos to find a new idea. It's easy to always use the same mousetrap, but it is more work to build a better mouse trap. Tiger Mom parenting removes the messy task of teaching our children to cope with one's own emotions (or the emotions displayed by others), in favor of demanding achievement and compliance. Western parenting thrives on messy emotions, so that we can think beyond the stars. We try to balance emotional intelligence with technical achievements. If Tigers were really more evolved and superior than humans, we humans would live in the zoo while tigers built rockets and fly to the moon. 

About the Author

Kevin D. Arnold, Ph.D.

Kevin D. Arnold, Ph.D., A.B.P.P., is the Director of the Center for Cognitive and Behavioral Therapy of Greater Columbus and a Clinical Faculty member in the Dept. of Psychiatry at OSU.

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