David Anderegg

David Anderegg Ph.D.

Young Americans

The Tiger Daddy

Amy Chua and the gender politics of parenting advice

Posted Jan 18, 2011

And another thing.....

I guess everyone has had their say by now about Amy Chua, the "Tiger Mother" who offended half the civilized world (or at least the Yale community) by her, shall we say, insistent parenting style. I myself had my say on the New York Times op-ed forum (Room for Debate, http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2011/01/13/is-extreme-parenting-effective ) and I was pilloried by comment-senders who were appalled that I had anything good to say about Chua. In only 300 words, however, all the things one wishes to say get compressed, like a too-big-for-the-channel-capacity video file, and the resultant view is a little jerky.

So, here's another thing I wish to say. Chua presents her parenting style as "Chinese" as opposed to what she calls the "Western" style of parenting. What she calls "Western" is a recognizable idiom, characterized by self-esteem building and endless congratulation for effort, not results. She is correct to point out that this style, which places children's feelings first and achievements somewhere down the line, does happen in America. But calling it "Western" is misleading, as if the kind of parenting she advocates only happens in China.

Hey, Amy! Ever hear of Vince Lombardi? "Winning isn't everything...it's the only thing"? Hard-ass coaches all over America demand results, not just effort, from their coachees, and the character-building that is seen as a result of this is enthusiastically embraced all over America. By men. On the athletic field.

What is so new and different about Chua is, first, her gender and second, the domains of her in-your-face parenting style. If she were a guy and a soccer coach, yelling at her kids to do better, no one would blink; most people wouldn't even notice. Sure, some cuddly types (the people whose kids play in Little League games where they don't keep score) might wince, but it's not exactly news that people expect results when it comes to athletics. What's new and different is that Chua brings the Lombardi ethos to the homework and the music lessons.

Even those "distractions" she says she outlaws- the play dates, the sleepovers, the television- where have we heard this before? Oh, yeah, from our high school basketball coach. On the day, or week, before a big game, "distractions" are out. No television. No partying. No girls. No anything. Do we threaten to have Coach McSweeney arrested for child abuse? No. We expect him to build character in our kids by helping them focus on what's important.

What's weirdly cool about Amy Chua is that she knows what's important to her: grades in school and technical prowess on the instrument. Those domains are just not that important to a lot of American parents. But look in the boys' locker room of your kid's school, if you dare: Tiger Daddies are on the prowl there, and always have been.

About the Author

David Anderegg

David Anderegg, Ph.D., is a clinical and developmental psychologist on the faculty of Bennington College and a child therapist in private practice in Lenox, Massachusetts.

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