Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Tiger Baby Strikes Back!

Author Kim Wong Keltner writes about why she won't be a Tiger Mom to her daughter, Lucy.

Photo: Kim Wong Kelt …
 In her controversial memoir, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," Yale law professor Amy Chua defended her parenting methods, explaining how being a controlling "Chinese-style" parent drives Asian-American children to succeed in ways that permissive "Western-style" parenting does not.  But a recently released decade-long study of 444 Chinese-American families shows that the effect tiger parents have on their kids is almost exactly the opposite.
When Chua's book came out in 2011, Su Yeong Kim, an associate professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Texas, had already been studying the effects of tiger parenting on hundreds of Chinese-American families for more than a decade. Her report, "Does Tiger Parenting Exist? Parenting Profiles of Chinese Americans and Adolescent Developmental Outcomes," was recently published in the Asian American Journal of Psychology.

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," Kim explained in her report. "It was also associated with more academic pressure, more depressive symptoms, and a greater sense of alienation.

"I don't have scientific hard evidence," Keltner told Yahoo! Shine in an interview. (Her book, which came out April 30, is based on her own experiences.) "But I'm 43 years old and my entire life I've met Asian kids who were under so much pressure or were so ashamed that they got a B, because no matter how hard they tried they felt they could never measure up."

The tiger-parenting style espoused by Chua has caused more problems in the Asian-American community than it has prevented, Keltner says. "Everything bad that is happening in American society as a whole is also present in the Asian-American community," she points out. "Date rapes, drug use, cheating in school, political embezzlement, and on." Other studies have shown that high-achieving, tiger-parented Chinese-American students experience higher levels of stress, depression, and anxiety than their less-intensely controlled peers.

But don't expect authoritarian parents to embrace the Kim's findings or change their extreme parenting style, Keltner cautions:

Chinese people don't want to hear that tiger parenting produces 'messed up losers,' " Keltner tells Yahoo! Shine. "Shame and saving face are so important in Chinese culture. No one in my culture is talking about this.

Raised by a strict and emotionally distant tiger mom, Keltner has chosen to bring up her own daughter, Lucy, 9, in a more intuitive, more "Western" way. In "Tiger Babies Strike Back," she writes about the loneliness and anxiety she says was caused by her tiger childhood; harsh words from her mother still resonate, more than 30 years later.

"These incidents from my childhood really influence how I'm raising my daughter," Keltner tells Yahoo! Shine. "I never want her to feel rotten inside. I knew that I wanted something different for my daughter.  We Chinese-American offspring of authoritative parents are all falsely imprisoned by our elders expectations and fears," she explains. "Our cultural tradition of 'not making trouble' keeps us from seeking help for mental illness, suicide rates are high, and still we live in denial."

"Not every Asian kid can be number one," she adds. "What happens to the rest of us?"

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