Study: “Tiger Mom” and her critics are both right about parenting

Stanford researchers find that it's relationships -- not parenting philosophy -- that matter most to kids' success

Topics: Parenting, parents, kids, Tiger Mom, ,

Study: "Tiger Mom" and her critics are both right about parenting

Yale Law professor and world-famous mean mommy Amy Chua made waves in 2011 with a Wall Street Journal article on her hyper-strict parenting style. The backlash to Chua’s “Tiger Mom” manifesto was explosive, with critics accusing her of borderline abuse and hurting her daughters in her quest to make them succeed.

And so began the media battle between Chua and her critics, a debate that often broke down along “Eastern” versus “Western” parenting styles.

But a new study suggests a cease-fire could be on the way. Researchers at Stanford University found that it isn’t the parenting philosophy that matters most to kid’s success — it’s the family culture and strength of the parent-child relationship that really helps kids thrive.

As reported by LiveScience:

The researchers asked 83 high-school students to describe their mothers in a couple of sentences. They found that Asian-American high schoolers were more likely to talk about their mothers’ relationships to themselves than were European-Americans. Asian-Americans tended to mention things such as how their moms helped them with homework or pushed them to succeed, for example.

The European-Americans, on the other hand, were more likely to talk about their mothers as individuals — describing mom’s looks or hobbies, for example. The schism suggests that Asian-Americans and European-Americans really do see moms differently, Fu said.

“For Asian-Americans, they are seeing themselves as connected in some way to their mothers,” lead researcher Alyysa Fu told LiveScience. “Not even just connected, but their mother is part of who they are.”

Next, to assess what the perceived cultural differences meant for parent-child relationships, the researchers asked 61 high-school students to rate how much pressure they felt from their moms, also asking them to rate how closely they depended on their mothers for help and support:

You Might Also Like

For European-Americans, such pressure was seen as negative. Kids who felt pressured by mom said she was less supportive and they felt less interdependent with her. But the same was not true for Asian-Americans. For these kids, pressure and support weren’t related; mom could be high-pressure and still be seen as supportive as a low-key mother. The same was true of interdependence and pressure for Asian-American teens. [10 Surprising Facts About the Teen Brain]

“Asian-Americans feel supported by their mothers just as much as the European-Americans do, even though they are experiencing more pressure from their mothers,” Fu said.

The conclusion? Both high-intensity “tiger moms” and the supposedly low-key “Western” moms may have the right idea, as both groups of kids experienced positive academic outcomes associated with support from their parents.

The study reveals the fault lines of the debate aren’t quite as deep as initially assumed. But then again, these things rarely are.

As Chua herself said in a follow-up interview with the Wall Street Journal, she’s gotten softer since her controversial memoir caused such a stir. Her “tiger mom” tactics have been declawed and now she’s just hoping to help her daughters thrive:

I don’t believe that grades or achievement is ultimately what Chinese parenting (at least as I practice it) is really about. I think it’s about helping your children be the best they can be… It’s about believing in your child more than anyone else — even more than they believe in themselves.

 

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    DAYA  
    Young Daya has yet to become entirely jaded, but she has the character's trademark skeptical pout down pat. And with a piece-of-work mother like Aleida -- who oscillates between jealousy and scorn for her creatively gifted daughter, chucking out the artwork she brings home from summer camp -- who can blame her?

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    MORELLO   
    With her marriage to prison penpal Vince Muccio, Lorna finally got to wear the white veil she has fantasized about since childhood (even if it was made of toilet paper).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CINDY   
    Cindy's embrace of Judaism makes sense when we see her childhood, lived under the fist of a terrifying father who preached a fire-and-brimstone version of Christianity. As she put it: "I was raised in a church where I was told to believe and pray. And if I was bad, I’d go to hell."

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CAPUTO   
    Joey Caputo has always tried to be a good guy, whether it's offering to fight a disabled wrestler at a high school wrestling event or giving up his musical ambitions to raise another man's child. But trying to be a nice guy never exactly worked out for him -- which might explain why he decides to take the selfish route in the Season 3 finale.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    BOO   
    In one of the season's more moving flashbacks, we see a young Boo -- who rejected the traditional trappings of femininity from a young age -- clashing with her mother over what to wear. Later, she makes the decision not to visit her mother on her deathbed if it means pretending to be something she's not. As she puts it, "I refuse to be invisible, Daddy. Not for you, not for Mom, not for anybody.”

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    SOSO
    We still don't know what landed Brooke Soso in the slammer, but a late-season flashback suggests that some seriously overbearing parenting may have been the impetus for her downward spiral.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    POUSSEY
    We already know a little about Poussey's relationship with her military father, but this season we saw a softer side of the spunky fan-favorite, who still pines for the loving mom that she lost too young.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    PENNSATUCKY
    Pennsatucky had something of a redemption arc this season, and glimpses of her childhood only serve to increase viewer sympathy for the character, whose mother forced her to chug Mountain Dew outside the Social Security Administration office and stripped her of her sexual agency before she was even old enough to comprehend it.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CHANG
    This season, we got an intense look at the teenage life of one of Litchfield's most isolated and underexplored inmates. Rebuffed and scorned by her suitor at an arranged marriage, the young Chinese immigrant stored up a grudge, and ultimately exacted a merciless revenge.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    HEALY
    It's difficult to sympathize with the racist, misogynist CO Sam Healy, but the snippets we get of his childhood -- raised by a mentally ill mother, vomited on by a homeless man he mistakes for Jesus when he runs to the church for help -- certainly help us understand him better.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NORMA
    This season, we learned a lot about one of Litchfield's biggest enigmas, as we saw the roots of Norma's silence (a childhood stutter) and the reason for her incarceration (killing the oppressive cult leader she followed for decades).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NICKI
    While Nicki's mother certainly isn't entirely to blame for her daughter's struggles with addiction, an early childhood flashback -- of an adorable young Nicki being rebuffed on Mother's Day -- certainly helps us understand the roots of Nicki's scarred psyche.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>