– Exploring the Impact of Tiger Parenting: Valid Discipline or Child Abuse?

Strict curfews, monitored communications, and facing criticism for scoring anything below a 99 on an exam – do any of these routines feel like just another Tuesday night for you? If so, you might be among the many who are well-acquainted with the “tiger parenting” trend.

Recently popularized by author Amy Chua in her controversial 2011 memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, this concept has now become a part of everyday language as a parenting style that emphasizes conventional standards of success and accomplishment in academics and the professional realm over a child’s personal aspirations and well-being.

This approach to parenting is commonly linked with an “authoritative” parenting style, contrasting with other styles that allow for more leniency or detachment from one’s children. The figure of the tiger parent is often associated with Asian households, juxtaposed against the more relaxed parenting style prevalent in the West, which prioritizes happiness and individual definitions of success above all else.

Advocates of tiger parenting firmly believe that this method guarantees a prosperous future for their children, with recent portrayals of the tiger parent becoming more nuanced in recent years.

From Turning Red to Everything Everywhere All at Once (and even dating back to The Joy Luck Club), these pieces of mainstream media aim to illustrate how tiger parents may genuinely aim to offer their children opportunities they themselves never had.

However, for every individual extolling the benefits of this approach, there are just as many narratives recounting the impact of the immense pressure exerted by their tiger parents, pressure that continues to linger.

Thus, a crucial question remains unanswered: does tiger parenting inherently expose a child to familial abuse? Distinguishing between a valid and distinctive parenting technique and actual abuse can be exceedingly challenging, so how does one navigate this distinction?

A lesson in control

“There are certain indicators that may suggest tiger parenting has crossed the line into abusive territory,” shared Joel Navarez, a full-time university counselor at De La Salle University-Laguna, with Rappler. While the recognition of these signs may vary based on cultural norms, he cautioned that a few common signs may manifest.

These signs include physical punishment resulting in harm to the child, persistent emotional harm like humiliation and degradation, and isolation from friends and support systems – all indications that a tiger parent has veered into abusive behavior. A child living in constant fear of the parent may also signal abusive control.

These are typical symptoms associated with child abuse, defined as “any deliberate harm or mistreatment inflicted on a child,” whether by a peer or their own parent. This encompasses forms of emotional abuse such as damaging a child’s self-esteem and well-being, as well as physical abuse where the child is purposefully injured or put at risk.

For Bianca, 22, “fear” was the primary emotion associated with tiger parents. She recounted her personal encounters with her own tiger mother and how her upbringing continues to impact her to this day.

“I appreciate that my mom was deeply involved and always there for my sister and me,” she expressed, “but it came with a cost.”

Bianca remembered how her mother was meticulous in assisting her with homework and studying for exams; however, even a single mistake in memorization or failure to grasp lessons promptly enough for her mother’s standards would trigger her mother’s anger. She was restricted from joining certain extracurricular clubs her mom believed would detract from her academics and was expected to maintain grades above 90 or retain her position in the honor roll.

Her mother would question her, “ Para kanino ba ‘to? Para sa akin ba (Who is this for? Am I doing this for me)?”

Reflecting on her experiences, Bianca acknowledged the “fine line” between tiger parenting and child abuse. Parents may not realize that their actions are already causing harm to their child. Although her mother eased her grip as she matured and entered high school, Bianca felt her mother went “overboard” in pushing her towards academic success.

“Undoubtedly, I believe [tiger parenting] aids in preparing a child for success,” Bianca shared. “But at what expense?”

Chai, 46, shared a similar narrative – her father played the role of the tiger parent in their home. Despite excelling in extracurricular activities such as declamation and oratorical speaking, Chai felt her achievements in these areas were overlooked as they weren’t in core subjects like math or science.

Consequently, she discussed feeling a strong sense of “control,” which continues to influence her life today by disallowing any perceived “weakness” in herself. While Chai acknowledged the importance of parents guiding their child’s efforts, particularly those struggling to achieve personal goals, she felt the strictness she experienced might have been excessive given her already strong academic performance.

“No parent desires harm for their children,” Chai remarked. However, when taken to extremes, Chai recognized how the high expectations placed on a child could burden them and affect their well-being for years to come.

Gabi*, 22, took a firm stance against tiger parenting, viewing the excessive emphasis on academic achievement as inherently detrimental.

Gabi found it distressing to witness young children’s potential being stifled by the pressures they faced at such a tender age, arguing that the process ultimately undermines the outcomes tiger parents aspire to achieve, prompting children to rebel and seek autonomy as they mature.

For Gabi, irrespective of upbringing, there are inherent risks to a child’s development when subjected to misguided influences, even with a tiger parent present. This perceived risk, he contended, undermines the parenting style altogether.

It appears that in cases where tiger parenting is taken to extremes, its repercussions may be more harmful than beneficial. Studies suggest that despite its emphasis on achievement and diligence, tiger parenting may lead to heightened stress and anxiety, diminished self-esteem, and a paralyzing fear of failure in children.

While proponents of this technique endorse its efficacy, research remains divided on whether tiger parenting yields the desired outcomes. While some studies suggest that the “demanding” and “responsive” nature of tiger parenting can enhance a child’s academic performance and cognitive and socio-emotional skills, others indicate that tiger parenting may be linked to lower GPAs and educational achievements compared to children raised under different parenting styles.

Navarez concurred that particular aspects of tiger parenting pose “potential risks” when taken to extremes. As the approach is characterized by strictness and lofty expectations, at its worst, tiger parenting can strain the parent-child relationship, leading to emotional distress and enduring negative effects on the child’s self-esteem and overall mental health.

He stressed, however, that tiger parenting should be distinguished from child abuse. Its validity and effectiveness, he noted, hinge on individual values, cultural background, and beliefs concerning child development.

Navarez underscored the importance of equipping parents with the tools for success, offering opportunities to learn about effective and balanced parenting techniques.

Early intervention to detect signs of distress as soon as possible, with support from school counselors, healthcare professionals, and child protective services, was deemed crucial by Navarez.

Even author Chua acknowledged the shortcomings of her tiger parenting approach and the compromises she had to make since then in her own narrative. Described as a “coming-of-age tale, where the parent comes of age as a parent,” Chua’s depiction of her intense struggle with her 13-year-old daughter Lulu to shape her into a violin prodigy, which eventually – albeit with considerable effort – led to Lulu’s success, is poignant: “Maybe I finally allowed myself to admire Lulu’s immovable strength for what it was, even if I bitterly disagreed with her choices,” Chua candidly wrote.

What it means to be a ‘balanced parent’

In today’s world, striking a balance between nurturing a child’s individuality and fostering family bonds has become increasingly crucial in Asian and Asian-American households – reflecting the evolution of the tiger parenting approach to the present day.

Navarez believed that discussions on parenting styles should incorporate thoughtful consideration of a child’s unique needs within the context of their cultural background.

Regardless of the parenting style adopted, Navarez emphasized: “The key is to approach parenting with an understanding of the child’s individual needs and temperament, maintaining a balance between setting expectations and providing emotional support.”

Parenting is never straightforward. Being a parent is a monumental responsibility, as they are initially tasked with making decisions in the best interest of their child, a task that is not always clear-cut. Sometimes, as Chua herself admitted, effective parenting may entail challenging deeply held beliefs: “In our household, the violin had become a symbol.… For me, it symbolized excellence, refinement, and depth. For Lulu, it embodied oppression.”

Whether one embraces tiger parenting or not, it is evident that a balanced parenting approach offers the best chance of fostering a meaningful and healthy parent-child relationship. As we strive to connect with our loved ones, it is vital to remember that kindness, understanding, and empathy are crucial in maintaining family harmony.

Ultimately, the age-old question persists: what truly leads to a child’s happiness – what we believe is best for them, or what they believe is best for themselves?

The answer, it seems, perpetually – and frustratingly – lies somewhere in between. – Rappler.com

If you believe that you or someone you love may be a victim of abuse, contact the Makabata Helpline 1383 of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

*names have been changed upon request, and answers have been edited for clarity

Dana Villano is a Rappler intern.