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Is This Tiger Mom Out of Control?


The December 24 Books section of the Wall Street Journal features an article by Amy Chua, aka Tiger Mom, in which Ms. Chua attempts to justify her domineering parenting techniques as she continues to back peddle from the widespread criticism and anger that her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom has provoked.

In the article Mrs. Chua makes undocumented and seemingly inaccurate assertions in support of her parenting methods, which is surprising coming from a law professor at Yale, one of this country’s most esteemed law schools.

Indeed, one may reasonably question whether this controlling Tiger Mom is a bit “out of control” herself.

Take, for example, her following assertion:

“Tiger parenting is all about raising independent, creative, courageous kids.   In America today, there’s a dangerous tendency to romanticize creativity in a way that may undermine it.  Take, for example, all the people who point to Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg and conclude that the secret to innovation is dropping out of college.  In fact, both men exemplify extraordinary hard work and drive and resilience in the face of failure—exactly the qualities that tiger parenting seeks to promote.” (my emphasis.)

Is not the implication here that these important qualities were instilled in Steve Job and Mark Zuckerberg through tiger parenting?

Sorry, Ms. Chua, but Steve and Mark were not raised by tiger parents.

In a radio interview earlier this year, Dr. Edward Zuckerberg (Mark’s dad), shared his parenting beliefs as follows:

“Probably the best thing I can say is something that my wife and I have always believed in. Rather than impose upon your kids or try and steer their lives in a certain direction, to recognize what their strengths are and support their strengths and support the development of the things they’re passionate about.”

Further, in responding to a question about Ms. Chua’s book, Dr. Zuckerberg remarked, “I think that extremes in any form in parenting are not good.  Children need to be well rounded.   There’s a place for work and a place for play.”

(Less is known about the parenting style of Steve Job’s now deceased adopted parents, but there is no indication that they were domineering parents.   To the contrary, a neighbor referred to Job’s dad as being very supportive of him and that Jobs did pretty much what he wanted to do as a child.

Do these sound like the words of a tiger parent?

Other assertions in the article are equally questionable.   Ms. Chua states (again without citing any supporting studies or evidence) that,  “I’ve found that tiger cubs raised in America have really high emotional intelligence.  For one thing, they’ve spent their whole lives maneuvering around their crazy, strict parents.”

If this is what it takes to develop high emotional intelligence in children, let us pray for them.

But wait.  There’s more.   Ms. Chua confides that what “drives me the craziest may be the charge that tiger parenting produces robots and automatons,” just after telling us that we are missing the key point to tiger parenting:

“It’s only about very early child-rearing, and it’s most effective when your kids are between the ages of, say, 5 and 12.   When practiced correctly, tiger parenting can produce kids who are more daring and self-reliant—not less.”

I see, so if we hammer it in during our children’s informative years, we will produce creative and self-reliant children that can then go on their merry way.    Ms. Chua, I for one, am glad that Dr. Zuckerberg took a supportive, balanced approach in raising his son and from what we know, Mr. Jobs did the same with his son.

Tiger Parents need to lose some control.

I have expressed in both Losing Control, Finding Serenity and this blog the importance of finding the right balance between control and surrender in vital aspects of our lives—and none more so than in parenting.

In fact, for me this is the Fundamental Parental Challenge we face today: namely, fulfilling our parental responsibilities for ensuring our children’s health and safety, fostering their moral and family values, teaching proper manners and etiquette, and encouraging learning WITHOUT obstructing their personal growth and life path through domineering forms of control.  (For some guidelines on how to meet this difficult challenge, see my post, “The Fundamental Parental Challenge: Letting Go of Parental Control.”)

Tiger parenting is synonymous with domineering parenting, no matter how you may wish to justify or defend it.  I believe it is an extreme, unnuanced form of parenting that seriously risks harming our children’s full and healthy development, denying them their passions, and impeding independent, original thinking—the very type of thinking that made Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg visionaries.

Indeed, we would have fewer Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerbergs in our world, were tiger parenting to become widely accepted and followed.

I issue the following challenge to Tiger Parents:

Try—just try—giving up a little control in raising your children.  Allow them to choose and have more say about when and how they study and the activities they like; to stay up late sometimes; to be silly and playful; and, to follow their healthy passions even though it’s not what you want for them.

You just might be surprised if you do.   You might have well-rounded, creative, joyous,  self-achievers running around your household!

In the meantime, remember to,

Let It Go–and Accept “What Is!”


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