Jane's Mental Health Source Page

One of the Web's Oldest Personal Mental Health Sites [Est. 1998]

Tiger Mothers? It’s Called Abuse.


OK, so yes, Chinese parents seem to produce obedient children who excel in academics. But I still don’t know why this model of beating or brainwashing their kids into submission is being touted as if it were the superior form of parenting.

Maybe western or westernized parents do care a bit too much about their kids’ self esteem, and I personally don’t buy into that “everybody wins” crap. But I also think that consistent coercion and physical beating and slapping of children are NOT the only ways to raise respectful and academically achieving children. If anything, this only proves that Chinese parents haven’t found a more intelligent and creative way to engage their children. Look at the rate of children who commit suicide due to academic underachievement – and look at the percentage of children who are from an Asian cultural heritage. This article, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior ” makes me see red.

Seriously – if you are truly “superior” – then you’d have come up with a method of gaining compliance and cooperation from your offsprings without resorting to physical beating and emotional abuse. Anyone who consistently engages these methods can eventually force the weaker person or the defenseless person to comply – PARENT OR NOT.

I am a Chinese mother, and if I ever show an inkling of turning into one of these “Tiger Mothers”, I fully expect my husband to do his job as my life partner and my kid’s father, and whack me upside the head before I ruin my kid.

Related articles I’ve written here:
Dealing with Manipulation, Guilt, Emotional Abuse, and Self-Pity

Asian Students, Depression, and Suicide: Begin with the Parents!

An Asian Adult Child’s Guide to Reclaiming Your Own Mind

Written by Jane Chin

January 8th, 2011 at 8:55 pm

  • Thank you so much for commenting on this article. Never has a written word produced such a negative response from me. As an Asian American raised according to this method, I can tell you that I will need years of therapy to recover from the emotional abuse I experienced while growing up. Though I excelled in school, nothing I did seemed good enough for my parents. It’s wasn’t good enough to be a straight A student with tons of extracurricular activities…I had to be better than everyone else. When I went to college and decided against medicine, I was forever branded a failure in the eyes of my family. Given the way I was treated, I suppose it’s no surprise I ended up in the field of social work. Though I have a great career now as a medical social worker, to this day I am haunted be feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy from not living up to my parents’ expectations. Furthermore, I feel socially stunted and emotionally scarred as a result of having a childhood where everything was controlled.

    I fear for the children of parents who will read this article and take its recommendations seriously. While I will agree that a number of children do become successful with this method, more often than not it will be at the expense of their happiness, mental health, family/social relationships, and in some cases, their own lives. If you look at the evidence, Asian American children and adolescents have higher rates of depression than their white counterparts. Asian women ages 15-24 have the highest rates of suicide in that age group. Disregarding the “cultural” aspect (as “culture” is NOT an excuse for this abuse), studies show that children raised with perfectionist standards and high levels of perceived parental expectation are more likely to develop affective disorders. I can only hope that more people will speak up and share the reality of this type of “parenting” with the general public before more children are scarred for life.

  • Some people suggested that this was more of a satire, used to market the book, especially when reviews of the book talked about Chua “being humbled by a 13 year old”. The subtitle of the book, I was informed, said: “This is a story about a mother, two daughters, and two dogs. This was supposed to be a story about how Chinese parents are better at raising kids than Western ones. … But instead, it’s about a bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting taste of glory, and how I was humbled by a thirteen-year-old.”

    You only need to read some of the comments on this site to see the potential outcomes from the products of the type of parenting that Chua espouses as superior. It’s both painful and disturbing to read from both adults and teens alike on how years of belittling and emotional manipulation/abuse have left a profound effect on their psyches. I can’t even begin to describe the demons these people struggle with, and it’s especially hard for me to read the feedback from young people.

    If the opinion piece was meant as a controversial flaming teaser to get the author and her book “shock and awe” publicity, it worked. I hope she sells enough copies of this book to make worthwhile against the costs to her conscience that will come, and have come, because of her approach to marketing it. There will be some parents who will take this piece literally, and point to it as proof and justification for their “Tiger Parenting” methods.

    I’ve said this several times already and I’ll say it here too: anyone can force compliance from a person by using physical and emotional terror methods. It It’s not rocket science: it works on animals too. I consider this the basest form of gaining compliance from a sentient being, and in fact, this disproves Chua’s argument that “Chinese Mothers are Superior” and supports the argument that “Chinese Mothers are Inferior” if they have to resort to physical and emotional manipulation to prepare their young. They are conditioning a world-view in their offsprings that this is how the world works, and how “love” should only work. Superior methods will gain compliance from a child by eliciting that child’s desire to cooperate, which means the parent will need to get creative and actually use some of that evolved intelligence and consciousness that humans continually tout they have over other species.

  • Just to follow up – Chua appeared on the Today’s show and explained that this wasn’t about Chinese methods are “better” and that you have to put things in context.

    But then why would you name the title of your WSJ article, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior”?

    To sell a book by stirring controversy? Then you are CREATING the very context that you’re blaming others for misreading.

    Also, Chua claims that the book is about making fun of herself, how she is a different parent at the end of her book than at the beginning, and it’s about reclaiming her kids from all the time wasting facebook and other meaningless activities. She also said that many Asian/Chinese parents are secretly horrified at how western parenting coddles their children.

    So here’s my response as an Asian parent:

    1) your WSJ article never shows this context – don’t blame people for responding to your article exactly as you’d written it (with a dead-serious note, and coming from a law professor, it’s hard to tell if you’re actually making a joke because people tend to take “experts” seriously).

    2) you’re making extreme comparisons – it’s not “all or none”, “coddling or extreme strictness”. I don’t believe in coddling, but I believe in building resilience in a different way that would not include belittling a child.

    3) you’re assuming that most asian parents pair extreme strictness and high expectations with love. I can tell you that this is not always the case, then you have extreme strictness paired with nothing resembling love. Hence, the despair, hopelessness, cutting, high suicide rates.

    4) you’re assuming that most children will interpret and respond to these types of parenting cues the way you did as a child. obviously this is a nature/nurture debate. maybe you’re born with thicker skin and it doesn’t bother you to be called garbage because you know you’re not and you see it for what you believe it is (your father encouraging you). on the other hand, there are kids who will actually BELIEVE that they are indeed garbage and worthless.

    5) yes it’s all about “knowing your children”, but many children will never dare to “rebel” the way Chua’s second daughter did. for those children, they continue to live in that oppression and turn their anger and hatred inward, upon themselves. that is how depression and suicides get started.

    I think that the WSJ was meant to incite controversy for the purpose of selling a book, and the article itself is exposed to more readers than the book itself will, which means Chua should have been more deliberate in HOW she chooses to portray herself, her growth as a parent if any, and the book’s message.

    For the purpose of selling a book, this is irresponsible marketing. Legal yes, ethical – not so much.

  • Norma Ming compiled research on parenting practices in the Asian American context:

    Beyond Tigers, Dragons, and Sheep in Parenting Practices

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  • Hailun Ye

    I can’t thank you enough. I’m a chinese-american kid and frankly the thought of people following Amy Chua’s example scares me. My parents aren’t as bad as some,but the things they say, it hurts. They call me fat, stupid etc and compare me to other kids. It’s never enough, you know. I’ve got a 97+ average and it’s still not enough. With people like Amy Chua there is never going to be a limit or a real choice for a kid’s future. My parents wants me to make only chinese or asian friends, they pursued me about ditching art to the point I don’t find joy in it anymore, they want me to learn to read and write chinese, they want me to marry a chinese guy, they want me to drop the idea of becoming an author, do I have to say more? People say we all have a right to make our own future, but frankly? Amy Chua’s kids and other asian kids, we don’t get one. Every thing we do meets with disapproval. It’s never going to be just enough.