Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Myth of the Tiger Mom

Amy Chua's book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom, sparked lots of controversy last year. She argued that her style of parenting - putting incredibly high expectations on her children, limiting social activities, and hours of forced practice on musical instruments, created "better" or higher achieving children than typical parents. Some lauded Chua's book and her findings while others equated her tactics with child abuse.

Despite the conclusions reached by both sides of the argument, up to this point there was no meaningful data to support either side. Now, we have that data. Su Yeong Kim, an associate professor at the University of Texas, was already in the middle of a study of 300 Asian-American families when Chua's book was published. Kim's study is now concluded and she has some surprising results.

Scientists have been studying parenting styles for years, but most of these studies were focused on white American families. Scientists used the data from these studies to classify three different parenting types: permissive, authoritative, and authoritarian. Permissive parents are characterized by lots of warmth, but little structure. Authoritarian parents showed high levels of demandingness and low levels of warmth. Authoritative parents used a combination of warmth, openness and structure. The authoritative parents have been shown time and time again to produce the highest-achieving and most well-adjusted children. Authoritarian parents can produce high-achieving children, but they often struggle with low self-esteem and depression.

Kim was trying to discover what type of parenting style was effective in Asian-American families. In order to do this effective Kim slightly tweaked the traditional parenting style categories and even added one. "Supportive" parents were rated high on warmth and low on control (like permissive parents). "Easygoing" parents scored low on both warmth and control, "harsh" parents were low on warmth and high on control, and "tiger" parents (a term Kim borrowed from Chua) were high both in warmth and control.

After compiling the data, Kim found that the most successful children (measured by academic achievement and several other more subjective factors such as depressive symptoms) were raised by easygoing and supportive parents. Children of harsh and tiger parents had lower GPAs and a higher incidence of low self-esteem and depression.

It turns out that effective parenting looks similar no matter what a family's origins.

You can view the original article found in The Columbian here.

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