Culture can be a powerful influence in your life. It often has protective factors, but sometimes culture clashes with parenting.
Every culture has its stereotypes. When you’re Asian American, you might encounter the stereotype of the dictator-style parent, pushing a child to unreasonable academic goals.
Having Asian American parents doesn’t mean you’ve been forced to miss out on the joys of childhood. You may have experienced plenty of support and celebration of good attempts, regardless of the outcome.
For some children, though, Asian American parenting styles have made a different kind of impact on their mental health and well-being.
In the 1960s, Diane Baumrind, a clinical and developmental psychologist, introduced the concept of three prominent parenting styles:
- Authoritative: Parents who have clear guidelines and discipline processes but are focused on support rather than punishment.
- Authoritarian: Parents who have strict — often unexplained — rules with no room for compromise.
- Permissive/indulgent: Parents who are warm and nurturing but have minimal or no rules/expectations.
Her work was later expanded to include a fourth parenting style:
- Uninvolved/neglectful: Parents who are detached from a child’s daily life, fulfill only basic needs, and have no expectations and limited communication.
Your parenting style may orient toward one type naturally, but it’s not uncommon to switch parenting types based on a given situation.
Not all Asian American parents have the same beliefs or raise their children in the same manner.
Many things can influence parenting style, including grandparents’ parenting, environment, and socioeconomic standing.
While every situation is different, research suggests that many Asian-heritage parents adhere to an authoritarian parenting style. This may be due to an emphasis on cultural values related to parental control and academic excellence.
This set of values — present in Taoist, Confucian, and Buddhist beliefs — is known as filial piety.
Filial piety philosophy asserts that children can never fully repay the debt of life they owe to their parents. Because of this, children are expected to show unwavering obedience and care toward their elders.
This can manifest in many ways in the modern Asian American family — from domineering parenting methods to extremely submissive behaviors in children.
“In my pediatric psychology practice, I find that many of my parents of East Asian (India) heritage are extremely vigilant in their efforts to ensure a successful future for their children,” explains Kimberly Williams, PsyD, Manhasset, New York.
She adds that significant emphasis is placed by parents on every action and activity that impacts educational placement and life status.
This often includes where a child will attend college and whom a child will marry, even when children are very young.
The ‘tiger mother’ stereotype
Another stereotype sometimes associated with Asian American parents is the “tiger mother,” the disciplinarian mom who is no-nonsense and excessively controlling.
Timothy Yen, PsyD, Dublin, California, likens the tiger mother to the “bad cop” in good cop, bad cop authority roles.
He explains that either parent (or both) can be a tiger parent. More often than not in a tiger parent situation, however, one parent is much more laid back.
“The other parent is typically the more laid back but sometimes absent one,” Yen says. “The laid back parent counterbalances the stricter one and plays more of a good cop role, though sometimes it can border on neglect due to working long hours or being less involved in domestic affairs.”
Despite the prominence of the tiger mother stereotype, a growing body of research suggests that it’s a unique parenting style among Asian American heritage families.
Acculturation is the process of adapting to and adopting a society’s culture. The acculturation gap is the divide between a child’s acculturated beliefs and their parents’ traditional ones.
The acculturation gap can be big or small. Some parents embrace acculturation, while others may reject it altogether.
Yen says, “My parents wanted to help us children fit in, so they did their best to adopt American holidays and sign us up for American sports.”
He adds that there are also Asian American parents who are “old school” and reject many of the American norms.
According to Yen, these parents tend to ignore American society and intentionally reject norms by enforcing former Asian traditional upbringing.
The acculturation gap has been linked in large-scale longitudinal research to poor mental health outcomes, particularly depression, among Asian American adolescents.
Williams indicates the time frame Asian American parents immigrate to the United States can impact the acculturation gap.
“I find that parents who immigrated to the United States as young children and attended North American schools are more acculturated to the Western parenting style,” she says. “Growing up here in the United States promotes raising children with focus on effort instead of accolades, equal opportunity, collaboration, and using opportunity to foster individuality and innovative ideas.”
Parents who immigrated later in life, says Williams, may find comfort in an insulated community of other immigrants where culture and traditions are preserved.
This can mean less acculturation and children who feel stuck in the middle between American and parental cultures.
The four parenting styles have been
This parenting style is associated with the most favorable outcomes for children. With authoritative parenting, your child may be more likely to develop:
- self esteem
- academic achievement
- emotional regulation
While these children often appear to be the most well-behaved, authoritarian parenting has been associated with:
- low self-esteem
- inability to make decisions
- lack of respect for authority
- high levels of aggression
- poor social skills
Children raised in this manner may also be more likely to follow precise instructions to achieve a goal.
Permissive or indulgent parenting
Permissive parents are often nurturing, and children raised under this method may have positive self-esteem and social skills.
The excess of freedom and absence of disciple for children, however, may lead to the following:
- unhealthy lifestyle habits (poor eating, unregulated sleep schedule, etc.)
- poor self-regulation
Uninvolved or neglectful parenting
As the least supportive parenting style, uninvolved or neglectful parenting might lead to having children with a strong character.
This strength is often developed out of necessity and might come with the following:
- poor emotional regulation
- academic challenges
- lack of social skills
- poor relationship skills
- ineffective coping strategies
The Asian American parenting style
Asian American parenting can’t be pigeonholed into one type, but research has shown specific findings related to Asian-heritage parenting.
Even among Chinese seniors,
“The closeness of family weighing on their every decision feels to many youngsters like boundary violations,” Williams explains. “It’s very difficult to navigate tradition and current culture.”
She cautions that secrecy might bring on guilt, and often family alimentation exacerbates anxiety and depression. It may also enhance at-risk behaviors like drugs and alcohol to alleviate stress.
Williams notes that East Asians, in particular, see stigma in pharmacologic intervention, and untreated self-harm and suicidal thinking can emerge in this population.
One of the most significant challenges of Asian American children may be feeling like they don’t belong in any world.
Yen says, “The politically correct term is bicultural or third culture. These kids have the challenge of fitting in because they’re not Asian enough but clearly not white enough either.”
Discussing your mental health isn’t always easy. Sometimes cultural expectations can bring about feelings of guilt or shame.
In some Asian cultures, mental health conditions may be seen as a loss of identity and purpose and taboo to discuss.
Asian Americans are three times less likely to seek mental health services than white people, despite nearly 15% reporting having a mental health condition in the past year.
If you’re looking for a way to escape the stigma and open up about mental health wellness to your family, you can try these tips.
- Pre-plan the conversation: Set the stage, present your concern, ask for input.
- Set boundaries: Ask family members to listen to you completely before responding and to respect each other while speaking.
- Present educational materials: Have statistics, facts, and treatment outcomes available.
- Give concrete examples: Explain where this is impacting areas of your life.
- Share positives: In addition to how mental health stigma has affected you, mention lessons you’ve learned, such as areas in your life that you’d like to consider changing.
If you feel that you’ll be met with extreme opposition, aggression, or negativity when talking with family members, there are other options for you.
You can find support through:
- community programs
- support groups, local or online
- free phone and online mental health consultation services
- mental healthcare professionals
Asian American parenting can’t be stereotyped into any one style.
While authoritarian parenting is often seen among parents of Asian heritage, many things can impact parenting, including when your family immigrated to the United States.
If you’re experiencing anxiety, depression, or symptoms of another mental health condition, consider reaching out to a mental health counselor professional.
If you don’t know where to start, you can call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 800-662-4357. They can help connect you with local assistance and support. You can also find resources by visiting Psych Central’s find a therapist page.