The book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” called for parents to adopt what its author suggested was an Asian style of child-rearing, pushing children to excel at all costs — including the cost of their happiness.
Now, a Michigan State University scholar who studies the psychosocial adjustment of children and adolescents from immigrant families is taking a very different stance.
Desiree Baolian Qin, Ph.D. — who, like Chua, is of Chinese ancestry — has found that high-achieving Chinese students tend to be more depressed and anxious than their white counterparts. And contrary to the tiger mother philosophy, Qin believes a child’s happiness is vitally important.
“I strongly believe that happiness matters tremendously for children to develop well, so they don’t just have success now and then later on experience maladjustment,” said Qin. “It’s really important for parents to pay attention to this.”
In her best-selling book, “tiger mother” Amy Chua, a Yale Law School professor, created a firestorm of controversy for her hard-line parenting. In it, she describes how she demanded straight A’s from her two daughters and drilled them for hours every day on the piano and violin. The girls were not allowed to watch TV, be in a school play or have a play date with friends.
While the approach may have worked for Chua and her family, Qinn called the strict regimen “ridiculous.”
She said she and her husband, Tom Buffett, would never keep their daughters – Olivia, 4, and Helena, 2 – from having play dates or other activities that build social and emotional skills.
“Children need the ability to work well with other people, to relate,” Qin said. “I feel strongly that I won’t raise my kids just toward success at the cost of other things. More than anything, I want them to be well-rounded, emotionally healthy kids.”
Qin was raised in rural China by her grandparents, whom she described as “fairly lenient.” She came to the United States in 1996 to attend Harvard University, where she earned a doctorate in human development and psychology. She now lives in East Lansing, Mich., with her family.
In a recent talk at the Asian American Psychological Association Convention in Washington, D.C., Qin compared Chua’s hard-driving parenting style with the often “soft” and “forgiving” Western approach. The lecture was titled “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Chinese Tiger Mothers but Were Afraid to Ask.”
Although Qin does not agree with all of the Tiger mom’s assertions, she does believe there are some themes Western parents may want to embrace or at least think about.
For example, she said many parents in the United States are so worried about injuring their children’s self-esteem, they overpraise.
“I agree with Amy Chua that a child will develop strong self-esteem when they really master something,” Qin said. “So that self-esteem should be grounded in their achievements, their ability, rather than empty praises from parents and teachers saying ‘great job’ for drawing a circle or ‘great job’ for just about anything.”
Qin believes parents are right to have high expectations of their children. However, the problem is often in the way the expectations are communicated.
In a study to be published in the journal New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, Qin found that Chinese immigrant parents constantly pester their children to excel – a typical practice in their native China. This includes comparing the child to siblings – as in, “Your sister got straight A’s and went to Harvard, why can’t you?”
In another paper, to be published in the Journal of Adolescence, Qin found that Chinese students are more depressed and have lower self-esteem and more anxiety than white students. The findings are based on survey data from nearly 500 high-achieving students at a prestigious East Coast high school.
Qin believe the problems are often complex as a majority of Asian-American children come from immigrant families where parents face additional challenges in raising their kids.
While the children attend U.S. schools and tend to learn English faster, the parents often work with fellow immigrants in Chinese-run businesses and thus are far less influenced by American culture, she said. Qin believes this acculturation gap can cause family conflict leading to additional discord, parenting challenges and mental health issues among adolescents and young adults.
She also believes the problems may escalate in the future as the immigrant population grows. Currently, about 20 percent of children in the United States have at least one immigrant parent – a number that’s predicted to jump to 33 percent by the year 2040.
Ultimately, Qin said, “There is a healthy middle ground between the parenting extremes of the East and West. What is most beneficial to children, regardless of the culture, is clear and high expectations in a warm and loving family environment.”
Source: Michigan State University