Why Tiger Parents Should Lose Custody

Family/Kids, Relationships

We’re all aware of the stereotype of Chinese “tiger” parenting, which got national attention when Amy Chua published her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, in which she describes her rigid, demanding, and even draconian parenting methods. While many children raised by authoritarian “tiger” parents grow up to be professionally successful, disciplined adults, we wonder at what cost?

Critics of tiger parents point out that many, if not most, children are incapable of flourishing under the kind of pressure that super-demanding parents apply. Being denied the joys of ordinary childhood and a lack of down time—not to mention having everything from hugs to meals withheld—is almost certain to result in a child who suffers psychological and emotional damage.

In the case of  custody decisions, judges need to take this into consideration. Just because a kid can play a violin concerto at Carnegie Hall-level skill by the age of 10 doesn’t mean the parenting style that got her there is in her best interest.

Tough Love

Tough love is a key component of the tiger mom philosophy, although the “love” part may be lacking. Children are expected to achieve perfection in academics and the arts, and are given no quarter in the pursuit of those goals. Typical childhood activities such as sleepovers, playdates, computer games, and TV are not allowed, while extracurricular activities, sports, and books are fully dictated by the parent. Complaints are prohibited and children are expected to work hard enough to be first at everything they undertake.

Certainly the child will be well educated and accomplished, but what about social development—when do they learn how to work with others? How will a child raised this way ever be able to make his own choices as an adult?

Borderline Abuse, or True Abuse?

Critics of tiger mom parenting point out that continuous threats of punishment and verbal abuse when kids don’t perform perfectly may lead to severe mental and emotional trauma. Many people raised by tiger parents in traditional Chinese homes have spoken out about how their upbringing damaged them. One woman shares memories of shame and humiliation at the hands of her mother, while another describes her sister’s eventual suicide after a job failure—the first failure of her life.

Adult depression—and yes, suicide—as a result of tiger parenting have been noted by researchers as well. While children raised this way may be financially and professionally successful, many are unable to function socially and, as a result, find it difficult to have healthy personal lives.

It begs the question: in what way does bullying your children, verbally abusing them, and withholding love equal good parenting? How does force develop motivation? How is parenting through fear and tyranny—to the point of calling your child “garbage” and withholding bathroom breaks until a music piece is performed perfectly—not child abuse?

Effects of Authoritarian Parenting

Studies show that tiger parenting tends to create anxious children with low self-esteem, and leads to depression later in life. Researchers also find that, while children raised by tiger moms and dads are very good at following orders, they typically have very little inner drive. When your entire existence is dictated and you are never allowed to make decisions, mistakes, or to explore, you can’t develop the skills you need to function on your own.

What tiger parenting produces is emotionally wrecked robots who find themselves unable to cope with their inevitable failures, unable to think creatively, unable to form personal bonds or work in a team environment, unable to self-motivate, and are helpless in the face of choice. The examples that Chua describes go well beyond strict, high-expectation parenting.

Certainly many parents, especially in the U.S., skew too far to the indulgent, resulting in a generation of spoiled, obnoxious kids with an unhealthy sense of entitlement. But there is a difference between having high standards, sometimes making your kids do things they don’t want to do, and outright cruelty. Parents who raise their children in the manner Chua describes shouldn’t be celebrated—in fact, it should be just the opposite. Moms and dads who belittle and threaten their children, withhold affection, and demand perfection do as much internal damage as those who hit their kids—a truth the legal system must keep in mind when deciding custody.