Tiger Mother perpetuates racial stereotype

As far as childhoods go, I considered mine relatively normal growing up. Yes, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that I was Asian, and that meant my adolescence would be slightly different than the average American’s.

Up until the seventh grade, I assumed all parents treated their children the same way my mine treated me. The rules were simple at my house. Make my mother happy, and she would let you watch television or play with your toys. Make my mother unhappy, however, and you were sure to be punished in a number of ways (anything from a lecture about how insolent you were being to one to ten slaps on the hand).

I was thirteen when I realized otherwise. One day I received an algebra test back and I had gotten a B. I stared at the grade and became visibly upset, primarily because I had studied fairly hard for the test.

“Is your mom going to hit you?” the stringy haired blonde girl in front of me whispered over to me.

“What?” I replied to her, staring with a confused expression on my face.

“You know, because you’re Asian and you got a B,” she replied.

Years before the term was coined, I had already been labeled as a “tiger child,” a child of an Asian parent, who was a “tiger mother.” The term, created by writer and Yale academic Amy Chua, refers to parents who “believe their children can be ‘the best’ students.” The method stresses high academic achievement and discipline in parenting.

The response Chua’s book received has been no less than outrage, with many claiming that the “eastern” or “Asian” method of parenting “stifles” children and their ability to succeed in the future. Critics have taken offense to the tiger mother method of teaching their children, accusing Chua of not being proud of her children or psychologically damaging them. Some critics even go so far as to lump the Tiger mother methodology to encompass how all Asian American parents raise their children, which I can assure you is not the case.

I contend that the Tiger mother method of teaching children works. To say the least, my parents were strict, especially compared to those of my non-“Asian” friends. In the past they have chastised me for a 92 and even grounded me from my ninth grade Homecoming Dance because they did not approve of my “date.” However, for all of the rigor and the restrictions that I received from my parents’ child rearing, I attribute all of my and my sister’s success to how my parents raised me—strict discipline and all.

What differentiates the stricter teaching methods of some Asian-American parents to the stricter teaching methods of parents of other ethnicities? After all, supporters of Chua’s parenting methods have pointed out the stereotypical tendencies that critics have implied calling it “eastern,” “Asian” or “Chinese.” Yet, as a Chinese-American myself, my question is: how come Chua has yet to be ostracized for perpetuating the stereotype on Asian-Americans for her own literary gain?

What I do object to in this circumstance is the portrayal by Chua and a majority of the mainstream media on the matter. Reading her piece from the Wall Street Journal, I thought initially that indeed perhaps Chua went too far to sound like she was playing into Asian-American stereotypes just to elicit a response from critics (or to just sell more books). Much of it is extreme and neglects the negative effects of such extreme strictness.

For example, Chua had forced her own child to sit at the piano with physical and verbal brutality after the child had refused and ripped the sheet music. What she didn’t include were instances of when this strict “eastern” discipline didn’t work. Chua’s interactions with her children sound all too similar to what I’ve seen with other Asian children in my community. She neglects to show the ugly side if one method fails. For example, I’ve seen friends crumble to substance abuse, petty crime and mental illnesses because they were pushed too hard. Claiming that this method leads to success consistently would be ethnically and parentally irresponsible.

While Chua may be true that strict discipline can yield good effects, my parents have shown me as well that mixed in with some tender loving care (TLC), one’s children can still live in a “western” fashion and still succeed.


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