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Does 'Tiger Mom' Parenting Work?

Study finds that "Tiger Mom" parenting may not actually work
Photograph by Getty Images/iStockphoto

Much has been said about "Tiger Moms" over the last few years. Though the controversial parenting style has arguably been around for some time, it was Amy Chua's hotly debated book, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," that first made it part of the vernacular in 2011. And boy, did that stoke some fires.

There were those who called Tiger Moms (and Chua herself) cold and severe tyrants, running their homes more like dictators than mothers. (And some of Chua's own methods—like standing over her daughter for hours while she practiced piano—didn't exactly win her many points in that department.) Still, others came to her defense, arguing that kids need structure, firm rules and established goals to help them succeed. And who better to teach them that, but Mom and Dad?

Well, now a new study in the Journal of Family Issues has revisited the debate in an effort to settle things once and for all. And the verdict? It looks like Tiger Parenting just isn't working. At least not in China.

The China-based study has been summarized in a paper called "Parenting Behaviors, Adolescent Depressive Symptoms and Problem Behavior: The Role of Self-Esteem and School Adjustment Difficulties Among Chinese Adolescents," and is said to be the first time we've actually seen some cold hard facts when it comes to the parenting style—not just a mountain of anecdotal evidence. During their research, experts took a sampling of 589 Chinese students and asked them questions ranging from their self-esteem to their everyday behaviors, as well as how they viewed their parents.

"Our research shows that Tiger Mother type of parenting, specifically controlling, punitive and less supportive type of parenting is really not working in this sample of Chinese adolescents," said Cixin Wang, an assistant professor at UC Riverside's Graduate School of Education. "It also shows that it is important for Chinese parents, who tend to be less emotionally expressive and use less praise in parenting, to show their approval, love and support for their children."

In fact, many of the kids in the study (who ranged from middle school to high school age) struggled with self-esteem issues, problematic behavior and other signs of depression in relation to their parents' strictness. Some of this wasn't too surprising, though. Past research in Western societies have often shown that harsh parenting styles only lead to bad behavior, low self-worth and even low grades. But the psychological impact of these methods in China specifically has been far less explored, until now.

Wang admits her interest in the subject stems from her own inner conflicts with the way she was raised.

"I hear Asian parents saying that they are concerned about using too much praise with their children because they were not brought up this way," Wang said. "In a way, I missed out on getting parental praise and approval. And, in a way, I don't want a whole generation of Asian kids to miss that really important piece too."

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