Grace Liu: Some suggest that tiger parenting style produces emotionally stunted kids
Liu: It's time for some tiger cubs to approvingly roar for our strict and demanding parents
She says by working hard as a child, one can gain confidence, resilience and smarts
Liu: With self awareness, one can learn social skills and negotiating tactics later in life
Editor’s Note: Grace Liu, a former corporate attorney, is a research officer at California State University, Fresno. She is the vice president of the Central California Asian Pacific American Bar Association.
It’s time for some tiger cubs to approvingly roar for our strict parents, their domineering ways and their inflexibly high standards.
The current depiction of tiger parenting is decidedly negative. Kim Wong Keltner’s book on “Tiger Babies Strike Back” and Su Yeong Kim’s report “Does Tiger Parenting Exist? Parenting Profiles of Chinese Americans and Adolescent Developmental Outcomes” suggest that strict Asian-style parenting produces an army of disengaged or emotionally stunted robots.
While I can’t speak for everyone, my own experience suggests that such upbringing also gives us the smarts to recognize our emotional and social deficiencies and to address them.
My parents are immigrants from Taiwan. I was an only child, and I was expected to excel academically and extracurricularly. So, I delivered. I got straight A’s. I played violin for hours. I did extra math, chemistry and physics problem sets under the eagle-eyed gaze of my mother.
Through it all, I cried and screamed. A lot. My mom yelled back. A lot. I told her I hated my life, my teachers, my school and all my activities. She yelled that I just had to get through it. Quitting was not an option. And of course she was right.
I owe everything I am and have accomplished to my parents. My family expected a lot from me only because they believed in me and wanted the best for me. They pushed me to excel because they valued me as an individual.
Tiger parents express their love through expectation of greatness, not in acceptance of mediocrity. Some people interpret such expectation as parental rejection of their worth as individuals. I always interpreted such crushing expectation as the ultimate belief in my self-worth. I knew that I was not being set up to fail.
My mother did not push me to excel because she prized my accomplishments more than my feelings. She listened to my feelings, but she also knew that my teenage feelings were volatile and irrational. She knew better than to let my future be derailed by such feelings.
My mother also knows that life has many obstacles, some external, many internal. She loved me too much to let me give up easily when confronted with those obstacles. For that I am eternally grateful.
I gained confidence and resilience from tackling my endless workload and from fighting through sleep deprivation. I knew that I was capable of getting through seemingly impossible situations. I knew that if I failed, then I just had to try harder. Failure is not a permanent state, but merely a temporary challenge that had to be tackled creatively.
The knock against tiger parenting style is that it does not foster emotional and social development.
Well, it partly comes down to expressing love and affection differently. Tiger parents may not often say “I love you,” but actions speak louder than words. My family never would have spent the time, money and effort—not to mention the emotional energy—on me if they did not love me. They never said this, of course. But I knew.
Sure, my mother viewed socializing with others as a waste of time. She wanted me to be valedictorian, not homecoming queen. I didn’t attend my homecoming. I was probably studying or working on my science project.
Now, I readily acknowledge that there is great value in socializing with others, and that my current social skills probably would be better if I had more time to hang out at the mall or at Denny’s.
But childhood hours are limited. Each child only has about 157,680 hours before he/she turns 18. The opportunity cost of being an accomplished child is that it takes away time from making friends and nurturing relationships.
For me, the tradeoff was worth it. There are skills that can only be learned in childhood. It is hard for a student to catch up academically if she is significantly behind in high school. But someone can become more self-aware, work on social skills and learn negotiating tactics later in life.
Without the skills and expertise that is a result of excelling, I would never have the chance to sit at the important tables to participate in the discussions, no matter how great my social skills.
I value my tiger cub upbringing mostly for the tools it gives me to make a difference in my community. I know plenty of grown up tiger cubs who tutor at-risk youth, advocate for the disadvantaged, and generally strive to improve the world. Our childhood accomplishments enable us to meaningfully contribute to our communities.
And isn’t that where self-awareness and proper socialization lead us all?
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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Grace Liu.