Through eyes of tigers

By Arielle Maxner

“C? YOU NO C-SIAN, YOU A-SIAN!” states the blog High Expectations Asian Father under a picture of an Asian man. Based on stereotypical images of the “Asian” parent, who is supposedly focused entirely upon his or her child’s success in school, the Internet meme has hundreds of pictures, all intended to mock the focus on grades and other stereotyped aspects of Asian culture, such as the fact that so many play musical instruments.

Look anywhere on the Internet and it is possible to find variations of High Expectations Asian Father, from YouTube videos to Facebook groups, all of which mock the grade-oriented mentality that is now the cliché trademark of an Asian parent. But how is this culture actually reflected in the homes of students?

Amy Chua’s book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” and its excerpt published in the Wall Street Journal, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” brought an increased awareness and criticism of this method of parenting, which is stricter than the “Western” or “Americanized” parenting style.

Chua attributes these parenting differences to three mindsets. First, Chua writes that “Western parents are extremely anxious about their children’s self-esteem.”  Next, she compares the different cultural views on how much children owe their parents, whether it be unconditional love, obedience or nothing at all. “Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children’s own desires and preferences,” Chua said.

“The Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future,” Chua said. “Letting them see what they’re capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.”

Justin Ho ’12 finds his parents to be “tiger-ish.” He said that they “emphasize academics a lot, but are untiger-ish in that they also encourage me to do other stuff, like sports and debate.”

His view on tiger parenting is that it has its merits, despite its harshness.

“It’s all about balancing when to be tiger and when not to be,” he said. “Amy Chua might have overdone it, and she admits it herself.

“But she has a point about what she calls ‘Western’ parenting, parents who just give their kids what they want because they don’t want to hurt their feelings,” Ho said. “I was with Chua on this one. Get real. The real world’s not going to coddle you.”

Ho sees Asian parenting as assuming strength, while Western parenting assumes weakness. Ho thinks the Asian version is “much better and applicable to the real world.” 

Danni Xia ’12 agrees that “a balance is crucial for education and parenting.” She sees positive and negative aspects in both Western and Asian parenting.

“While Asian children are able to achieve high academic success, American children are passionate and inventive, daring to make a difference,” Xia said.

In Chua, Xia sees an ideology “a little more extreme than the norm,” which has only caused such controversy because “it seems to be working, which is shocking to a lot of people.”

“My parents are trying to combine both [methods], allowing me to explore my own interests but also disciplining me to work hard at the same time,” Xia said.

“My mom has high expectations, but she has gotten more understanding, especially this year because she knows I’m already under junior [year] stress and have high expectations myself,” Xia said. “Now, she’s very focused on planning and effort. I think having high and reachable expectations can be motivating, and when I reach them, the feeling of accomplishment is quite satisfying.”

In Cindy Oh’s ’13 childhood, her mother seemed to be the cliché Asian parent of Chua’s excerpt. Oh said she “used to do like a hundred pages of workbooks a day, and went to afterschool [classes], and was forced to do piano and violin.” 

However, at 11 or 12 her mom “became a lot less like a tiger mom,” Oh said. “I got old enough to argue. I fought back and I won.

“I think my mom still wants to be a tiger mom, but she’s too tired to,” Oh said. “[She’s] focusing on my little brother. He’s doing all the workbooks and afterschool and piano now.”

Oh said she “like[s] the more lax way for parenting. [Tiger parenting] could work, but you could seriously screw up your kid if it fails, so it’s a risk.”

Despite his Asian heritage, Justin Sohn ’12 said that his parents are “very Americanized, no hint of the Tiger Mom here.”  

Sohn is “self-motivated” and said that his parents let him enjoy what he does.

“I thought [Chua] to be too aggressive in her methodology,” Sohn said. “What kind of mom threatens to burn your child’s toy? Perhaps she has the general spirit of Asian parenting, but it comes off in all the wrong ways in her article. Especially in our generation, that iron-grip approach is weakening.” 

Megan Kawasaki ’12 also denies that her parents are tiger parents.

“My parents were never overbearing about what I did, because they just wanted me to enjoy my childhood and pursue my own interests,” Kawasaki said. “It was never so much about what they wanted for me, but what I wanted to do and try.”

When she hears about students who claim to have tiger parents who expect straight A’s all the time, Kawasaki feels that these expectations are detrimental, saying that “if they’re having trouble, the added stress is not going to help them succeed.”

“If children are being forced into doing something they don’t want to do, they’ll lose motivation,” Kawasaki said. “There will be more motivation to succeed if the child likes his or her extracurriculars and the parent is encouraging.”

Like Sohn, Kawasaki sees the tactics of tiger parenting as “too extreme” and “demoralizing.” It is “unnecessary to insult your children and tell them they’re not trying hard enough when they may be doing their best,” she said.

Still, she understands their motivation, in that they want to instill a good work ethic so that their children succeed.

“There needs to be a balance of kind treatment and instilling those values,” Kawasaki said. “It shouldn’t be about being overbearing. Parents should instruct their children to develop their own work ethic and become strong and independent.”

Kawasaki particularly disagrees with Chua’s method of insulting her children.

“No matter how strong you are, verbal criticism is going to get to you,” she said. “Even the strongest of people crack under that pressure. Parents are supposed to love you, not verbally criticize and threaten you if you’re not living up to their expectations.”

“There’s a fine line between being a strict parent and going overboard,” Kawasaki said.

Allan Sasaki, archivist and visual arts teacher, is a third-generation Japanese American.

“[My parents] passed down to me a sense of ‘do your best’ and ‘you will go to college, it doesn’t matter where, but you need to go,’” Sasaki said. “They never had the chance to attend college even though they wanted to go very badly.”

Sasaki sees tiger parenting as both good and bad.

“Wanting the best for your child is always desirable, but not at any cost,” he said. “There has to be a balance between socializing and hitting the books. Too many constant demands could cause a lot of rebellion. I suppose it depends on the relationship that a child has with his or her parents. I’m glad I was raised the way my parents chose.”

Japanese-American math teacher Michael Mori thinks that the farther one gets from the immigrant generation, the less strict the parenting becomes.

“My grandparents were the immigrant generation,” Mori said. “[They were] very strict. My parents were second generation, sort of strict. We’re third generation. My children are fourth generation and very ‘Americanized.’ They will probably be very much like the general population since they are four generations removed from the immigrant population.”

“People tend to immigrate to better themselves, so they will be the go getters and overachievers,” Mori said. “In the Asian population, education is seen as a way to better themselves.  They understand that if they want anything, they have to earn it.  The immigrants may not have had the chance for an education, so they want for their children what they didn’t have.”

Writing in the March edition of the Atlantic Monthly, former Harvard-Westlake English teacher and college counselor Caitlin Flanagan (Patrick Hudnut ’16), said she has seen firsthand the “kind of collateral damage Tiger Motherhood produces.” As a counselor, she wrote that many Asians related to her their experiences of some of the “harsh treatment Chua describes imposing on her daughters.”

However, Flanagan said that “Asian mothers …rarely spoke about their methods or their goals,” leading to the misunderstandings of the strict parenting philosophy.

“We called them ‘those mothers,’ and we rolled our eyes and fretted endlessly about their kids,” she wrote. “We were always working to subvert their goals by encouraging their children to look at colleges that were off the official list of exclusive schools and to take risks, blow off some steam and not take things so seriously.”

In Flanagan’s opinion, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” is incredibly beneficial in explaining the tiger mother mindset.

“Some of us [counselors] were deeply ignorant of the philosophy that motivated these mothers …the beliefs underpinning their approach,” Flanagan wrote.