Monday, May 2, 2011

A Tale of Two Tigers

In anticipation of the upcoming release of Our Entitled Children: An American Tiger Mom’s Story, I’d like to talk some more about the differences between the American Tiger Mom and the Chua-style Tiger Mom. Because our goals are quite similar (to raise children who can reach their full potential), and our methods require roughly the same level of involvement in our children's lives, those differences might not be readily apparent to everyone. Therefore, I think it’s important to discuss what makes the American Tiger Mom distinct from the Chua Tiger Mom, and why it's a more useful example for other parents to draw from.

In the book, I proposed the American Tiger Mom as the optimal middle ground between the indulgent Helicopter Mom and the overly harsh Tiger Mom, but I didn’t talk how this view fits with parenting theory. Developmental Psychology categorizes parenting styles according to two main dimensions - demandingness and responsiveness. Demandingness refers to, well, how demanding the parents are in terms of their children’s academics, maturity, and moral development, and how willing they are to enact supervision and discipline. Responsiveness is a measure of how attuned parents are to their children’s needs, and the level of warmth and support that they provide in order to foster the growth of self-assertion and individuality. Parents who are not demanding but highly responsive – in other words, Helicopter Moms – are known as indulgent parents. Chua Tiger Moms, who are highly demanding but low in responsiveness, are known as authoritarian parents, whereas parents who are both highly demanding and highly responsive – like the American Tiger Mom – are known as authoritative parents.

While both types of demanding parents provide well-ordered and structured developmental environments, and exert a high degree of “behavioral control,” the low responsiveness of the authoritarian parent means that they are “obedience- and status-oriented, and expect their orders to be obeyed without explanation.” (Baumrind, 1991, p. 62) This leads Chua Tiger Moms to be both autocratic and intrusive in the way that they control their children, frequently straying into areas that most parents across cultures would consider to be illegitimate exercises of parental authority, such as controlling the child’s hobbies or forbidding school plays and sleepovers. Their word is law, and it doesn’t matter to them whether their kids understand their reasoning; they simply use guilt induction, withdrawal of love, or shaming in order to gain compliance. Their children tend to perform fairly well in school but have poorer social skills, lower self-esteem, and higher levels of depression.

On the other hand, authoritative parents like the American Tiger Mom don’t expect their children to conform to their thinking, instead preferring to educate and influence them in the right direction so they can make good choices on their own. While they demand good grades and proper, moral behavior, they also recognize their children’s need for emotional support, and respect their desire to be individuals. They do their best to make sure that their kids understand the reasoning behind every disciplinary decision. Because authoritative parents value achievement and autonomy in equal measure, their children consistently rate better than their peers in both social competence and academic performance.

Of course, these distinctions aren’t as clear-cut in practice as they are in theory. Most people fall somewhere in between the various categories, and just because one’s parents could be described as authoritarian doesn’t mean that one will necessarily turn out with low self-esteem and psychosocial functioning. However, it is clear that authoritative, American Tiger Mom-style parenting leads to better outcomes on average, as it combines the best aspects of two flawed extremes.

To learn more about Our Entitled Children: An American Tiger Mom’s Story, soon to be available at major paperback and ebook retailers everywhere, visit!


Baumrind, D. (1991). The influence of parenting style on adolescent competence and substance use. Journal of Early Adolescence, 11(1), 56-95.

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