A Balanced Approach to Parenting

Amy Chua’s daughters were not allowed to attend sleepovers or be in school plays, watch television or play video games, choose their own extracurricular activities, or get a grade less than an A. So what did they do? Practice piano and violin for hours on end. And listen to their mom.

Chua, a Yale law professor, book author and quintessential tiger mom, catapulted the issue of strict parenting styles into public consciousness with her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. In the book, Chua details her journey as a mother raising two daughters “the Chinese way,” as she says. Her account of rearing the girls under an extremely strict regime has created a media buzz surrounding the controversial book.

“In the Chinese culture, the tiger is the living symbol of strength and power that elicits both fear and respect…such a tiger-like approach to parenting is believed by some to be the optimal approach to raising successful children.”

This attention has left many parents thinking Chua’s tiger-like approach to parenting may be the best way to produce successful children. However, Jeffrey Liew, associate professor and developmental psychologist, says that strict and overly controlling parenting can have a variety of negative outcomes on the child.

Liew stresses that current research on child and human development indicates that harsh and psychologically controlling parenting is consistently associated with a host of negative developmental consequences.

“In the Chinese culture, the tiger is the living symbol of strength and power that elicits both fear and respect,” Liew says. “Accordingly, such a tiger-like approach to parenting is believed by some to be the optimal approach to raising successful children.”

Liew says that a parenting style like that of the tiger mom may be one way to develop high-achieving children, but that success comes at a significant cost, including the social-emotional well-being and mental health of the child.

Parents who use a high degree of psychological control over their children, such as personal attacks, erratic emotional behavior, guilt induction or love withdrawal, do not raise the most successful children if the impact on children’s social and emotional development or mental health is taken into consideration, Liew adds.

The wide public interest in the message of Chua’s tiger mom book sparked Liew’s latest research endeavor on the consequences of strict parenting.

Funded by the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, Liew and his research team studied 100 Chinese American families in the Houston metropolitan area about the role of parenting practices and their affect on adolescents’ developmental and academic outcomes.

The team found that among Chinese Americans, parenting styles that promote adolescents’ independence and self-regulation predict not only positive mental health and adjustment outcomes, but also academic achievement. Of note, this success comes without risking the social-emotional well-being of the child.

“Overly controlling and intrusive parenting negatively impacts children in a variety of ways,” Liew explains. “The problem is that there has been extremely limited research on Asian Americans and ethnic minority children and youth. Our research is part of an effort to fill that gap and contribute to the existing research literature on parenting practices and child outcomes for families with diverse cultural backgrounds.”

Rather than using psychological control such as fear, intimidation and punishment to discipline children, Liew believes parents could try endorsing clear standards and limits with high expectations,while also being supportive of children’s needs. This includes creating opportunities for children to make their own wise choices and learn responsible decision making, rather than being forced or pressured by parents.

Among Chinese Americans, parenting styles that promote adolescents’ independence and self-regulation predict not only positive mental health and adjustment outcomes, but also academic achievement.

“To nurture children to become healthy, well adjusted and high achieving, parents need to balance being strict with being responsive to children’s developmental needs, which includes allowing them opportunities for independence,” he says.

So the next time a child disobeys, doesn’t master the piano on the first attempt or makes a less-than-perfect birthday card, parents should think twice before name calling or even threatening to take away a stuffed animal. It’s the kids whose parents are caring, loving and strict that are raised to be the most successful and high-achieving children.