‘Tiger mother’ takes on western parents

A new book has caused a storm by suggesting that western parenting is too lax. Chinese parents, writes the author, know that strict discipline is the path to success.

Amy Chua’s daughters, by Western standards, did not enjoy an ordinary childhood.

‘Here are some things,’ Chua wrote, ‘that my daughters were never allowed to do: attend a sleepover, be in a school play, watch TV or play computer games, get any grade less than an A, not be the number one student in every subject except gym and drama, not play the piano or violin.’

Why? Amy Chua was a ‘Tiger Mother’ – a new term that she has coined for Asian mothers, living in the US or Europe, who go against what they see as the over-liberal Western method of parenting.

In a new book, due out next month, Chua describes a radical parenting philosophy. Many Western mothers, claims Chua, believe that their children should be allowed lots of freedom. Tiger mothers, on the other hand, think they know what’s best for their children and demand strict discipline.

And when the children of tiger mothers do badly at school, they aren’t met with reassuring words. Instead, says Chua, the tiger mother will deliver a ‘screaming, hair-tearing explosion.’

Western parents worry about hurting their children’s feelings. Tiger mothers simply say: ‘You’re lazy. All your classmates are getting ahead of you.’

Music practice is similarly intense. In her book, Chua remembers coaching her daughter through a particularly difficult piano solo.

Practice was going badly. Her daughter, Lulu, just couldn’t master the difficult rhythms.

But failure was not an option. If Lulu couldn’t get it right, her toys would be confiscated, her birthday parties would be cancelled, and there would be no Christmas presents. ‘I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.’

Lulu did, recalls Chua, finally play the piece and she was delighted at her own achievement. Mother and daughter ended the evening hugging and telling jokes.

Burning bright?

Unsurprisingly, Chua’s approach has proved very controversial. Around the world, mothers, including many of Chinese origin, have lined up to criticise what they see as almost ‘abusive’ parenting. ‘Her methods are so crude,’ said one Chinese-American parent. ‘The humiliations and the shaming. The kids will hear that voice in their heads for the rest of their lives.’

But supporters say that tiger mothers just have their children’s interests at heart. Chua’s daughters are now happy, academically gifted and accomplished musicians. Children of Western-style parents have an easier childhood but they’ll achieve less, and be less happy, in the long run.

You Decide

  1. Why do you think Amy Chua was happy for her children to do less well in PE and Drama? Was she right?
  2. Amy Chua said: ‘What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences.’ Do you agree?


  1. Imagine a dinner party where some of the guests are tiger parents and others are Western style parents. Create a short improvised play to act out this scenario.
  2. Write an article in the style of The Day explaining why parents who are immigrants might be particularly keen to see their children succeed academically. Some of today’s ‘Become an expert’ links may help with this.

Some People Say...

“Children aren’t grown up enough to make any decisions for themselves. Adults should make all the decisions for them..”

What do you think?

Q & A

Are there many ‘tiger mothers’?
Probably yes. It’s certainly an established stereotype that Chinese mothers are particularly ambitious and strict with their children.
Why just Chinese mums?
Anyone can be a tiger mother but Chinese culture may be unusual in that it encourages the idea that children owe everything to their parents. Also, parents who are immigrants often feel that that their children must work hard to make the most of opportunities that they themselves did not have.
Does tiger mothering really work?
It’s very hard to say. A recent survey put 15-year-olds in China far above 15-year-olds in the UK for achievement in reading and maths. But critics warn of possible psychological damage. Some even link tiger mothers to high suicide rates.

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