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Surprise, Surprise: 'Tiger Mom' Tactics Don't Boost GPAs or Happiness

Tiger parenting is associated with lower GPA and educational attainment, as well as personal unhappiness.

Back in 2011, American parents went nuts after the release of Amy Chua's controversial book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, a memoir that advocated a pretty narrow road map to professional success. Forget letting your kid chill at the beach on Saturday afternoon—strict, so-called "Chinese" parenting, complete with pressuring kids to enroll in every AP class available (and get all A's) and ensuring they become master pianists, gymnasts, or chess champions—gets results. The Wall Street Journal even published an excerpt with a sure-to-start-a-firestorm-in-the-comments-section headline, "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior." Way to reinforce those model minority Asian stereotypes, right?

Well, surprise, surprise: A new study published in the March 2013 Asian American Journal of Psychology, found that the answer to the Journal's question, "Can a regimen of no playdates, no TV, no computer games and hours of music practice create happy kids?" is a resounding no. And it's not producing stellar academic results, either.

"A tiger parenting profile," the study says, "was associated with lower GPA and educational attainment, as well as less of a sense of family obligation." Not only that, "it was also associated with more academic pressure, more depressive symptoms, and a greater sense of alienation."

And, just so we can bust that stereotypical Asian-moms-as-harsh-taskmasters bubble once and for all, the study, which followed 444 Chinese-American families for eight years, found that "the supportive parenting profile," not a tiger parent profile, was the most common among the families, and "was associated with the best developmental outcomes."

Still, at a time when the job market feels shaky and we're bombarded with messages about how America might lose her economic dominance unless we get kids to major in science and technology, it's tempting to fall into the "tiger" trap. As author Homa Tavangar puts it, the pressure is on to treat our children like they are "empty vessels that need to be filled with the 'right' information and training, to attain 'success' based on a fantasy of professional status." But, cautions Tavangar, "Universally, the wisdom of the ages contradicts any such presumption—accomplished parents can't be the gods to mold their children in their image. If we try, the result is sadness and disconnection"—which is exactly what the study revealed.

Scholar Andre Perry acknowledges that sure, no one wants their kids to be "second-class citizens in a high skilled economy." But, even as "the stakes for our children's educational and professional futures are high," what's key, says Perry, is remembering that "the question who are you should be more applicable to a person's character than their professional identity."

So go on ahead, press pause on the tiger trend and focus more on building kids' curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking—and nurture their kindness and passion for service. That's what's going to get us a whole lot closer to the goal of individual happiness and success, as well as global prosperity.

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Photo via (cc) Flickr user Renato Ganoza

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