I am parent, hear me roar!

A friend of mine, the eldest of five, fondly attributes the person he is today to his mum’s upbringing. She was a strict, no-nonsense woman – perfect behaviour at the dinner table, excellent marks in school, demanding extra-curricular activities, impeccably maintained room, etc.

His dad, the breadwinner and typical authoritative figure in the family, expected all his children to become doctors – two of them are currently studying medicine and the youngest of the five siblings seems to be on his way to medical school.

When it comes to parenting, it’s really a case of ‘to each his own” because there is no “one-size-fits-all” parenting model to follow. Parenting values and techniques vary from culture to culture, from family to family, and the only common trait is that all parents want what’s best for their kids.

The problem is that “the best” is a matter of perception; one person’s “best” can be another person’s “mediocre” (and vice-versa).

Asian parents are notoriously linked to the term “tiger parents”. Amy Chua, a Law Professor at Yale, popularised the expression through her best-selling book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” by explaining how her children’s strict upbringing borrowed many of the principles her own mother used on her.

Chua’s main parenting method is based on the assumption that Chinese-style parenting (strict, controlling, and structured) is what drives Asian-American kids to succeed during and after childhood, unlike permissive Western-style parenting (“helicopter parents”).

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 Unsurprisingly, the book drew mixed reactions.

Some people (mainly other Asian parents obsessed with performance and achievements) defend the tiger parenting method, stating how their children’s successes wouldn’t have been possible without a strict approach. An Indian father tells how the method allowed his son to become the youngest director of Hollywood Studios MGM. A Chinese writer speaks of owing her accomplishments to her parents’ strict upbringing.

Other people (mainly researchers and psychologists) argue that the method may not be in the child’s long-term interest. A study recently showed that tiger kids had lower academic achievement and greater psychological maladjustments as a result of the cold and authoritarian parenting style.

The study even charted the findings:

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A novelist recently corroborated these findings by publishing her personal grievances with her tiger mum. In ‘Tiger Babies Strike Back’, the author describes the regular body-shaming episodes she had to endure from her mother and even the way she was likened to a prostitute for dating a non-Asian man (who ended becoming her husband!).

Reading all of this, I wondered: where does Singapore fit in all this?

I mean, we’re by-and-large a traditional Asian nation where children are taught to respect their elders, succeed in life, and make the most out of the opportunities they’re given. But we’re also a pretty Westernised society where individualism and consumerism have made us picky, superficial, and demanding.

From my observation, we’re still on the fence.

Similar to the way tigresses are tough with their own cubs but also get über defensive when someone approaches them, Singaporean parents are extremely strict with their children but expect others to make their lives easier.

On the one hand, they push their kids to attend countless hours of after-school tuitions, to develop highly-skilled and demanding interests, and to outdo everyone else in school. But on the other hand they hire armies of maids to take care of their every little whim, expect teachers to give them preferential treatment, and cry murder if someone even touches their hair.

Granted, tiger parenting can help toughen a kid and establish their focus in life, but there are also countless living examples well-balanced and very productive adults that were raised with more nurturing and soft approaches that emphasise creativity, critical thinking, compassion, empathy, and social skills as highly relevant attributes in an increasingly competitive world.

In essence, I believe children shouldn’t be treated as efficient business units with measurable skills and successes. Children are children. The entire purpose of growing up is to learn how to do things in life, to make mistakes and learn from them, not to learn entire textbooks and beat everyone else.

I think maybe if we focused less on the results and more on the approach we’d have a very different Singapore society in our hands. Thoughts?

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Najib A.

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