Kids of Tiger Moms Get Worse Grades and Are More Depressed

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May 8 2013 8:45 AM

Poor Little Tiger Cub

The first major study of tiger moms is out. The kids have worse grades, and they are more depressed and more alienated from their parents. 

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Adolescents and parents rated the parents on several qualities, for example, “act loving, affectionate, and caring,” “listen carefully,” and “act supportive and understanding.” Warmth, reasoning, monitoring, and democratic parenting were considered positive attributes, while hostility, psychological control, shaming, and punitive measures were considered negative. These characterizations would be combined through a statistical method known as latent profile analysis to determine Kim’s four parenting profiles: Those scoring highest on the positive dimensions were labeled “supportive;” those scoring low on both dimensions were deemed “easygoing;” “harsh” parents were high on negative attributes and low on positive ones, and “tiger” parents scored high on both positive and negative dimensions.

Despite the popular image of Chinese-American parenting that Chua’s book bolstered, fewer “tiger” parents emerged from Kim’s analysis than did “supportive” parents. “Easygoing” were similar in number as “tigers,” and the fewest parents were deemed “harsh.”

Kim also measured the outcomes for each of her categories. Supportive parents had the best developmental outcomes, as measured by academic achievement, educational attainment, family obligation (considered positive outcomes), academic pressure, depressive symptoms, and parent-child alienation (considered negative).Academic achievement and attainment were purely data-driven, while the latter four came from different assessments developed by academics over the years (the academic pressure rating is Kim’s own), which, while considered reliable, are inherently somewhat subjective. Children of easygoing parents were second in outcomes, while tiger moms produced kids who felt more alienated from their parents and experienced higher instances of depressive symptoms. They also had lower GPAs, despite feeling more academic pressure.

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In the end, then, Kim finds that Chinese immigrant moms and dads are not that different from American parents with European ancestry: three of Kim’s types correspond to the parenting styles in the prior literature derived from studies of whites (supportive/authoritative, easygoing/permissive, harsh/authoritarian). What’s different is the emergence of the “tiger” profile. Since “tigers” in Kim’s study scored highly on the shaming practice believed more common among Asian-Americans, it seems that, pre-Chua at least, tiger parenting would be less common among whites. (The moms rated themselves more highly on shaming than even their kids, suggesting tiger moms—like Chua, who recounted such instances in her best-seller—feel no shame in their shaming)  

And although Chua presented her own children as Exhibit A of why her parenting style works, Kim said, “Our data shows Tiger parenting produces the opposite effect. Not just the general public but Asian-American parents have adopted this idea that if I'm a tiger parent, my kids will be whizzes like Chua’s kids. Unfortunately, tiger children’s GPA’s and depressive symptoms are similar to those whose parents who are very harsh.

“Tiger parenting doesn't produce superior outcomes in kids.”

Correction, May 10, 2013: This article originally and mistakenly stated that the study controlled for sibling order.

Paul Tullis (@ptullis) has written about science for the New York Times Magazine, Businessweek, Scientific American Mind, and many others. He lives in Los Angeles.