Declawing the “Tiger Culture”

The term “Tiger parents” refers to individuals who try to instill a value system of hard work and discipline in their children through establishing concrete and unusually high expectations for them. In the short-term, “Tiger culture” may reap rewards and temporarily boost confidence levels; however, it often ultimately leads to an inability to deal with failure. It punishes mistakes while praising accomplishments, thereby creating students who achieve because they are pressured to; lack of success is not an option because it is seen as disrespectful to the efforts put in by the parents.

Even more problematical is, the heavy emphasis on goals and achievements perpetuated by “Tiger parents” is often confused with the diligence and respect for authority typically associated with Eastern cultures. Especially in the West, where a widespread emulation of the progressivist style popularized by John Dewey in the early twentieth century has created an education system that is comparatively less traditional, “Tiger culture” is associated almost invariably with Asian parents. As Amy Chua, author of “New York Times” bestseller “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” explains, “Western parents try to respect their children’s individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment.” In such a culture, the achievements of Asian American individuals are often written off as the product of “tiger parenting,” despite the self-motivation that drives many of us to succeed both academically and otherwise.

Society’s problematic attribution of uncompromising academic expectations to Asian Americans damages us, whether we are children of “Tiger parents” or not, by instilling within us a culturally defined perception of self-worth that is directly proportional to our achievements. The Department of Health and Human Services reported in 2012 that Asian-American women ages 15-24 have the highest suicide rate of women in any race or ethnic group in that age range. California State University Professor Eliza Noh cites “model minority” pressure – the pressure that family and society put on Asian-American children to be “high achievers at school and professionally” – as the leading cause of suicide.

Equally as troublesome, however, are the students who mimic “Tiger culture” worldwide, attempting to emulate the culture’s short-term academic benefits by imposing unreasonably high standards upon themselves. Especially at a school as rigorous as Andover, the desire to get sixes in as many classes as possible, to become head of a certain club, or to get accepted into a certain college can cause many students to prioritize results before wellbeing.

As the American-born daughter of first-generation Chinese immigrants, I have witnessed and experienced the effects of differing value systems in both the classroom and the social sphere. By stereotyping us all as the beleaguered children of vicious “Tiger parents,” Western culture dismisses the achievements of Asian American students while simultaneously holding us to absurd standards of academic success. This problematic and often inaccurate cultural pigeonholing must stop. Similarly, it is critical that in the East, West, and worldwide students are truly passionate about they are doing and that they place results at relative, not absolute, importance. Otherwise, any of us can fall prey to the punishing vices of the “Tiger Culture.”