Do “Tiger Moms” Raise Depressed Kids?

Desiree Qin and family
Desiree Qin and family

According to Professor Desiree Baolian Qin of the Michigan State University Department of Human Development and Family Studies, parents inspired by Amy Chua's controversial bestseller, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," should consider muffling their roars and filing down their claws. Chua is currently touring with her book, which was recently released in paperback.

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In two research papers that will soon be published in the "Journal of Adolescence" and "New Directions for Adolescent Development," Qin, also a Chinese mother of two girls, takes a more nuanced look at both the benefits and drawbacks of the "Eastern" style of parenting as espoused by Chua. "Chinese American students are often perceived as problem-free high-achievers," Qin told Yahoo! Shine. "Recent research, however, suggests that high-achieving Chinese American students can experience elevated levels of stress, especially compared to their peers from other ethnic groups."

Qin also points out that students from Chinese families experience more depression and anxiety and lower self-esteem than their Caucasian counterparts. Qin notes: "My findings suggest that there are tremendous psychosocial challenges facing high-achieving students in a pressure cooker environment. At the high school I studied, according to a student survey, students slept an average of 5 to 6 hours every day … They were intensely competitive with their peers and calculated their GPA to the nth decimal point as soon as they got their report cards. Cheating was surprisingly common."

"When I first read Chua's book, I was mostly amused and surprised," says Qin. The book details how Chua demanded straight A's from her daughters; drilled them for hours a day; and forbade them from having play dates and sleepovers or didn't let them watch TV. Qin had heard about other Chinese parents, mostly from lower socio-economic backgrounds, who raised their kids with such extreme standards so they might have the opportunity to "get out of a village and into college." "But I was surprised that a Yale law school professor would parent this way." Qin, who moved to the United States in 1996, was raised by her grandparents. "My younger brother, who is a biochemist, and I are both what you would call 'high achievers.' But we were brought up with lots of unconditional love and little pressure."

Qin says, "I think in general, I am a pretty lenient parent. Part of it is due to my own research findings - the key role played by parents in children's mental health down the road." But, she still has high aspirations for her daughters who are now 4 and 2 years old. "I want my girls to do well in school, find something they are really interested in doing as a profession, and have curiosity and passion for their work and develop genuine care for those from less advantaged backgrounds." While she says she actually admires the hours that Chua spent working with her children each day, her own style of parenting emphasizes helping her girls develop their emotional intelligence, and she feels that "a child's happiness is vitally important" to their development.

Despite some of her criticism of Chua's work, Qin believes there are lessons to be learned from the "Tiger Mom." She agrees that children will develop true self-esteem when it is grounded in actual achievements instead of constant praise. "In the United States," she says, "parents are so worried about hurting the self esteem of their children and how others see them as parents." While she feels the Western parents tend to do better in taking care of children's emotional well-being, "Children do need adult guidance and discipline. They also need to hear honest feedback from their parents in a loving environment."

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