Bach: Declawing the Tiger

by Jinsung Bach | 8/18/16 6:00pm

Let us set aside our misgivings about stereotypes for a moment and consider the archetypal Asian family. Labels for Asian parents, ranging from tiger mothers to kyoiku mamas, all describe the same authoritarian strictness. As the widespread perception goes, most Asian parents relentlessly drive an agenda of academic and extracurricular excellence for their children in hopes of setting them up for future success. By necessity, more creative endeavors are routinely shunned in favor of more time to study or practice a new instrument, and social development takes a back seat in the quest for higher SAT scores and Ivy League diplomas.

I speak as someone who has lived under such parenting, and knows its intricacies like the back of my own hand. In many ways I also speak as someone who has benefitted from such parenting, my own acceptance to Dartmouth attributable to the regimental guidance of my family. I am who I am because of Asian parenting. Ironically, it is for that very reason that I have no scruples about condemning it. The frustrations of countless Asian students across the United States are my own, and I speak for many when I state the dismaying truth that Asian parenting is an abject failure of a philosophy.

Asian parenting comes in many flavors, a testament to the multitude of cultures that fall under the umbrella term “Asian.” Nonetheless, what these variants all have in common is a culture of subservience. Elders are to be respected, their word taken as gospel irrespective of the reality. For a younger child to suggest the slightest bit of deviance is tantamount to intolerable rebellion, and gives the elder free reign to crush the insurrection with whatever tools deemed necessary. Combined with an obsession with social hierarchy, the stage is set for the sort of tyranny under which so many Asian students suffer.

This method of parenting instills a beta mentality in children from the very start. It teaches them that there is a distinctly correct way of thinking, and that any move away from this prescribed path is to forsake a family’s love. As these children grow, their capacity to innovate suffers, never having had the chance to truly explore the qualities that define them as individuals. The cycle only grows worse as children eventually become elders themselves. These children, taught to be betas all their lives, find themselves in the position of an alpha with none of the experience befitting one. Their own children necessarily become victims of their parents’ insecurity.

Born from antiquated ideals and cultures that favor the collective over the individual, many of the philosophies that define Asian parenting ultimately do children a disservice by stifling individualism and free thought. Though Western attitudes on parenting are by no means immune to criticism, neither must we give serious credence to the notion that Asian parenting produces better children. We must not be shy to point out the fundamental failures of the Asian model, lest even more of our fellow students fall victim to its deleterious clutches.

Some will leap to the defense of such a dictatorial means of childrearing, claiming that it is an act of love on the parents’ part born from good intentions. Such an excuse is inadequate in light of the many suicidal students and alienated families that result from this style of parenting, to speak nothing of the simple fact that these efforts simply do not translate into improved academic success. If it is an act of love, then it is a toxic love better done without. Love is meaningless when it is conditional entirely on obedience, and even more so when it does not even yield results.

I implore Asian families everywhere to respect your sons and daughters, to recognize their status as freethinking individuals and understand that their convictions are their own to follow. To the same, I also give a warning: should you fail to recognize your children as such, as they inevitably recognize their power to forge their own destinies, little can stop them from turning away from the families that forsook them and never looking back.