Amy Chua's "Tiger Mom" book has led to and continues to produce four stages of reactions from American parents: first horror, then upheaval and guilt, and finally, nothingness, since we are cemented into our own social reality.

 

The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, January 23, 2011. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at PsychologyToday.com.

Horror, Upheaval, Panic, and Nothingness - the Four Stages of Reactions to Tiger Mom

There are four stages in reactions to Amy Chua's "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," in which Chua describes her uncompromising, no-prisoners-taken approach to childrearing. Americans parents were shocked that Chua didn't allow her two daughters to "attend a sleepover, have a play date, be in a school play, complain about not being in a school play, watch TV or play computer games, choose their own extracurricular activities, get any grade less than an A." The only instruments they could play - really hobbies they could elect - were piano and violin, and Chua employed extremes measures to insure that they practiced.  What's more - let's get to the worst - she once rejected her daughters' hastily penned birthday cards to her, and once referred to her daughter as garbage.

Stage 1: Horror. "This is child abuse," mothers around the country screamed! According to Times columnist David Brooks , "a large slice of educated America decided that Amy Chua is a menace to society." She violates all of the parenting values Americans have come to embrace: unqualified acceptance and unquestioning approval, following children's proclivities and interests rather than imposing our own standards, and never, ever, rejecting their efforts as inadequate.

Stage 2: Upheaval. NBC's Meet the Press moderator David Gregory raised the Tiger Mother issue with a group of four panelists - three women and one man, one African American, all parents - and, to a person, they seemed shaken by Chua's indictment of American child-centeredness. The African-American woman cringingly confessed that she had already given up any hope of forbidding her small daughter from watching TV; both the other mothers indicated self-doubt about their child-rearing (one had four kids, the other three - all these women - like Chua, who is a Yale law professor - obviously combine motherhood with highly accomplished professional lives); and the man - well, he was on a different page, seemingly preoccupied that he hadn't listened to his kids.

Stage 3. Panic. One reason for the reaction against castigating Chua is that interviews revealed that she was more self-reflective about her behavior than initial excerpts from her book indicated, and that she had in fact pulled back from the extremes she described - in some cases regretting them (the garbage thing - not the card thing). Equally important for her argument, her older daughter came out shooting on her behalf, describing what a happy family they were and how glad she was about her upbringing and how she turned out. The tag-line for Chua's book came to be (this from NPR ): "Strict, uncompromising values and discipline are what makes children raised by Chinese parents successful." And more and more parents - especially among the educated class - began to reflect guiltily that they believe these things and hadn't really acted on their beliefs. Underlying their guilt was often their recognition of the doubt and lack of direction some of their kids displayed - leading to potentially negative psychological consequences.

Stage 4. Nothingness. All of these doubts - or at least any inclination to act on them - will disappear. Why? Because our society is set on a certain path due to irreversible social parameters, ones that have been leading us in a direction where kids are less disciplined and hard-working, more anxious and depressed, and less subject to their parents' control - which parents are less inclined to exercise. Why is that? Because we ourselves are more fearful on their behalf, are more controlling in our response to that fear, kids have less (almost no?) opportunity for individual initiative and genuine self-control, and social pressure from all directions dictates that we parent the way we do.   At a cultural core level, this seems for us the right way to be, however many secret doubts we have.

Which leads us back to the stage-one reaction to Chua's proposals.