This article will address a typically Asian phenomenon, 'tiger parenting', however, it is my experience that people from the West are subjected to similar parenting approaches, albeit under different guises. I think there are valuable lessons for any parent to gain, regardless of their cultural backgrounds.
Tiger Mum, a term popularised by Amy Chua, in her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mum, is a concept still thriving in the small Red Dot island of Singapore and across Asia.
In an article I came across on a local newspaper, a mum, Mrs Ow, who refers to herself as Dragon Mum, was defending her decision to subject her young children to a weekly grueling routine.
She succumbed to the unwritten expectation that Singapore-educated children should know how to read and write before starting school and for good measure she added, and I quote, "Chinese tuition, Math enrichment, piano lessons, gymnastics, martial arts, swimming and dance every week".
That is a lot of pressure placed on any young body, mind and soul.
What's going on there?
THE CHILD PERSPECTIVE
When challenged on these unhealthy practices, some parents defend themselves saying that their children enjoy these activities. In fairness, when asked, some of these children do say that they enjoy them.
On the surface the child could indeed be happy, but I want to offer a different perspective.
A child's early life goal is to secure the love and attention of its main carers, most often mum and dad.
I believe these children "convince" themselves to like the activities in a subconscious attempt to secure their carers' love and attention; and, while, on the surface, they may find enjoyment, deep down for many the impact is devastating.
The mechanism at play is rather simple.
The child does everything it can to obtain and maintain its carers love and attention (or at least what it perceives to be love and attention).
Upon witnessing its carers conditional demands, the child learns that to be accepted it must comply.
In an effort to do so, the child succumbs to the pressure and learn to "enjoy" the journey.
This is in an over-simplistic view of what are highly complex psychological mechanisms, but it's a starting point.
In extreme cases, when parents are demanding and always dissatisfied - the type of parents for whom a 99% score is not good enough - the child will likely grow into an adult who is hyper-agreeable, self-doubting and who feels undeserving.
Despite its efforts to please its carers the child is met by regular criticisms and will likely develops beliefs similar to, "it doesn't matter how hard I try, I am just not good enough".
In those occasions when the child is rewarded for its achievements, it will probably have difficulties accepting the reward believing, "how could I be worthy of this wonderful 'gift' from my parents; they sacrifice so much for me and all I do is disappoint them."
I deeply believe the parents / carers' intentions are good, but the price to pay is so high.
The public quarrels between Vanessa Mae, - a world renowned violinist - and her mum, are just one visible example of the damages caused (an example here). Of course, not all Tiger Mum employs physical violence, but the underpinning principles are the same.
THE PARENT PERSPECTIVE
Parents are between 'a rock and a hard place'. On one side they are perpetuating the unhealthy practices they probably were subjected to themselves; on the other, they are victims of a system that will not relent.
Depending on their generation, many modern parents grew up in highly competitive environments and were themselves subjected to high pressures.
As Singapore is a highly successful country and many people have benefited from its spectacular development over the last five decades, parents sometimes confuse their own current status and success as a product of tiger parenting, rather than a results of many other contributing factors.
In turn this drives their inner belief that, "it did me well growing up, I am sure it will help my child too!"
On the other hand there are the unrelenting pressures from society, institutions and other parents.
I agree with Mrs Ow, it is really tough as a parent to stay immune to all the messages and make choices that are good and healthy for our children's future.
A lot of the messages reinforces academic success, social standing, professional achievements and financial wealth as the standards of success to be strived for; it is indeed difficult to see an alternative.
As parents, we all want the best for our children's life, now and in the future. And if you are in a field that produces healthy oranges and apples, it's difficult to step out of it in search for bananas and durians. [I hope the fruit analogy worked. :-) ]
AN ALTERNATIVE PERSPECTIVE
As I am making direct reference to Singapore, it is fair to balance the argument.
Singapore is an amazing country in many, many ways. Not least, in my opinion, their willingness and openness to recognise some of their shortcomings and actively work on addressing them with all their might, whether through policy-making, community-based activities or similar systemic actions.
It looks to me as if the Government has recognised the pressures children are under (and their parents alike) and have applied their power to address some of the key stressors; chief among them, the education system.
During the 2013 National Day address by Prime Minister Lee, the education system was a key component of his speech. Education had been carefully examined and changes were introduced.
PM Lee said, "And therefore when it comes to key education milestones, these are high stress moments for the whole family, whether it is P1 admission [6-7 year olds], whether it is PSLE [Primary School Leaving Examination after 6 years from P1], the whole family gets involved. [...] Competition is intensifying amongst our students and the focus, unfortunately I think, is too much on examination performance and not enough on learning. [...] Therefore, it is all the more critical that these schools should develop their students holistically and admit their students holistically and imbue the right ethos and values to them, expose them to diverse backgrounds, to build empathy and understanding and make sure the students stay rooted in the society which has nurtured them and invested hopes in them."
He was referring to experimental schools that were being introduced to redress the balance between academic and other talents.
It's great that the Government is addressing the issues, and I suggest that parents can also play a role at home, within their domain of influence.
Here 3 suggestions that I believe will help parents add to their children's development.
Clarify your intention
Focus on energy and vitality
Remember the future
CLARIFY YOUR INTENTION
There are multiple layers to the question, "what do I wish for my child's future?"
The surface answer to this question is likely to focus on transactional items like health, wealth, success, etc. I invite you to carefully examine your intentions and look beyond the surface.
One way of doing this is to use the '5 Whys' tool; simply put, a tool designed to delve deeper into the root cause of a starting statement.
For example, a parent may say...
Opening statement: I must push my child otherwise they won't be successful in life.
1. Why do I need to push my child?
Because this is a highly competitive world and they need to be at the top to secure their future.
2. Why does my child need to be a the top?
Because only when you are at the top you are given access to the best opportunities in life.
3. Why do children need access to the best opportunities in life?
Because without them they will be relegated to mediocrity.
4. Why will my child be relegated to mediocrity?
Because without status and money there is no happiness
This is just an example of course and there are infinite variations on the theme, but it give us a sense as to the insights this tool could uncover.
In this example, only 4 Whys were necessary to reach a meaningful insight - that for this parent there is no happiness without money and status - but you can continue as deeply as you wish.
Gaining this insight, could open this parent to viewing alternatives they did not previously consider and possibly to suspend their judgments in favour of a closer consideration of their child's talents, needs and desires.