Tiger Parenting Can Create High Achievers, but at What Cost?

It's been over a decade now since tiger parenting became a parenting buzzword with the release of Amy Chua's book "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" in 2011. In it, Chua details the strict way she was raising her two daughters and the academic and extracurricular achievements she expected them to have.

While she may have popularized it, Chua didn't invent tiger parenting: the concept is similar to an "authoritarian" parenting style that's been around for decades. But she definitely got people talking about this intense style of child-rearing. So, what is tiger parenting? And is this firm approach worth it? Experts explain.

What Is Tiger Parenting?

Tiger parenting is a term coined in Western culture by Yale Law School professor and mom Amy Chua. As Chua explains in her book, her parenting style was inspired by Confucian virtues and philosophy, which emphasize strong personal ethics and morality. Her book also compared traditional Chinese and Western approaches to parenting.

"It refers to a parenting style characterized by strict discipline, high expectations, and an intense focus on academic and extracurricular achievements," says Alisa Ruby Bash, PsyD, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Malibu, CA. "Tiger parents typically push their children to excel academically and often demand perfection in various aspects of their lives."

Tiger parenting "puts a lot of demand on the child and there's a lot of parent direction, as opposed to child direction," says Robert Keder, MD, a pediatrician who specializes in developmental behavior at Connecticut Children's Medical Center. Meaning parents call the shots and children must follow their rules or face punishments. "Tiger parents have high demands on their kids but also produce kids who are very high achievers," Dr. Keder says.

What Does Tiger Parenting Look Like?

There are a few hallmarks of tiger parents, according to the experts we polled:

  • High academic expectations: "Tiger parents set extremely high academic standards for their children, expecting them to excel in school and achieve top grades," Dr. Bash says.
  • Intense schedules: Children in tiger parenting households usually have tightly regimented schedules that include extensive study time and extracurricular activities, with little room for free play, social interactions, or relaxing, Dr. Bash says.
  • Strict rules: "Tiger parents enforce strict rules and discipline, with little tolerance for disobedience or excuses," Dr. Bash says. "This can be accompanied with physical or emotional disciplinary measures."
  • Focus on specific skills: Parents usually require their children to master certain skills, like musical instruments or sports. Tiger parents "invest a significant amount of time and resources into these pursuits," Dr. Bash says.

Kids raised in tiger households are also usually very polite, Dr. Keder says. "They say 'please' and 'thank you,'" he says. "Everybody loves a child or young adult who says 'please' or 'thank you.'"

The Benefits and Drawbacks of Tiger Parenting

There are definite pros and cons of tiger parenting. "Kids may learn to be disciplined and push themselves," says Gina Song, MD, a pediatrician at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital. Kids raised by tiger parents also tend to develop strong goals and work ethics, Dr. Bash says. These children often grow up to have mastery of a craft or skill and excel in their careers, she says.

But while tiger parenting can produce successful kids, it has plenty of drawbacks. "There are tiger parents who have good intentions, but their kids might be more anxious. This style of parenting just might not be the best fit for them," Dr. Keder says.

Tiger parenting can also lead to high levels of stress in kids, "which may have long-term mental health implications," Dr. Bash says. "These children often have experienced trauma and abuse if they ever disobeyed their parents' demands," she says. Kids raised in tiger parenting households tend to have limited social development, per Dr. Bash. "Children raised in this style may have limited opportunities to develop social skills and make friends, as their schedules are often dominated by academic and structured activities," she says.

Tiger parenting can also strain relationships between parents and kids, Dr. Song says. "Kids may see the strict upbringing and their relationship with the parent as unfavorable," she says.

Some kids may even rebel or only follow the rules laid down by their parents when the parents are around, Dr. Keder says. "Sometimes the presence of the parent keeps the behavior there, but when the parent is not there, the behavior is not always there either," he says.

When it comes to choosing a parenting style, doctors recommend tapping into the needs of your kids, as well as those of your family, to settle on a method that works for you. "Understanding your kid's needs at each stage of growth and figuring out what you would like them to learn may help on how to parent your children," Dr. Song says.

"Overall, it's up to parents to do their own inner work to discover how they can find their own parenting style," Dr. Bash says. "At the end of the day, parents must remember that their children are not their possessions or experimentations, but unique sovereign beings who are on the planet to fulfill their potential and to know who they are."