I am a survivor of traditional tiger parenting methods.

What is tiger parenting?

It is a form of harsh and demanding authoritative parenting where the child is pushed to excel and shine at everything she or he does, particularly in academic results and in extracurricular activities. There is little time left for play – in fact, even play can become burdensome when pushed through with tiger parenting strategies.

For example, I enjoyed playing the piano, but grew to dislike it when I was forced to take piano examinations. I had to learn musical theories and piano pieces that I did not care for just to pass musical grades. Something I wanted to do for fun became arduous, because adults thought playing the piano for “fun” was a waste of time.

Image: Pexels/ Charles Parker

I have not touched the piano in front of people for a decade and more now. The memories of myself crying and kicking the piano, forcing myself to practice so that I can avoid being scolded, are still fresh in my mind. I can only play the piano in peace when I am alone, knowing that no one can hear me and cannot criticise my playing.

This, along with other quirks I have, is a leftover sign of tiger parenting. 

Asian parents and tiger parenting

Asian parents, in general, are firm believers in the term “spare the rod and spoil the child”. Disciplining is king in the Asian household, with the same tiger parenting methods passed down through generations. Anything can be utilised as a discipline tool – rattan canes, newspapers, slippers, kneeling, shouting, demeaning words – to shape the child to be a righteous and functional adult.

Image: Pexels/ Rodnae Productions

In modern society, many of these disciplining tools can be considered physically or emotionally abusive.

Is tiger parenting itself abusive?

This is not to say tiger parenting is abusive. Tiger parenting has its place and time to deal with children who want to test boundaries, slack off, and are disruptive. However, if it goes overboard, it can become cruel. Many people are not certain of the line between being firm and being unkind, and parents can sometimes cross that line unknowingly.

Some parents who utilise traditional tiger parenting methods truly mean well and believe their methods are correct. Others who have a harsher temperament take it too far. 

I, and many others like me, have mixed feelings about our parents’ chosen parenting methods. As an adult, while we recognise that our parents did the best with what they knew, some scars are not so easily healed with just that understanding.

To make matters worse, this is a tricky topic to bring up with many people. Some may accuse you of being ungrateful to your parents who brought you up, while others will say that you are doing well exactly because of those methods. Such dismissive, general conclusions are how intergenerational trauma is passed down in the guise of the greater good.

Image: Unsplash/ National Cancer Institute

Are you a victim of tiger parents?

First of all, if you grew up as a child of tiger parents, please know this – you are not alone. Not all children of tiger parents grow up to be happy and rich doctors, lawyers, or accountants. Some of us grow up to be disappointments to our parents, and that is okay.

Not every kid can get straight As, have a great extracurricular track record, and be popular in school with teachers and students. I certainly never was great at any of that and was punished multiple times as a result.

Do not let your inability to reach your parents’ expectations make you feel like you are a failure, because you are not. Success comes in many ways. Even geniuses in school burn out as adults ill-equipped to deal with the real world.

How to heal from tiger parenting

The Internet is a great way to find the support and help you need, whether for you to find people who understand you (YouTube, Instagram, Reddit), or to find free therapy sessions to help you navigate your complex feelings about your childhood. 

Additionally, books like Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents by clinical psychologist Lindsay C. Gibson can also help you understand and unpack your childhood thought processes. They will help you see your parents as just normal flawed people, instead of authority figures you still struggle to please. 

Whether you are still a child, or your childhood is behind you, it is never too late to start healing yourself from any hurt you may have gotten then. This does not mean that you do not love your parents. Acknowledge that they are humans who did their best, but have also made some mistakes. You are not wrong for calling that out and wanting to heal from the scars of those mistakes.

It is only when you do that you truly survive the repercussions that tiger parenting may have given you.