Tiger Moms

In Archives, Uncategorized on January 24, 2011 at 12:00 pm

The cover story of this week’s Time is about “tiger moms”: strict, withholding parents who supposedly raise superior kids. My own take is that no new phrase, Atlantic article, or Time cover was necessary: tying affection to performance is an utterly familiar way to raise high-performing kids, and is equally well known to damage them psychologically.

The struggle for a parent’s conditional love is as old as writing—it pervades the Old Testament. Nor is the high achievement this struggle inspires any secret. Howard Stern just gave an interview (it’s the last thing I saw on TV) citing his urge for his father’s approval as the driver of his success in radio, and also as the cause of an “insane” one-dimensional lifestyle of compulsive work. Members of my own family have struggled to win the love of distant parents—moving mountains to do so—and have suffered the predictable psychological consequences. I’m sure your family has similar stories.

The discussion about “tiger moms” has been framed in cultural terms, but there’s nothing culture-specific about it: it’s just forcing ambitions onto your kids. To the extent that realizing those ambitions brings them happiness, they will benefit. To the extent that the pressure warps them psychologically, they will suffer. That’s a simple calculus, and by no means a new one.


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