The age-old debate of hands-on versus hands-off parenting hit new levels with the emergence of Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (Penguin Books) and Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing Up Bébé (Penguin Press HC). Tiger mom and laissez-faire parenting styles do carry both positive and negative effects for children, and both approaches need to be blended in order to parent children to their best potential.
We have all heard stories about the extreme tiger moms— their children come home from school with a 99/100 on an exam and are punished for not receiving a perfect score. This type of parenting may breed anxiety in children, and they tend to struggle massively with decision making and self-esteem. When parents are constantly telling children what to do and not to do, their independence and decision-making skills become stunted as it is not necessary for them to think for themselves. Tiger parents tend to think that they are building their children’s self-esteem by constantly pushing them to be perfect. However, they are actually depleting their confidence by constantly reiterating to their children that they are not good enough.
Although children of this extreme parenting style do feel supported by their overly involved parents, I would personally advise against this parenting style. Tiger-parented children base their qualities and traits on externals, like how smart they are or how they excel at a particular sport. Should they fail, even slightly, they will completely internalize their feelings and emotions and become closed off.
On the other extreme, parents who utilize the French style raise more independent children than their tiger counterparts. But children raised under this style tend to rely heavily on learning themselves, rather than being taught right from wrong by their parents. These laissez-faire parents may have an unrealistic view of what children can accomplish at a young age. Their children may not get enough of the tools or structure they need in order to effectively develop life skills.
I also wouldn’t recommend the “Bébé-style” of parenting. Children need limits and structure in order to grow and function in society. Parents need to be involved in teaching their children in order for them to learn to solve problems in an effective way.
An ideal style is blending both the tiger and laissez-faire parenting approaches. With this combination, parents partner with their children and teach them the skills they need, but they don’t micromanage them or take a hands-off mentality. Both extremes are not intuitive to the success and growth of a healthy child. It is important to provide structure for children while allowing them to experience their own consequences. I have seen that many baby-boomer parents who grew up in a laissez-faire environment have now turned into tiger parents with their own children as they feel the need to be overly involved.
I find that the most beneficial way for parents to teach children life skills is through role playing. For example, if your child is having a problem with a teacher or friend, sit down with him and act out a conversation between your child and that teacher or friend while portraying your child. By playing the role of your child, you will teach him how to effectively speak to someone and discuss an issue rather than forcing him to figure it out on his own.
If we give children the tools to be their own advocates, they will. In addition, their confidence and independence will blossom. Not only will children reap the benefits of a parent who isn’t extreme, but also parents’ anxiety will significantly decrease, giving children the means to work out their problems.