Tiger Mums: fierce or foolish?
Only one path to success ... university "is like religion" for subcontinental Tiger Mums. Photo: Rob Homer
There is one thing Amy Chua, author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, got right – the "tiger mum" parenting style is not restricted to the Chinese.
It is flourishing in other parts of the world as well.
The pressure to succeed academically, gain a place at a top school or university and pursue a profession of 'worth' is also striking amongst those living in south Asian countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Fazal Rizvi, Professor in Global Studies in Education at the University of Melbourne, says that even though south Asian parents are becoming more "eclectic in the choice of careers they recommend to their kids," there are still many that push their children to choose a 'prestigious' occupation like medicine, engineering or law.
In fact, they are going to such great lengths that Amy Chua recently remarked that Indian tiger mums may outnumber China's.
Indian parents spend up to 33% of their monthly income on their child's education, often including private tuition or 'cram schools'.
Professor Rizvi says this is because "The competition that used to be largely national, has become global. There is also a perception that the schools don't provide the education required to succeed in a global economy."
Unlike Australia, where the "many pathways to uni" slogan is publicised and accepted, in south Asian countries, getting into the top university is "like religion," Dr. Jawahar Surisetti, an Indian education expert and psychologist, tells Merinews. "It is ingrained in the students' mind that this is the final destination - nothing more, nothing less."
Those that make it into an esteemed institution promote the prestige of their family, says Professor Rizvi. Yet those that don't often sink into depression or in extreme cases, commit suicide.
The Times of India reported that student suicides had jumped 26 per cent between 2006 and 2011 and blamed it, in part, on the immense pressure parents place on their children to achieve high grades.
The squeeze often continues after they begin their undergraduate degree. A Pakistani survey of medical students showed that 63% felt stressed by 'high parental expectations.'
Those that study overseas don't escape the pressure either. This is because, for parents, with their investment comes the expectation for children to be an "instrument for social mobility," Professor Rizvi says.
Indian migrant, Navjot Dhaliwal is a case in point. She hopes her two daughters pursue triple degrees at university because doing a double-degree is "very common."
Mrs. Dhaliwal fosters this aspiration by engaging in private tuition. She is hoping that her eldeset daughter can finish her Year 9 Maths syllabus by the middle of the year so she can get a headstart with the Year 10 syllabus.
Unlike Amy Chua though, Mrs. Dhaliwal does allow her daughters to take breaks to visit the restroom when they wish, watch TV and choose their own musical instrument to play. However, she does not allow her daughters to sleepover at friends' houses and says sports can be "time consuming" and might cause them to "fall behind in their studies".
Pushing children is so inherent in the south Asian culture that many migrants also adopt the approach.
Rossbell Singh is Fiji-Indian. Her strict upbringing highlighted the importance of discipline. She is keen to pass this on to her own son so, to establish a routine of studying, she employed a private tutor. When he started kindergarten.
"It is my duty to help him out and give him a basic start in life," she says.
This basic start involves tuition three times a week, tuition homework and Year 1 homework along with additional extra-curricular activities, like practising writing and spelling tests.
Mrs. Dhaliwal and Mrs. Singh insist they are not tiger parents or as strict as Amy Chua.
Rather, they believe they have adapted her description of the Chinese parenting style – to protect their children “by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they’re capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.”
But, Dr. Shailja Chaturvedi, psychiatrist and president of the Australian Indian Medical Graduates Association, warns against pushing children too hard.
She urges parents to take a balanced approach and raise an “all rounder" who is equipped to deal with the unpredictable challenges of life. Not a "socially and emotionally inept scientist who can only travel to the moon.”