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What American Parents Misunderstand About Asian Tiger Parents

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What do American parents in general get right about parenting?

One major thing Post-Baby Boomer American parents get right about parenting in general is allowing children to express themselves.

We talk about expression as in “freedom of expression” (much like freedom of speech), in a way that has become jaded and taken for granted. This very permission or freedom for self-expression underlies all the ways that people in my generation and subsequent generations in America are changing society and the way we live — in essence — changing the world.

Children who are allowed to express themselves are permitted to tinker in what appears to be useless or less useful activities, like spending too much time building computers or writing software instead of “focusing on school work.” Their parents allowed them to continue this type of self-expression instead of forcing them to spend more time in school.

A good Tiger Parent would make sure that they are tied to the hip to a child who obviously needs reining in — constantly hovering and manipulating that child’s time and energy so that the child could never engage in such frivolous activities.

Microsoft, Apple, Paypal, Facebook… these have been the fruits of a particular kind of self-expression that doesn’t meet the standards of “good institutional learners” (students) and in their conception appear very much a waste of time.

Move Tiger Parents to the continent where this mentality came from and they look quite sane.

Yet I cannot blame the mentality of Tiger Parents once I consider where this originates. Parents who practice excessive control and restrictions on self-expression often come through cultures where “expressing yourself can get you arrested, tortured, and/or disappeared (killed).” Sure, Tiger Parents look neurotic, obsessive, and even crazy here in the West, but move them to the continent where this mentality came from and they look quite sane.

It is no coincidence that today’s Chinese social media communication is full of double entendres and usage of homophone-equivalents between numbers and words: the safest way to express yourself in some cultures is to shroud it in riddles and codes, knowing that speaking what you truly think can invite harm to yourself and your family.

But here in the America, parents do not have the same degree of concerns in allowing their children to express themselves as parents in other countries may have. Here, parents can encourage their children to be pioneers and risk-takers, and serve as role models of specific causes that are seen to advance specific movements. American parents can encourage and support their children “coming out of the closet,” while parents in other countries may need to forcefully deny or suppress these feelings or desires in their children to keep them alive in that society.

American parents in general do a good job of being parents in America, similar to the way parents in other countries generally do a good job of being parents in their countries. The kind of parenting we do is indicative of the society we live in. That we here in the America get to debate about many approaches to parenting indicates how permissive a society we live in, and the older I get (as a parent), the less I subscribe to “getting right” about parenting because of how contextual and cultural parenting truly is.

Maybe I am making excuses for all the mistakes I have made, and countless mistakes I have yet to make (but know I will make), as a parent in America. Eh — it is what it is.

Jane has had her writing featured by several prestigious publications, including Forbes, Newsweek, and Mashable. She wrote a memoir called “The Youngest Light,” and you can find more of her writing at her See more Quora posts here: