The Question of Abuse

The Musings of a Tiger Kid

My parents persistently restrict my movement. They have a steady history of hitting me to ‘discipline’ me. They constantly restrict my access to technology and my friends. I don’t have an allowance nor am I allowed access to any source of money other than their occasional grants. They micromanage my entire life from my sleep to my personal space and allow limited privacy. I can’t talk back to them or use logic as a tool without being lectured about respect. We fight very frequently.

Funnily enough, this rant that seemingly warrants an objective judgement actually creates an ambivalent spectrum of reaction. To one end, the western extreme, is the category of abuse and to the other end in a world of Asian parenting is the acute normalization of this style of parenting.

Even if you ask me, I’d tell you, “This is how this part of the world works; they love me very much, and all that they do they do with some right, wrong or misguided sense of drive to protect me.” And that is true; the nature of this relationship is not abusive at all, and our relationship is much bigger than all of these problems. They’re great parents, just that their sense of ‘right and wrong’ (here not in terms of parenting standards but in terms of discipline and behavior) are just as outdated as their society’s.

Take the case of the Norwegian case where an Indian seven year old was taken into the custody of the state from abusive parents who repetitively hit and threatened the child. Now, if this seven year old was growing up in his hometown of Andhra Pradesh, India, would he have been separated from his parents? Probably not. Now, it is probably right that in a non-ideal world, different societal standards cause different levels of legal enforcement — after all, an Indian kid wouldn’t feel nearly as bad as a western one about being physically punished.

I do not mean to undermine or de-legitimize abuse here. We’re dealing with shaky grounds and it is not right at all,to in the cases of “extreme” disciplining defend it as cultural difference. Abuse is abuse. What I’m trying to do, is add the nuance here that most regular relationships are not abusive.

And the whole issue is addressed as simply as that, all of these parents and children love their parents very much — through choice or social construct.

Which takes us to what the bigger issue in this style of parenting is, in my opinion.

Be modest, be humble, be simple. Make sure you come in first so that you have something to be humble about,” says Amy Chua in her ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.’ To my parents and thousands like them across India, China, South Korea, Thailand and so on, the only activities of their child that matter, that’re worthy of discussion are the ones they’re not winning or the best at. That is to say, every ‘B’ is a cardinal sin and every gold medal is rarely talked about.

Tiger parents come in many hues — from the typically East Asian achievement first ones to the Central Asian highly disciplinarian ones. Regardless, they’re just different combinations of extensive presence in their children’s lives, high disciplinarian-ism and strong pushing towards academic or co-scholastic achievements.

But the opportunity cost of this ‘drive to excellence’ can be fatal to the kids’ choices, freedom, mental health and personality.

This kicks hardest in the teenage years. It is the only time in the child’s life where these parents who so far enjoyed a managing presence feel like they’re losing their children, and also simultaneously, find their children in what is categorized the most important part of their life as a child.

Immediately and impulsively, the tiger parent identifies the child’s arch-rivals, things that’ll ‘destroy them.’ As it is, these are parents who dedicate their entire adult lives post having children and likely post-marriage to the well-being of these children. So no doubt, when the chills of the combined effect of these two phenomena strike they overthink.

After a thorough analysis of their children's behavioral patterns, they identify the causes of these “negative shifts.” While in reality, they’re lashing out against losing their children who’re developing individual lives outside of their parental bubbles, they convince themselves as protecting the child from distractions.

Now these identified elements are different from child to child and parent to parent. To summarize, they’re all the new priorities of their child — every thing they’d rather spend time doing over hanging out with their parent. So, this could be technology, best friends, new hobbies, etc. and the tiger parent begins a devoted war against these.

Phones are hidden, SIM cards taken away, WiFi connections restricted, curfews instituted, long lectures about choice of friends given, hobbies de-legitimized and branded “wastes of time,” and movement is restricted.

For many of us, there is one prominent parent. So in my case, every time the phrase tiger parent is mentioned in this article can basically be replaced with “my mother.” This is relevant because the role of the non-prominent parent (sorry for adhering to the stereotypical meaning of parent, this is only done to generalize conveniently) can either contribute to or counter the problems of the tiger kids. A passive second parent, as is often is in the cases with passive fathers where the tiger parent is the mother owing to gender roles that make the father contribute more economically and less emotionally, can be actively harmful, given that the child can use and often yearns for every ounce of support they can get from a person of power.

Now these parents do obviously deserve to be parents, and more often than not, they’re spectacular parents in most aspects. Then, it all comes down to whether their one Achilles heel in parenting can kill it all; and almost always; no, it won’t. But what happens when it does? What happens when a culture of tiger parenting and tiger society-ing causes suicide to be the biggest cause of death amidst South Korean teens?

I still don’t think this is too bad, that this is actually deadly. But then again, most analysts before me and I only think so because of this lens of viewing parenting in terms of some arbitrary returns on investment.

Parenting should count the loss of mental health and freedom for a young adult that deserves it. Through this lens the damage is real.

At first I resisted, then like all the others, I taught myself to run, when all I wanted to do was fly.

I love my parents very much, but that doesn’t change how many things or times I’ve thought how great it’d be if it were a little different.