Tiger vs. Helicopter vs. Narcissistic Parenting: Overlapping traits but with clear differences

Justine Damm
Damm World
Published in
4 min readFeb 24, 2019

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Image from Thinkogram

What are they?

Tiger parenting (TP): Coined by Amy Chua, TP is a popular Asian parenting method that is achievement based and focused on family honor, loyalty and expectations.
It’s essentially what you think of when you think “strict Asian parents” (get good grades, go to a good school, get a parent-approved job). However, while TPs attempt to control their child’s life, there is room for encouragement and support in some cases.

Helicopter parenting (HP): HPs hover over their children, watching and trying to control their decisions. This type of over-protection tends to stem from the parent’s anxiety and fear for their children’s success. So while the intentions may be good, HPs overlook that if they’re the ones calling the shots, it’s at the expense of their child’s independence. Marlin from Finding Nemo is a good example of this type of parenting. Due to a traumatic event that emotionally scarred him, Marlin became overly protective of Nemo. In the end, he acknowledged his parenting style and the limitations it put on Nemo, and he actively changed his parenting method.

Narcissistic parenting (NP): Psychology Today describes NP as this: “the NP perceives the independence of a child (including adult children) as a threat, and coerces the offspring to exist in the parent’s shadow, with unreasonable expectations.” NPs put their needs first, whether they are threatened by their children and try to marginalize them, or whether they consider their child an extension of themselves and try to control their decisions.
Love is transactional, not unconditional. NPs unhealthily attempt to control their children through methods such as guilt trips, making them never feel good enough, punishment, and other types of manipulation. Their needs are selfish and do not acknowledge their child’s independence or prioritize their happiness. If you noticed that what’s “best for you” always happens to be what your parent suggests, where any other decision is incorrect and you’re consequently guilt tripped, given silent treatment, or are in other way punished, then it’s possible you were raised by an NP.

Where do they overlap?

Psychology Today nicely sums up the overlap: “It’s important to distinguish certain parent-centric tendencies from chronic narcissistic parenting. Many parents want to show off their children, have high expectations, may be firm at times (such as when a child is behaving destructively), and desire their offspring to make them proud. None of these traits alone constitute [NP]. What distinguishes the narcissistic parent is a pervasive tendency to deny the offspring, even as an adult, a sense of independent self-hood. The offspring exists merely to serve the selfish needs and machinations of the parent(s).”
Tiger, helicopter, and narcissistic parenting overlap with methods such as guilt tripping, pressuring life decisions, and over involvement. However, they differ in parental motive and reasoning for wanting excessive control.

TP with narcissism: Tiger parents focus on cultural expectations and prioritize success via the “traditional route.” Everything is for show, and their child’s image is seen as an extension of the narcissistic TP. Their kids are there to make them look good. It’s easy for an NP to hide behind the TP label, so children of narcissistic TPs have a hard time realizing this because they believe it’s just part of the cultural norm for Asian parents to be strict. It is the Asian “normal.”

TP without full blown narcissism: TPs push for the goals they envision for their children, but up to a point. TPs who aren’t narcissistic ultimately halt their control and recognize that their child’s happiness needs to take priority, even if it means their kids end up deciding their own paths. Let’s take the movie Crazy Rich Asians- Tiger Mom pushed her vision for her son’s future but realized her vision was not making him happy and she eventually changed her mindset.

HP stems from different reasoning: HPs are concerned and fearful that their children will not be able to flourish without their constant intervention. However, this parenting style can still reap some positive benefits. Some HP kids have felt a closeness with their parents, despite having less freedom growing up. On the other hand, NPs are only concerned about themselves and their ability to leverage their kids for their advantage and personal gain.

Resources

While neither are ideal, both tiger parenting and helicopter parenting still have some positive benefits to them; narcissistic parenting does not. And while tiger and helicopter parents may realize they’re crossing the line and make changes to their parenting method for the sake of their children’s well-being, narcissistic parents don’t acknowledge that they are at fault and therefore don’t want to change anything.

It can be difficult to tell the difference between the parenting styles I’ve mentioned above. But if this post raised any red flags for you, here are some helpful links about NP:

How Being Raised By A Narcissist Damages Your Life And Self-Esteem: https://www.forbes.com/sites/kathycaprino/2016/07/09/how-being-raised-by-a-narcissist-damages-your-life-and-self-esteem/#d89bf812c674

5 Damaging Lies We Learn From Narcissistic Parents: https://thoughtcatalog.com/shahida-arabi/2017/03/5-damaging-lies-we-learn-from-narcissistic-parents/

How Tiger Moms and hovering parents can damage a child’s ability to cope with life’s challenges (aka TPs with narcissism): https://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/families/article/1982993/how-tiger-moms-and-hovering-parents-can-damage-childs-ability

Online support group: https://www.reddit.com/r/raisedbynarcissists/

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Justine Damm
Damm World

UC Berkeley alum. Marketing. Mother. Joselle’s biggest advocate.