Community Voices

Beyond the Classroom: How tigers, Flower children, and other parenting archetypes affect how your child does in school

I recall the moment in the 1990 film Mermaid, when an exasperated Cher says to her prepubescent daughter “when you were born you did not come with a set of instructions.” As a parent we all have had moments when we either thought this or said it out loud.

Parents raise their children in a variety of ways — consciously or subconsciously. Our style is based partially on how we were raised ourselves, on our personal values and on simply what we feel is the right thing to do.

But no matter what parenting style we may embrace, that style has a far reaching effect —beyond manners, expectations or discipline. The way we parent also affects how our kids do in school and how they see themselves and how they transition to adulthood.

American parents are consumed with parenting. Yet when you examine the globe, one finds that children are raised in all sorts of ways, and most of them (provided with love and a set of game rules) turn out just fine. At least that is what Professor David F. Lancy says in his academic text, “The Anthropology of Childhood: Cherubs, Chattel, Changelings.”

According to Lancy’s research, children in Fiji are not allowed to address adults or make eye contact. A child of the nomadic Touareg people is charged with raising a baby camel when they turn 8. And village children in New Guinea are encouraged to raise knives at their siblings.

In contrast to many parts of the world where children are expected to earn their keep, learn through play and imitation, and are rarely entertained by adults, first-time American parents face a bewildering array of commercial products and books on parenting methods. Whether you co-sleep or don’t, use cloth diapers or disposable, he says the real diversity in parenting lies between cultures who “pick their kids when ripe” (a culture where kids are largely ignored by adults and recognized only when they have shown their worth) versus our culture where children are “picked when green” (adults provide services to relatively few children who are considered precious from birth).

From raising a camel to the oppressive Tiger approach of ensuring perfection, we have a handful of recognized parenting styles — but the one you embrace will impact not only your child’s manners and regimen, but it will impact how your child does in school and how he/she comes to believe in her/himself.

While there are virtues in rigor, discipline and high standards, it is no surprise to see the research following the uber-performing Tiger cub children. They display less tendency to evolve into stable adults. Amy Chua, the prominent Chinese Yale Law Professor most famously known for her iron-fisted Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother parenting memoir, recently posted on her blog the experiences she had when her two (now in college) daughters, came home for a month for winter break. In her words, it was “pretty rocky” with all parties counting the minutes until they were able to return back to their individual worlds. Chua comments on the difficulties throughout their visit and how much nicer dogs are than daughters. So maybe the Tiger mom needs some rethinking. Yes Chua’s girls played hours of music a day and brought home all A’s during their middle and high school years, they also missed sleepovers and extracurricular functions. In the end, they went to college like many kids do. I hope they do OK.

The Parenting Archetypes

Since the 1960s, academics have separated parenting styles into three “profiles”: authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive (a fourth category was added in 1980: neglectful).

▪ Authoritarian parenting (aka Tiger parenting) combines coercion with less parental responsiveness, and leads to higher depressive symptoms and lower self-esteem. Kids from authoritarian families may be relatively well-behaved but they also tend to be less resourceful, have poorer social skills, and lower self esteem. Compared with kids from authoritative households, kids exposed to authoritarian discipline may also achieve less at school. They are so used to being told what to do and how to do it, once on their own they have to relearn independent thinking. They struggle.

▪ Authoritative parenting incorporates a combination of high parental responsiveness with the exercise of power that’s open to negotiation. This style has been found to produce higher-achieving children with fewer symptoms of depression. Authoritative parents, like authoritarian parents, set limits and enforce standards. But unlike authoritarian parents, authoritative parents are very responsive or nurturing. In addition, authoritative parents encourage their kids to ask questions, and they explain the rationale behind the rules. Authoritative parents are also less likely to control kids through the induction of shame, guilt, or the withdrawal of love.

▪ Permissive parenting is characterized by high warmth and low control. For us baby boomers, this style brings back memories of the Hippie era. No demands are placed on the child. In a sense, permissive parenting seems to be a “no discipline” approach to discipline. Permissive parenting features two key traits: being nurturing and warm (which is good for kids), and being reluctant to impose limits (which is usually not good). They don’t assign their kids many responsibilities and they don’t encourage kids to meet adult-imposed behavior standards. Instead, they allow — as much as possible — kids to regulate themselves. Permissive parents don’t present themselves as authority figures or role models.

▪ Negligent parenting incorporates the permissive parenting style but without the warmth or nurturing. It is neglectful.

The Research

Paul Tullis in his article, Poor Little Tiger Cub cites research done by Su Yeong Kim, an Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Science at the University of Texas. She states that when European-American and Asian-American families are compared, Asian-American parents “almost always score higher on controlling and lower on warmth, which means they’re more likely to be classified as authoritarian.” Yet, their kids were outperforming whites in school. This gave rise to the “achievement/adjustment paradox”: kids doing well by external measures while feeling torn apart inside.

After following more than 300 Asian-American families for a decade, Kim published her results. They will no doubt surprise Chua and her admirers — children of parents whom Kim classified as “tiger” had lower academic achievement and attainment — and greater psychological maladjustment—and family alienation, than the kids of parents characterized as “supportive” or “easygoing.”

In an Educational Research Network article, Impact of Parenting Practices on Adolescent Achievement: Authoritative Parenting, School Involvement, and Encouragement to Succeed, the correlation between authority at home and achievement at school remained strong despite variations in the definition of authoritative parenting. Research continues to show that strict but nurturing parenting practices led to successful school achievement regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic level, or family structure.

Authoritative parenting has been associated with a stronger work orientation, greater engagement in school activities, more positive feelings about school, more time spent on homework, more positive academic self-concept, and lower levels of school misconduct.

It must also be said that parental involvement in school activities, encouragement, and high expectations are also contributors to success in school.

The Kids Speak

Laurence Steinberg, Nancy Darling, et. al. (Temple University) collected adolescent reports to evaluate their parents’ behavior - this included child-rearing practices, parental expectations, and involvement in school. The ratings were categorized as:

▪ (1) acceptance/warmth/involvement (e.g., Can you count on your parents to help you if you have some kind of problem?),

▪ (2) strictness/supervision (e.g., What’s the latest you can stay out on weeknights?), and

▪ (3) psychological autonomy granting (e.g., How often do your parents tell you not to question their decisions?).

Adolescent students at all grade levels who described their parents as authoritative — loving and democratic, but strict about behavior — reported better school performance and stronger engagement in school compared to their peers.

Overall, the parenting styles to have a greater influence on student performance than any specific parental behavior. In the space of only one year, authoritative parents have been shown to be successful in helping their child raise his/her academic achievement and engagement in school.

So consider how and what you do as a parent. It has far and wide reaching effects.

Laurie Futterman ARNP is a former Heart Transplant Coordinator at Jackson Memorial Medical Center. She now chairs the science department and teaches gifted middle school science at David Lawrence Jr. K-8 Center. She has three children and lives in North Miami.