Why do parents act the way they do? Why are Western parents perceived as cuddly pandas while Asian parents are seen as fierce tigers? Asian American parents are often lumped into the tiger parenting profile. However, Asian Americans are made up of over 5o different ethnic sub-groups. Unfortunately, many individuals use stereotypes such as “tiger parent” to profile all Asian American parents. Today, I thought I would shed some light on the differences between two of the largest sub-groups within the Asian American population: Chinese and Indian. Before continuing, it is important to note that my aim is not generalize or stereotype these findings to all Chinese or Indian parents, but to call attention to some differences that are worth understanding and reflecting upon.
Parental behavior is often based on different socialization goals that parents have for their children. Much of what is emphasized in families stem from the parents’ beliefs. Researchers Rao, McHale, and Pearson (2003), explored the differences between Chinese and Indian mothers’ beliefs and practices. They revealed some very interesting findings.
Nature vs. Nurture
When looking at how belief systems influence parenting practices, they explored the origins of the belief system. If parents believed that nature dictated the development of the child, then they believed that children were born with predetermined characteristics. From this viewpoint, they were less likely to push the child towards fixed goals. They saw each child as a unique individual who had individual interests, needs, and desires. However, if parents believed that nurture dictated the development of the child, they placed an emphasis on providing the best environment for them and pushing them towards fixed goals; they believed that any child could achieve when they were provided with the right type of environment.
Confucian Belief System
The Confucian belief system places a greater emphasis on nurture. A well-known idiom that refers to the importance of the right setting is: “Mencius’s mother, three moves.” Mencius was a Chinese philosopher and student of Confucius. He is the most famous Confucian after Confucius himself. The parable that is often told is that of Mencius’s mother moved three times to ensure that her child would be brought in a the best environment. This calls attention to the belief that the environment plays a critical role in shaping the child.
Hindu Belief System
The Hindu belief system places a greater emphasis on nature. Based on Hindu thought, a child is born with Sanskara or imprints that were left in his or her mind from their previous lives. They are derived from past experiences and influence future experiences. This leads children to have particular traits that were instilled in them since birth. Thus, Hindu parents believe that individual differences may place limits on their child’s abilities and capabilities.
Highlighting Differences in Parenting Practices
While both Chinese and Indian parents do indeed acknowledge that all children have individual differences—Chinese parents may believe that these differences can be overcome if the child is placed in the right type of environment. Thus, once a child is at the “age of understanding” (Ho, 1986) typically age six, parents engage in strict discipline and training. Indian parents views are often influenced by Ayurveda thus, childhood is perceived as a carefree period in a child’s life. Children are in the “Kama” phase where they are enjoying life and learning about the world around them.
Socialization goals, Child-rearing practices & Parenting styles
An objective of the study conducted by Rao, McHale, and Pearson (2003) was to explore how socialization goals influenced child-rearing practices. What they found was that Chinese parents placed greater emphasis on goals such as obedience, filial piety, moral conduct, and training. They also brought up their children to avoid sharing their thoughts and feelings. While Indians parents’ also valued obedience, they also accepted their children’s individual differences and emotional expressions. The researchers note that parents who placed more emphasis on filial piety or respect for one’s elders were more likely to be authoritarian. Parents who placed more emphasis on socioemotional development were more likely to be authoritative. This leads to a better understanding of why parents who prioritize respect display authoritarian parenting practices. However, it is important to also consider what the research says on what may be the best parenting style for Asian American children and their academic, social, and emotional development.