The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Children of “Tiger Moms and Dads”: Parenting and Adolescent Well-Being in Asian-American Immigrant Families

Saturday, January 19, 2013
Grande Ballroom A, B, and C (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Na Youn Lee, MSW, MIA, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI
Purpose: When Amy Chua released her book in 2011, there has been a huge uproar about her cruel, inhumane parenting style. Chua defended her “Chinese” way of parenting as being “different” but not “wrong.” Furthermore, in defense of their mother, Chua’s daughters voiced that their well-being have not been compromised by their mother’s tough love. Are they correct? Unfortunately, Asian Americans have been an invisible group in both research and practice; and very little is known about Asian-American parenting and child well-being. Another enormous challenge is to find reliable secondary data to conduct a meaningful quantitative study. Hence, this study aims to examine the relationship between parenting and adolescent well-being in Asian-American households.

Method: The study used a sample of 9,451 second-generation adolescents, of which 2,190 are Asian Americans, ages 12 to 21, from the three waves of the Children of Immigrants Longitudinal Study (1992-93; 1995-96; 2001-2003). Models were estimated using hierarchal linear modeling (HLM) in STATA 9SE to trace the patterns in individual children over time. Dependent variable is adolescent well-being, measured by Rosenberg’s self-esteem scale and adolescents’ self-assessment of positive attitude toward themselves. Independent variables are the following: primary language used in household; family socioeconomic status; parenting attitudes and relationship (conflicting goals, educational expectations, preferences for American way of life, interest in child’s views); and presence of social networks (grandparents, compatriots, white acquaintances). Covariates include child and mother demographics.

Results: First, examining all second-generation adolescents, the study found that older children, males, children with less conflicting goals with parents, and those who felt their parents were interested in their views had significantly higher self-esteem and positive attitudes about themselves over time (p<0.001). Mother’s age and parent’s socioeconomic status were only important for self-esteem (p<0.05), whereas primary language in household, presence of social networks, educational expectations, and preferences for American way of life did not affect adolescent well-being. The effects of various parenting attitudes on adolescent well-being did not differ between Asian-American youth and those of other race. However, all else being equal, Asian-American adolescents started from a significantly lower point on the well-being scale (p<0.001). Being Hispanic did not affect the well-being outcome. Examining only Asian-American adolescents, the results reinforced the general findings.

Implications: This study is a unique attempt to address an important gap in social work research and practice. Methodologically, the study provides a longitudinal repeated measures analysis, accounting not only for how certain characteristics affect adolescent well-being over time, but also for whether individual children, with their unique set of characteristics, have another layer of impact on well-being outcomes. Substantively, the study provides empirical evidence for the controversy surrounding the “Tiger Mother’s” approach to parenting; there seems to be no difference between Asian Americans and others regarding the effects of parenting on well-being. In the future, there needs to be richer and more reliable data collected on Asian Americans that allow studies to explore why child well-being is lower for this group; and practitioners should be prepared to provide culturally appropriate services for these families.