It’s no secret that many of us have experienced the strict, authoritarian parenting styles instilled upon us by our parents. Whether it's constantly being compared to our more successful family members, or being reminded that we are failures (often for trivial things), we may have experienced it in one shape or form. While we can thank our parents for instilling values such as hard work and discipline into our lives, they may come with a host of negative traits as well.
Academic and career success is highly prioritized in Asian culture. Asian parents often dream that their children will either become one of three professions: a doctor, a lawyer, or an engineer. Anything deviating from these choices is subject to harsh criticism. While the intentions are good, happiness is not necessarily the priority. Extracurricular activities, hobbies, and friendships are viewed as distractions from our school work. Love can be conditional—based on rigid obedience to parental figures and high grades. Perfection is not only expected; it is the standard.
There must be some merit to Asian authoritarian parenting styles, as the research shows that Asian Americans often score higher in standardized testing than other ethnic groups. After all, education is seen as a reliable path to success in Asian culture. There is a heavy emphasis placed on studying. Failure is viewed as not trying hard enough. Not studying is considered being lazy and unproductive. Many Asian parents are immigrants, coming from humble beginnings and working to put their children through college, in hopes that they will become successful. This mindset comes from good intentions, but can inadvertently place a tremendous amount of pressure on children to not only perform, but excel. Failure to live up to parental standards is subject to criticism severely lacking tact. The struggle of modern Asian children is often brushed off—being marginalized to what our immigrant parents had to go through to create a life for themselves. And it’s true, our immigrant parents had to sacrifice so much for us to be able to live and study, but our modern problems are just as valid.
However, the research suggests that there is a negative side to the academic success of Asian Americans. Studies suggest that Asian-American youth are less psychologically and socially adjusted, compared to their Caucasian peers. Additionally, the same study finds there to be more child-parent conflict present in the relationship. Asian parents tend to hold more traditional views when it comes to parenting. In the context of authoritarian parenting styles, Asian parents tend to utilize strict guiding rules with a lower responsiveness to their children’s needs. This doesn’t mean to say that authoritarian Asian parents neglect their children, rather that there is lower communication in the form of warmth, acceptance, and involvement in decision-making. These factors can lead to not only stress in the parent-child relationship, but hinder the development of the child overall. Interestingly enough, the study found that the difference in academic success of Asian children with authoritative parents versus authoritarian parents was insignificant. Authoritative parenting can be seen as “firm, but fair” parenting, with an emphasis on parental warmth. Despite the differences of the two parentings styles, they are only a piece in the academic success of a child.
Parenting styles have impact that spans beyond academic success. Children of authoritarian parents tend to have lower self esteem, emotional regulation, and be less well-rounded overall. And while their grades may seem good on paper, there is more to the story than just a GPA score. Coupled with Asian American children being far less likely to seek mental help, it can be a recipe for disaster. According to a 2010 study, only 8.6 percent of Asian-Americans sought any type of mental health service or resource compared to nearly 18 percent of the general population in the nation. Authoritative parenting styles are associated with higher self-esteem, better emotional regulation, and mental well-being in children. While academic performance is important, there must be an emphasis on the overall development of the child as well. It is not simply a this-or-that scenario, you can have both worlds.
So how do we use this information moving forward? Well, the first part of it is awareness of the issues that authoritarian parenting styles can create in Asian families. It can be difficult getting Asian parents to see from our point of view, but we must think of how we can help the generations following us. Traditional Asian parents can be very rigid in their beliefs. The second part lies in normalizing getting help for mental health issues, especially among the Asian community. There is a narrative in Asian culture that being mentally ill and getting help for it is a bad thing. But this issue can no longer be continued to be swept under the rug. Erasing the stigma of mental illness will be a difficult task, but will greatly ease the suffering among ourselves and the generations following. It is absolutely essential.
With that said, if you or a loved one are suffering from mental health issues, please seek help. Here’s a link to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, where you can get the help that you or your loved ones deserve.