Why Asian parents are scarier than Western parents

Wednesday, 17 July 2013
Having straddled both the Asian and Western cultures for more than 20 years, it occurred to me that  parenting styles from both continents couldn't be more different. As you can tell, I'm speaking from an Asian perspective here. It doesn't matter how long you've immigrated to a western country (namely, U.S, U.K, Canada, Australia or New Zealand), it takes several generations to water down the deeply rooted Confucian philosophy. Cos they don't just sit on your epidermis, they're wrapped around every blood cell in your body.


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1. Kiasu-ism

If you're a westerner, you'd be like....what the fudge is she on about? Kiasu? Is that even a word? Okay, let me break it down to you. The word is a bastardization of the hokkien dialect (a southern chinese dialect) meaning afraid (kia) to lose (su). Used in a parenting context, it's called being a Tiger Mom (or Dad). Got it?

Like Confucianism, Kiasu-ism is also a genetic affliction that's prevalent in any Asian culture. It's incurable. It is not sexist nor ageist*. Kiasu-ism, however, is racist. The condition is widespread and extremely contagious particularly in Malaysia and Singapore. The Kiasu virus is deeply embedded in our Asian DNA. Let me give you a few examples to illustrate my point here.

Kiasu parents would:
- hire a tutor or send their kids to tuition to cover every subject in school so that they would be well versed before their teachers even got around to teaching the topic.
- force their kid to covertly find out their friends' (and friends of friends' and friends of friends of friends') grades or tutor's names (cos good tutors are more coveted and in demand than an Hermes Birkin).
- go to forums such as kiasuparents.com to find out everything there is to know to ensure your kid will be the next Jerry Yang, Lang Lang etc.
-NOT want their kid to miss out on anything. Therefore, their little child prodigy will have to learn how to play the piano, violin, ballet, tennis, badminton, squash, swimming, Mandarin, French......... at the same time.
- pretend to be humble but brag about their kid's achievement. (cue Singlish - Singaporean English or Manglish - Malaysian English here) My kid.... aaah... got A+ in everything. Music, some more got distinction. But no-lah, not very smart one. Very dumb.

*And a Kiasu grandparent would try to test their granddaughter's math ability via Skype if they're separated by several continents.



2. Severity of Punishment

Check out this scenario. You're a teenager. You sneak out of the house to hang out with your friends. Or perhaps catch a movie. Or secretly have a boyfriend and you're so in love that you want to spend every minute of the day with him. (Notice I didn't bother including smoking, drinking, smoking pot etc cos if you have Asian parents, that will spell doomsday. Armageddon. End of the world. Total annihilation. You get the picture.) So you got caught and your parents have to dish out the punishment.

Western parents: (trying to be calm but still frustrated)You're grounded. I'm so disappointed in you. What were you thinking? Your cellphone will be taken away for a week.
Asian parents: (anger personified and borderline Hiroshima scale explosion) You bring shame to our family! You are such a disappointment to us! I will disinherit you. I will lock you out of the house (and they will). You're grounded forever with NO access to phone, TV and computer unless it's for school.

Now if you're just a young kid, say, 6 years old. And you diss your parents.
Western parents: Now sweetheart, that wasn't very nice, was it? Please** show a little more respect. You've just lost a star on the reward chart.

Asian parents: Go to my room and bring me the cane.

**Asian parents NEVER say please or thank you to their kids.


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3. Having a relationship

This applies especially if you're a girl. An Asian parent would gladly buy a chastity belt for their daughter if it was still in existence. Every girl approaching puberty would have been given THE TALK by her parents. You know, the one about studies being of utmost importance to ensure a good future. There will be plenty of time for boyfriends later blah blah blah blah blah. Again, notice the fact that we're not broaching on the subject of pre-marital sex or "sleepovers" because that will ensure another round of total annihilation scenario.

But.....God forbid if YOU don't have a boyfriend at the ripe old age of 24. They fear you'll be on the shelf. Forever. A spinster. Their dreams of bouncing their next generation on their old knees completely decimated. Poof. So they enlist their friends' help to set you up with a guy (a boy with good prospect, good family and he even owns his own house!!).



34 comments:

  1. Oh my! I totally found myself nodding along as I read this! My husband and I sometimes recount how harshly we'd be punished when we were young should we ever misbehave or skip out on our homework. And God forbid we ever diss our parents. If you were in public, you'd get a withering stern look but better go hide when you get home.

    Rowena @ rolala loves

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  2. Hilarious and so true!

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  3. Yes - I'm nodding furiously. It's a very strange perverse reverse psychology they use isn't it? It worked on me. Sort of.

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  4. Marlene, do you feel like you're an Asian parent yourself? ;-)

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    Replies
    1. I flip flop between the two. Thankfully, education isn't as crazy competitive as in Asia. Personally, I don't believe that maintaining a near perfect score without a sense of emotional intelligence will do the child any good when she's older.

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  5. This made me chuckle (as so many of your posts do) but this time in recognition :o
    Eastern European parents straddle the middle ground between Western style parenting and Asian style parenting. Many (but not all) of the scenarios above are surprisingly familiar. :D

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  6. Well-written and articulated(accurate too)post, Marlene!

    Spot on!

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  7. I often wonder if I would be a strict Asian parent if I had kids. Probably not, I'm too Westernised now; how about you? The 'Joy Luck Club' book and movie portray the conflict really well - I was in tears much of the time because it was so real.

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  8. I loved this post because its true. Add Sri Lankan, Indian parents also to the mix please! I can hear my mother saying this very clearly!

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  9. mostly laughed my way thru this post because it's so true. having straddled both cultures as well i totally agree. my parents are still trying/absolutely dying to get me hitched at 32..

    steph / absolutely-fuzzy.com

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  10. So funny and well written - it is so intriguing to me the different norms of different cultures xx

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  11. Did Mi really do a Maths pop quiz on Skype? I can just see it now.

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  12. I remember when I was 7 or so. I bashed the box fan in anger and it stopped working. Mi said I couldn't go to sleep till I fixed it. I unscrewed it, relieved the plastic bowing and it worked. Told her it was working and I wanted to sleep. First time I saw her speechless.

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  13. This is funny, yet so true every.single.bit of it! And I just read cane as rotan! So, M like the previous commenter, are you an Asian parent? ;) Keep a rotan anywhere in your house? :P

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    Replies
    1. Well, since Anne and you asked..... I'm trying my best to be a Tiger Mom but given that I haven't bothered to check LL's homework since June, I may have failed badly. So ashamed of myself.

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  14. I can relate...being Croatian there are many similarities.

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  15. I think my non-Asian mother totally has Asian genes... Not 100%? Why did you get something wrong? Next time study harder and get them all right. *sigh* I had Polish tiger mom.

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    Replies
    1. I had no idea Eastern European (from the sounds of it, Polish and Croatian) moms are like Asians too! Yes, 90% is a FAIL!

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  16. This is so completely true! Studying and test prep programs were just a way of life! I only learned the term kiasu when we move here - this fear of their kids missing out in some way/not totally excelling is nuts, but not unexpected.
    I have a friend with a 9 year old daughter here. She told me her daughter got a 92/100 or something on an exam and was only within the 75%! Ahh those crazy kids that get perfect scores...and their crazy tiger parents.

    xoxo,
    Chic 'n Cheap Living

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    Replies
    1. The kids in Asia are pushed and pushed and pushed. It's insane really. I don't know how it benefits them. All I know is when I got to NZ, I was so good at memorizing but failed badly when I'm asked to give my own opinions.

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  17. That's fascinating! Whilst not quite so extreme, the wrath of an Irish mother when grades were not achieved, was never anything to be taken lightly either! And the subjects of smoking, drinking or sex were never entered into .. because quite simply, it never crossed her mind that we would 'deviate' so badly!!!!

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  18. This is very true and I have to say that I must lose Asian cred points because I hadn't heard of Kiasu until now!

    My parents were very relaxed in my upbringing actually compared to other parents (they were even called HIPPIES but some of the tiger parents!!). But they regretted it when I didn't end up going to their college and alma mater of choice, my mother was depressed for weeks!

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    Replies
    1. No way! You went on to do an MBA at one of the top universities in the US! At least yours weren't as crazy strict compared to 99.9% of the Asian moms worldwide..

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  19. Marlene you literally had me in fits of laughter with tears streaming down my face. It brought back so many memories of my earlier life and my Asian friends. The comparison is spot on (although I do believe my parents were firmer than most western)!

    - Mandi
    www.findmeamuse.com

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  20. my career. But I think I inherited some traits of becoming a "tiger parent" as a mom..opps!:) but I take it as a balance on having a linient
    husband.

    ≤3,
    Angie
    Audrinajulia.blogspot.com

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    1. Marlene this post makes me reminisce my childhood memories most especially the tutors and sleepover. Growing up I don't seem to understand why I have to undergo on so many things. Later in life I understand the reason why that I took so much advantage of doing such in my early years. I have sharp memory that I just needed in my career. Sorry for the two sent comment dear, I only used my phone and very hard to type. But I love to join to this discussion, it's a part of my life too. Such a memories

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  21. I read the post (that cartoon was hilarious and it reminds me of my own parents /o\) and also some of the comments and I wanted to say how lovely I thought one of your replies were:

    'I don't believe that maintaining a near perfect score without a sense of emotional intelligence will do the child any good when she's older.'

    It's very true and something all parents should take heed of!

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, Suki! It's a shame that most Asian parents only focus on academics and to some extent, sports but life skills including how to deal with people, managing finances etc are just as important.

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  22. My husband is Cuban and I'm essentially a European-American mutt. Of course I want my kids to study and get good grades, but we're not too hard core about it. My daughter goes to a school with a lot of Korean children. Those poor kids go to tutoring after school, every day, then spend the weekend doing more school. It's definitely a cultural phenomenon.

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  23. Haha this was 1 very interesting and 2 made me giggle. We need a medium!

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  24. Read this now and i am laughing so hard because i experienced every single bit of this! XD but its more of my mom than dad though, urgh still remember that broom or slippers they used if me and my sis wouldn't take a nap!

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    Replies
    1. Oh, it's definitely a Tiger Mom syndrome. Dads are usually quite blasé about things like this. Well, until their teenage daughters started dating.

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