THE DYSFUNCTIONALITY OF ANGRY PARENTING - An Asian Oversight By Josephine Justin - February 29, 2024


It's no secret that anger is a powerful emotion. It can be motivating, energizing, helpful even, in certain situations. But when it comes to parenting, just how effective is anger really?

The aim of this piece is not to shit on "Tough love" however, but more so to draw attention to the many ways this form of parenting can backfire. 

In the complex, and more importantly delicate tapestry of parenthood, the role of parents in shaping the emotional and psychological well-being of their children cannot be overstated. So it isn’t of much surprise that the prevalence of angry and aggressive parenting styles, especially in Asian households, has manifested as a deeply troubling issue, casting a dark shadow on the formative years of many kids. 

Kids mess up, they do. A reactive approach to it, however, fails to address the underlying issues, perpetuating a cycle of aggression that children are likely to replicate in their own lives.

Funnily enough, aggression and anger- both results of highly emotional states can be misconstrued as emotional detachment when the feelings of the kids being disciplined is in question.

Asian parenting, often associated with a rigorous and disciplined approach, is characterized by a strong emphasis on academic achievement and success. Respect for elders, adherence to cultural traditions, and a focus on family values are other typically significant aspects. Instilling cultural pride is essential, yes, but a rigid enforcement of cultural norms without room for open dialogue can lead to a stifling atmosphere for self-expression. And while valuing education is crucial, the manifestation of this value similarly, can lead to a high-pressure environment. "Tiger Parenting," “Brown Parenting”, etc., are some other labels given to this approach. 

So while the combination of strict rules, high expectations, and limited emotional expression might work for one kid, what is to say it works the same for another?

The intention undoubtedly is to prepare children for a competitive world, but the reality lies in the fact that the unintended consequence of this parenting style can be a breeding ground for stress, anxiety, and feelings of inadequacy. The pressure to meet parental expectations can sometimes overshadow the child's own passions and individuality, stifling creativity and dreams. 

In India- the world’s largest democracy, the NCRB reported over 13,000 student suicide deaths last year in 2023, of which 10,295 were children below the age of 18 years. That is 10,295 lives that never even got to experience the many joys and struggles of adulthood. 

In Qatar too, we’ve heard of a few expat student suicides in the last couple of years. Though the reasons behind these suicides were unclear, it does raise many questions about the mental health of the kids around us. Are we paying enough attention to it?

Children raised in an environment marked by any form of aggression are more susceptible to developing a range of mental health issues later in life. Chronic exposure to hostility can even lead to clinical anxiety, depression, and more severe conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in many cases. The developing brain of a child is highly susceptible to external influences after all. Just as they absorb in the good, so do they with the bad.

Furthermore, these kids often struggle with forming healthy relationships later in life. The model of conflict resolution they internalize is built on confrontation rather than communication, leading to difficulties in establishing and maintaining positive connections in both personal and professional spheres.

All of that being said, the cycles of violence are not that easy to break free from. If you were somebody who grew up with “Tough Love”, you’re sure to have heard your parent say that it is only normal and that they were raised the same way. The perpetuation of violence across generations is indeed one of the many troubling aspects of aggressive parenting. Being raised in hostile environments themselves, they are more prone to adopting aggressive behaviors as a coping mechanism, growing up. Witnessing violence during their growing years normalizes it for them, and they carry this legacy forward, albeit with good intentions. So breaking free from this cycle is not only challenging to the individual psyche, but also a huge cultural struggle.

Again, the aim of this piece is to draw a picture of the dysfunctionality of aggressive parenting while fully understanding the good intentions behind it all and recognizing that not all forms of strict parenting are inherently damaging. 

The challenge with tough love lies in finding the right balance between providing strict guidance and allowing room for autonomy. Too much agression may result in resentment, while too much leniency may lead to a lack of discipline. 

This is where effective communication becomes paramount in navigating the delicate balance between pushing a child to excel and providing the emotional support they need to thrive. Fostering an environment where discipline coexists with emotional support, and finding a balance between setting expectations for success and nurturing a child's emotional intelligence, allows them to develop into well-rounded individuals capable of facing life's challenges with resilience and empathy.

Read How to Break the Cycle of Aggressive Parenting for more insight drawn from research and practical suggestions.

This article is strictly an opinion piece with research input from:

1. Asian Parenting and Academic Pressure:
   - Chao, R. K. (1994). Beyond parental control and authoritarian parenting style: Understanding Chinese parenting through the cultural notion of training. Child Development, 65(4), 1111-1119.
   - Kim, S. Y., & Wong, V. Y. (2002). Assessing Asian and Asian American parenting: A review of the literature. In K. S. Yang, K. K. Hwang, & U. Kim (Eds.), Scientific psychology of culture (pp. 189-215). Springer.

2. Impact of Parenting Styles on Mental Health:
   - Steinberg, L. (2001). We know some things: Parent–adolescent relationships in retrospect and prospect. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 11(1), 1-19.

3. Cultural Aspects of Parenting Styles:
   - Ispa, J. M., Fine, M. A., Halgunseth, L. C., Harper, S., Robinson, J., Boyce, L., Brooks-Gunn, J., & Brady-Smith, C. (2004). Maternal intrusiveness, maternal warmth, and mother-toddler relationship outcomes: Variations across low-income ethnic and acculturation groups. Child Development, 75(6), 1613-1631.
   - Kagitcibasi, C. (1996). The autonomous-relational self: A new synthesis. European Psychologist, 1(3), 180-186.

4. Tough Love and Child Development:
   - Huebner, A. J., Mancini, J. A., & Wilcox, R. M. (2009). Parental involvement in middle school: A meta-analytic assessment of the strategies that promote achievement. Developmental Psychology, 45(3), 740-763.

By Josephine Justin - February 29, 2024

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