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tiger mother also US tiger mom

noun [countable]

a very strict mother who makes her children work particularly hard and restricts their free time so that they continually achieve the highest grades

tiger mothering

noun [uncountable]

'A Michigan State University scholar has refuted tiger mother philosophy that parents should drive their children to succeed even at the expense of the kids' happiness.'

TruthDive 11th January 2012

'Demanding parents may believe that strict parenting can make their kids succeed, but a new study has claimed that tiger moms are actually contributing to the children's low self-esteem and high levels of depression.'

Times of India 20th January 2012

'Two new studies do point out that there are costs to tiger mothering.'

Townhall.com 27th January 2012

This year in the UK, 18 March is the day traditionally referred to as Mother's Day or Mothering Sunday, the one day in the year when children young and old are reminded of the significance of their female parent, and encouraged to make some small gesture of gratitude towards her (as a Mum myself, I'll certainly be looking forward to that box of chocolates!) But how keen would kids be to say thank you if their life had been guided by the influences of a tiger mother, a mum who is only satisfied with total academic excellence and will do everything she can to ensure her offspring achieve it?

in the world of the tiger mother, anything less than an 'A' grade is unacceptable, and her exacting standards demand that her kids are consistently amongst the highest achievers

The term tiger mother, often occurring in informal US English as tiger mom (and sometimes, though less commonly, tiger mum in British English) is a new expression coined to refer to an exceedingly strict female parent whose overriding concern is that her child does exceptionally well at school. In the world of the tiger mother, anything less than an 'A' grade is unacceptable, and her exacting standards demand that her kids are consistently amongst the highest achievers. To this end she employs a very strict work regime, insisting that her kids spend the greater part of their spare time engaged in academic study and music practice, and vetoing things like sleepovers, arrangements to play etc, or the classic elements of 21st century down time like computer games and the TV.

The concept of the tiger mother is most often associated with Asian parents, and in particular those of Chinese origin, where there's evidence to suggest that a strict approach to parenting produces an exceptionally high proportion of top performers – kids who display academic excellence across the board, outstanding musical prowess and professional success later in life. This approach is contrasted to the one taken by what are in the same context sometimes described as 'Western parents', where there is less emphasis on academic success and more on the child's psyche – their happiness and self-esteem.

Predictably, the concept of the tiger mother is rather controversial, some recent studies suggesting that children who are put under constant pressure to achieve are often more anxious and likely to be depressed.

Background – Tiger Mother

The expression tiger mother hit the spotlight in early 2011 with the release of the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (Bloomsbury) by law professor Amy Chua. The book, intended as a comic memoir about Chua's approach to motherhood, ignited a global debate on the pros and cons of this exceedingly strict method of parenting and became one of the most controversial publications of 2011. The term tiger mother does however appear to pre-date the book, having been used a few years earlier in the context of over-protective mothering. It seems to have developed from the metaphor of tiger cubs and their ability to 'move faster' than other feline young. Use of the metaphor has been mildly productive, with some evidence for tiger parents and tiger dad/father.

Continuing the motherhood theme, two other new expressions which have recently hit the headlines are gestational carrier and foetus party. A foetus party is the (somewhat bizarre) concept of celebrating an impending birth by gathering to view scans of the unborn baby taken during the pregnancy. The term gestational carrier is an alternative way of referring to a surrogacy (an arrangement in which a woman gives birth to a child for another couple) in which the surrogate mother has no genetic link to the baby and is purely 'carrying' it on behalf of the parents. The expression gained exposure when it was used by high profile actress Nicole Kidman on announcing the birth of her daughter in January 2011.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 12th March 2012.

Open Dictionary

Dunning-Kruger effect

the phenomenon by which an incompetent person is too incompetent to understand his own incompetence

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