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March 18, 2024

Why are Asian Parents so Strict? The Roots of Rigor

Parenting is a journey filled with a lot of ups and downs especially when it comes to raising teenagers. For Asian parents, the desire to see their children succeed academically and socially can sometimes lead to strict parenting styles. In this blog post, we’ll explore the reasons behind Asian parents’ strictness, the ways it manifests in their children’s lives, and guide parents seeking to improve their parenting styles. Additionally, we’ll discuss how therapy can be a valuable resource for both parents and children navigating these challenges.

This subject is of great importance to me, Bea Benedicto. I am the client care manager at Women of Color Therapy, and the first to post for our special spotlight posts to help our readers meet the whole team. As a first-generation Filipina, I am personally invested in bringing nuance to the immigrant experience. There are many positives and some drawbacks to strict parenting, and it’s important to acknowledge that. Our team is full of multitudes of experiences, including other therapists who understand the immigrant experience in the United States. To book a consultation and find a therapist who deeply knows that worldview, click here. Reach Out for Support | Contact Us | WOC Therapy

Understanding the Roots of Strict Parenting

Asian parents’ strictness often stems from a combination of cultural, historical, and socioeconomic factors. As someone who is a first-generation Asian American and raised as the eldest daughter in a conservative, religious household, the strict parenting I received can be traced and contextualized by taking into account my parents’ and my own intersecting identities. For example, because of our immigrant identity, my parents felt a heightened sense of responsibility to ensure we succeeded in the US, leading to stricter parenting practices aimed at fostering academic success and social integration. This is only one way identity plays into the varying degrees of strictness in parenting. My gender presentation, birth order and my family’s religious background also added layers to the way I was raised. The more I understand these intersections, the more I can view my childhood with grace and appreciation, alongside the aspects I am still making peace with. Here are other ways strictness and discipline can manifest in Asian children’s lives: 

High Academic Expectations: Asian parents may place intense pressure on their children to excel academically, expecting straight A’s and enrolling them in numerous extracurricular activities to enhance their resumes. They see the academic expectations as a direct correlation to their child being successful. In their eyes, this is the greatest way to show love. Many immigrants experience the clear dichotomy between how they are treated if they are educated versus if they are not in the United States. If their child can be academically successful, they will be socially accepted as well.

Limited Social Activities: Some Asian parents restrict their children’s social activities, prioritizing academics or other productive pursuits over leisure time with friends. They may be worried that friends and relationships will ultimately serve as a distraction to academia.

Career and Life Choices: Asian parents may strongly influence their children’s career paths, pushing them towards prestigious or financially stable professions. In non-Western cultures, respect to parents is vitally important, honoring all they have sacrificed for their children. To choose one’s own life path can cause friction in the family, even cause parents to feel a great sense of disrespect.

Discipline and Punishment: Strict parenting may involve disciplinary measures such as corporal punishment or imposing strict rules and curfews.

Emphasis on Respect and Obedience: Asian parents often emphasize respect for authority figures and expect their children to obey without question.

Asian mother parenting

The Impact on Children’s Mental Health

While the intention behind strict parenting is often to see their children succeed, it can have negative effects on their mental well-being:

Anxiety and Stress: The relentless pressure to excel academically can create a constant sense of stress and fear of failure in children.

Low Self-Esteem: Strict parenting can lead to feelings of inadequacy and diminished self-esteem, especially if children feel they can never meet their parents’ high expectations. If the children feel strongly pulled to pursue any interests that do not align with their parents’ hopes, they may be filled with shame and imposter syndrome.

Limited Autonomy: Children raised in strict households may feel suffocated and lack opportunities for self-expression or autonomy. As they come into adulthood, they may even struggle with knowing what their interests are after striving to please their parents throughout the entirety of their lives.

Conflict and Resentment: Strict parenting can strain parent-child relationships, leading to conflict and resentment as children rebel against perceived unfairness or excessive control.

As low-risk as these effects may seem, they may lead to more severe health impacts such as self-harming, eating disorders, addiction, risk-taking behavior, and suicide. No parent really wants to see their child suffer. Understanding these very real risks can help with opening more rigid ideas and changing the parenting approach.

Balancing Discipline and Gentleness

Finding a balance between discipline and gentleness is essential for fostering healthy parent-child relationships and promoting children’s well-being:

Open Communication: Create a safe space for open communication, where children can express their feelings and concerns without fear of judgment. Parents can also explain to their children why they value academia so highly. It can help the child to know their parents’ perspective, even as parents understand that perspective should adjust according to their child’s needs.

Set Realistic Expectations: Establish achievable expectations for academic performance and other areas, considering children’s strengths and interests.

Encourage Autonomy: Allow children to have a say in their own lives and decision-making processes, fostering a sense of autonomy and independence.

Celebrate Effort and Progress: Recognize and celebrate children’s efforts and progress, emphasizing growth and resilience over perfection.

Seek Therapy: Therapy can be a valuable resource for both parents and teens navigating challenges related to strict parenting. A therapist can provide support, guidance, and strategies for improving communication, managing stress, and building healthier relationships within the family. Seeking therapy as an immigrant can feel complex and confusing. Therapy can feel like a western concept that does not translate to other cultures. However, by keeping an open mind, therapy can be a tool for re-connecting with one’s culture in a healthy way.

This approach contributes to the general emotions, social, and cognitive development of children. When parents approach discipline with gentleness, children feel validated and supported in expressing their feelings, which helps them develop emotional intelligence and resilience. Instead of fearing punishment or judgment, children learn to trust their parents and turn to them for guidance and support during challenging times. Similarly, by listening attentively to their children’s thoughts and feelings without judgment, parents create a safe space for meaningful dialogue and problem-solving. When parents acknowledge and praise their children’s achievements, no matter how small, children develop a sense of confidence and self-worth. They learn to believe in their abilities and feel motivated to continue striving for excellence, knowing that their efforts are valued and appreciated by their parents. Respecting children’s autonomy and encouraging them to make choices and take responsibility for their actions, children develop a sense of independence and self-efficacy. They learn to trust their judgment and develop critical thinking skills that will serve them well in adulthood. Instead of resorting to harsh punishments or power struggles, parents and children can work together collaboratively to address challenges and find mutually beneficial solutions. This collaborative approach fosters a sense of teamwork and cooperation, strengthening family bonds and promoting positive interactions.

Navigating the challenges of parenting as an Asian parent requires understanding the roots of strict parenting, its impact on children’s mental health, and strategies for achieving balance. By fostering open communication, setting realistic expectations, encouraging autonomy, celebrating effort and progress, and seeking therapy when needed, parents can create a supportive and nurturing environment that promotes their children’s well-being and success.