Yang: If I Were To Do A Study Or Two

If I Were To Do A Study Or Two

The publicity and controversy accompanying “Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother” at least spurred a special issue on Asian parenting by AAPA, Asian American Psychological Association: Asian American Journal of Psychology, Volume 4, No. 1, March, 2013. Perhaps the “The Triple Package” will compel some academics to conduct more rigorous research to address a few of the issues laid out in the book. So, I have been thinking about what I would have pursued if I were to have sufficiently generous funding. 

My research preference has always leaned toward “exploring” and so by nature, I would want to conduct qualitative studies to identify nuances in people’s thought processes. Such studies usually involve multiple observations, several long interviews, and sometimes group discussions. And I would re-engage the same participants at intervals over a period of time to capture potential changes in people’s attitudes and behaviors. 

I subscribe to “socially constructed reality.” For instance, one parent’s “strict” principles may be too lenient to another parent, or, one parent’s “high” standards may be low-hanging fruit to another.  People of different backgrounds, culture included, often have different worldviews or perspectives. Surveys can capture some; interviews offer more opportunities for deeper probing.

One of the articles in the AAPA’s special issue provides a comparative analysis of four parenting profiles. These are supportive, easygoing, tiger, and harsh, in descending order, corresponding to children’s performance outcomes. And the children’s performance includes both emotional/developmental and academic dimensions. What differentiates “tiger” and “harsh” is that tiger parenting actually expresses love and reasoning while harsh style does not offer much positive expression at all.

“Tiger” parenting may be authoritative; “harsh” parenting is heavily authoritarian. And “easygoing” can be too unstructured compared to “supportive.” This is a thoughtful study that incorporates children’s perspectives, and it tracks the families in the study over a period of eight years, with two more measurements every four years. The participants in this study are first generation Chinese mostly from Hong Kong and southern China with a few from Taiwan. 

I would like to compare different cultural groups to explore how each group might interpret the same dimensions differently (or similarly). For instance, some survey questions in the above study ask the children if parents “listen carefully,” “act supportive and understanding,” or “act loving, affectionate, and caring.” Such subjective judgment necessarily carries different meaning to different individuals, families, cultural groups.

For instance, first generation Chinese are generally uncomfortable with saying, “I love you,” or hugging. How do their children assess their parents’ expression of love and support? In some cultures, questioning authority is encouraged, but not in other cultures. How do we measure “respect” when comparing families from different cultural groups?

An 8-year longitudinal study on social issues is impressive. According to this special journal, several studies, in addition to the aforementioned, point out that parents adjust their parenting style and expectations as they become more comfortable with the adopted American culture. I would love to delve further into the how’s and why’s. What would be the trigger to change someone’s perspectives? A shouting match at a Moscow café? Or, a more subtle observation? A concerted and methodical approach? Or, an evolution brought about by many conversations with children and adults? 

Longitudinal and comparative studies would also shed light on the definition of “success.” Chua and Rubenfeld do allow people to change their attitude over time. They claim that by the third generation, most “successful” immigrant groups would lose their edge as their “triple” assets erode. As this AAPA special journal points out: As immigrant parents live and learn, many modify their parenting over time, even within one generation. Logically, one’s definition of “success” would evolve over time as well.

Just these issues alone would keep me busy, but I also want to add another dimension, parenting within interracial marriage. How does the cross-cultural couple “negotiate” their cultural expectations?  By “negotiating,” I don’t mean that they sit down, delineate point by point, and hash out their differences.  However, to what extent these cross-cultural or interracial couples actually discuss their cultural differences? In what ways do they see their cultural mapping as an advantage or a challenge? I am quite certain such studies are out there already, but prodded by “The Triple Package,” new studies may focus on how parenting within interracial marriage impacts children’s academic performance, emotional and developmental adjustment, definition of “success,” etc. 

Fantasy over, I am also realistic about how such studies are likely to have little impact on our collective understanding and thinking. Academic studies and writings just do not catch public attention; trade books like “The Triple Package” do. Unfortunately, the former lends credibility but reaches a small audience while the latter enjoys publicity yet is potentially misleading. 

How do we create a “tipping point?” But who’s to decide which direction to tip? 

Till next time,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

Direct Contact:  taso100@gmail.com

Editor’s note: Dr. Yang has a PhD in Management from the Wharton Business School of the University of Pennsylvania. She taught at Wharton for a number of years, and consulted for small groups and small organizations and on cross-cultural issues. Her professional worldview comprises three pillars: 1. All organizations are social systems in which elements are inter-related. 2. To improve organizations, the focus should be on the positive dimensions on which to build. This philosophical foundation is Appreciative Inquiry. 3. Yang subscribes to the methodological perspective that she is part of the instrument from which to gain quality data from respondents, and with which to compare and contrast with others’ realities.


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