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Your voice matters: ‘Tiger parenting’ and Cambodian children

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‘Helicopter parents’ hovering over kids can be unsettling.

LIFE as a teenager or a young adult in Cambodian society is definitely not a walk-in-the-park. It is already enough of a struggle to decide what’s for lunch and dinner. What more all the stress coming from schools, societal expectations and life in general. Chances are most of us have tried opening up to our parents before, to convey our stress and difficulties. Quite definitely, every teenager or young adult has met with the classic retort: “When I was your age, I lived through more unfortunate circumstances,” or “You did not have to go through the toughest regime of our history, the Khmer Rouge,” or a dressing down of some sort. Hearing lines like these from your parents, can push you to rebellion. Do you feel invalidated? Does it make you feel like you are not even in the position to feel sorry for yourself? If your answer is ‘yes’ to these posers, then hold your breath to my take on tiger parenting, which is to say, generally in Asia: parents are always right, kids are always wrong.

Just like you, I grew up in a traditional Cambodian family with similar mind-set. Growing up, I was lucky enough with no worry about my primary needs, like food and shelter. Therefore, I was able to focus on school, to excel. As I was transitioning from middle school to high school, I realized there were changes occurring in my body. I started to develop symptoms of depression and eating disorder. As a young teenager, I was not educated enough about the issues regarding mental health since our education does not put adequate emphasis on this aspect of life. So, I was unable to get the help I needed, and I decided to confide in my parents for “help”. However, all I received in return were those classic reprimands.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not in any way attempting to apportion blame on my parents or any parent for not being able to provide proper assistance or help to their teenagers. I understand parenting is an extremely challenging task, and they might not be qualified or educated enough to address emotional health as well. They could even aggravate your emotional bruises by criticising, devaluing, dismissing or comparing you unkindly. It could be your neighbour’s ‘role model’ kid, your cousins, siblings or even a famous person! The average parents believe that by making you feel small, ít will push you to strive for bigger things. The underlying problem here is that, everybody has different levels of resilience. While it might have a positive effect on high-esteem kids (although highly unlikely), it may backfire for others.

In more severe cases, parents may frequently yell or insult their children with crude language. Sometimes, it’s just a caustic nick like, “you are stupid”. While this may seem harmless, it can have far-reaching negative effects on children and adolescents. In fact, much research illustrate that parents’ constant assault as in verbal aggression like insults or criticisms is linked to detrimental development of self-critical cognitive style as well as depressive symptoms.

In simpler words, what adolescents frequently hear or learn from their parents or caretakers plays a crucial role in determining the way they see themselves and shape up. Negative remarks or severe criticism from parents are more likely to make them feel inferior, inadequate and feel they are not good enough. Furthermore, it interferes with the process of childhood and adolescent development where they are actively seeking a sense of identity and self-esteem as an individual.

Taing Rineath is a Psychology major and Exercise Science minor at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. She is a full time student, an advocate for mental health and physical fitness, more importantly, a parttime rocker.

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