Step aside, Tiger Moms; Dolphin parenting a better model, book argues
When it comes to parenting, fierce and determined tiger moms have grabbed headlines of late. But a B.C. psychiatrist is urging parents to look to another animal for parental role model: playful, community-minded dolphins.
In “The Dolphin Way: A Parent’s Guide To Raising Healthy, Happy, and Motivated Kids Without Turning Into a Tiger,” Dr. Shimi Kang dismisses the recent fascination with "Tiger parenting," saying such regimented approaches only result in anxious kids with who have lost their love for learning.
Dolphins, she argues, make a better model, because they're intelligent and skilled but also loving, playful and socially sophisticated.
"The Tiger parent is the helicopter parent, the over-controlling, overbearing – any parent who takes over control of the child's life and their internal motivation. The opposite is the jellyfish parent – the permissive parent with little rules, little expectations, who lack direction," Kang explained to CTV's Canada AM Wednesday.
"And the dolphin is the balance of these extremes. They're collaborative. They have rules and expectations but they also value autonomy and choice."
Kang, the medical director for Child and Youth Mental Health for Vancouver and a mother of three, drew on her own upbringing when writing her book. She entered medical school at 19, despite the fact her mother couldn’t read, her father drove a taxi, and she never enrolled in a single extracurricular activity.
She says growing up, she witnessed her parents’ strong work ethic, their ability to adapt, and their unwavering commitment to family and community. She was aware of her parents' high expectations to succeed, but also of their joy for life and their wish for her to inspire that in others.
Kang says she's now trying embody values to her own parenting, but admits that even she gets sucked into the pressures of the modern parenting world.
This was driven home to her one day when she was rushing to get her son to piano lessons one day and noticed her son in the car's rear view mirror, looking empty. When she asked him what was wrong, he responded wearily, "Mom, I don’t wanna go to piano. I just wanna go home and play.”
She suddenly realized she had turned her little boy into an overworked little man – just like the children of so many Tiger Parents she had seen in her practice as a psychiatrist.
"I've seen hundreds, if not thousands, of kids who are talented, who have joy and vitality being sucked out of them by over-scheduling and over-instruction and overprotection," she says.
Kang decided to turn the car around and go home and let him play with his Lego instead.
Kang argues in her book that today's over-scheduled kids are missing everything from a good night's sleep to the simple right to just goof off and play.
"When a child plays, they develop their frontal cortex, they become uncomfortable with uncertainty, learn abstract concepts, they learn creativity," Kang says. "All animals play – including dolphins -- and there's a reason for that -- it teaches us to adapt."
What's also missing in today's parenting culture is a sense of community, Kang argues. Dolphins know to bond with one another and live in a pod, but today's parenting culture focuses on making our kids competitive with one another – and even with their own siblings.
When kids are over-managed, Kang argues, they lose the chance to learn to be independent and to adapt to chance. And those are skills that they're going to need in the workforce, she says.
"We can't do the over-controlling thing," Kang says. "This century wants kids who are social, that are innovators that can think outside the box."
Parents themselves need to learn to adapt too, by not expecting that any one parenting approach is going to work all the time, on every child.
"The secret to parenting is: there's no secret," she says.
"I have three kids and they're each very different and if you try to plug into one style, you'll quickly lose ideas. So the message is to adapt, adapt to your child. "