Parental pressure in the eyes of NHS students

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For Northwood students, stress isn’t a temporary event—it’s a state of being. I can hardly name even a fraction of the stressors in our lives: tests, quizzes, essays, homework, college applications, performances, conferences, games, tournaments…and, unfortunately, parents. Too often, students remain silent about the pressure that their parents’ expectations place upon them—and the damage that pressure can cause. Sometimes, those expectations come in the form of a gentle nudge in the right direction or a positive emphasis on education, but other times they are unrealistic and overwhelming. The following are a collection of quotes from anonymous Northwood students speaking about the stress in their lives caused by parental pressure.

My parents have contributed both positively and negatively to my stress level. By setting high expectations for my academic achievements, my parents have motivated me to become a better student and exceed their standards. However, the fear of letting my parents down, of failing, contributes to a constant pressure that I feel to get good grades and stay involved in my extracurriculars. My parents constantly compare me to my sibling and to other students who are more intelligent, talented and able to cope with the competitiveness at Northwood, which lowers my self confidence and defeats whatever sense of pride I feel after accomplishing something. If I fall behind, then I consider myself a disappointment to my parents. If I achieve a goal, it’s onto the next one they have set for me. Although I acknowledge that my parents want what is best for me, I think it is hard for them to differentiate between my actual limits as a student and their interpretation of my limits. My parents push for me to take higher level classes, get better grades, take on more clubs and find leadership roles has tainted my high school experience and forced me to focus on what will look good on college applications instead of activities that I truly enjoy.

Oftentimes I feel stressed if I don’t get a good grade on assignments, projects or tests because, if my parents were to find out that that I got something other than an A, they would be disappointed. They always tell me to study and not to do anything else.

“Personally, my biggest struggle is juggling the stress of wanting to follow my parents’ expectations—as a way to repay them and give thanks for everything they’ve provided me—while trying to follow an artistic passion that they don’t approve of as a future career. To me, it’s the most hypocritical thing that my parents have ever done: they sent me to all these summer camps and afterschool programs, spent a crazy amount of money on the best instruments and maintenance, drove me to and from rehearsals, sacrificed entire weekends to watch me perform out of town, dedicated endless hours of their own lives to help me hone my craft, and so much more. Music consumed my family’s life at times, yet when questions like “What do you want to do in the future?” and “Where do you want to go for college?” arose, and I muttered the word “music” instead of “engineering,” “biology,” “pre-med” or “business,” it ignited an explosion of yelling. Those shouting matches and disagreements persisted throughout my junior year, and even up until now, although they are slowly dying out. I guess my parents and I walked on two divergent roads when it came to my music. They saw it as a resume booster, an enlightening side-activity to have fun with and a way to get involved with the community. They never expected the 4-year-old little girl plunking “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on the piano to grow into an aspiring musician hoping to attend a conservatory and actually make a living out of this “extracurricular.” I understand their concern that music may not be the most financially secure future, but come on, what job really is? I’ve seen a kaleidoscope of opportunity and met people across the world—both young and old—who have molded lifestyles out of their passion rather than the boring, manufactured life of birth, childhood, education, work, retirement and death. I don’t want to stay trapped in this cycle, yet, as a minor, there’s only so much I can do to escape the constraints of parental control.”

Most of the academic pressure that I received from my parents occurred earlier in my life, so by the time I was in high school, my parents were a little more relaxed because I was more self-motivated. My parents don’t check my grades often or ask about school because they assume that I care enough to handle it myself. I think my parents are a little different from the stereotypical Asians—they never pressured me to pursue a certain career, and if I received below an A on a test, they’d just ask if I put my best effort into it. I am grateful that I grew up in this environment because it’s ensured that my academic motivation is for myself, rather than for someone else. In some ways, my parents relieved some stress because they made sure I knew that if I did my best, that was all that mattered. Most of the pressure in my life is self-induced, and the effort I give in school is more for myself than for satisfying my parents.

As a child of immigrant parents, the drive to succeed was especially strong for me. My parents always pushed me hard to do my best, but they were a little different from the stereotype. If my best was a C, they were proud. They wanted to see me uncover my full potential, regardless of what that potential was.”

“My parents are conservative Catholics, and as a nonbinary lesbian it’s a rough time. It took me a year to convince them to let me cut my hair into a pixie cut because they really wanted me to conform to specific standards of femininity—like long hair. Their ignorance is a major cause of stress for me. They once asked (talking about my gay, male friend), “If you’re gay, and he’s gay, can’t you two date?” I’m 70% sure that that’s not how it works, but okay. I get that they grew up in a different country and a different environment, but their heteronormativity and unwillingness to change makes me long for college. At this point, I’m sort of done with them and I’ve retreated into my gay space. If anyone would like to join me, I have ice cream and blankets!”

“More than their direct statements telling me to do better, or asking me why I couldn’t get a certain grade, the silent, yet obvious “you must do well” atmosphere that my parents created gave me the most pressure. They definitely set up an environment that pushed me to do well, and not always in a good way. Personally, I am not someone who works well under stress. I’ve told my parents countless times that I succeed under encouragement rather than under pressure, but nothing has really changed. They would subtly remind me over and over that I needed to do well because they moved to America for me to have better life, that I must grow up to be successful—their definition of successful, not mine—or risk disappointing and embarrassing them, and that I should make enough money later on to take care of them the same way they took care of me. My parents don’t always need to say these things out loud; it’s like an unspoken command that they say every day with every part of their body except for their mouths.”

Quotes collected by Victor Chang, Derek Kim, Andy Lee and Chris Young