High school is stressful not just because of the heavy course load and the sudden responsibility, but for how many things students are expected to balance at once. There’s the academic factor (duh) but there is also volunteer work, clubs, sports, social life, family, and not to mention standardized tests like the SAT and the ACT. My school is ranked top in the county, but this statistic did not come easily for students. Grade inflation, test anxiety, and cheating are few of the numerous measures students have come to rely on in attaining desired grades. However, these wouldn’t be necessary without the main stressor, parental pressure.
I’ve observed that parents who moved here from another country are far more pressuring than those who have lived in the US their entire lives. I think this is because often times, parents move to America in hopes of fulfilling a dream of success. These parents push their children to ensure that their sacrifices were not made in vain, not realizing that academics are not the only key to a positive and impactful future. Social skills that are compromised when students spend nearly all of their free time studying often lead to a deceiving perception of success. Parents are proud to see their kids getting into exclusive schools, not realizing that fulfilling one dream led to the loss of crucial skills that will allow their children to enjoy themselves at Stanford or Columbia.
Last year, I got a job at a local tutoring center for elementary school kids, and it was quite the eye-opening experience. To begin with, almost every student was from Southeast Asia. Most of them complained with every visit, and their repetitive “is my session almost over” questions assured me that they were primarily pressured by their parents. Although I think it’s a great idea to assist kids in receiving help when they’re struggling in school, my job prompted me to question why parents put so much pressure on their children to get ahead and outdo everyone around them when it really isn’t necessary. In the long run, it’ll be these kids that stand out among their peers, but on the downside, their success is what makes the college application process so competitive. Last year, the valedictorian of my high school finished her career with 17 Advanced Placement courses. While I am impressed by her work ethic and intelligence, I also realize that this is an unrealistic standard to expect from someone who is taking the time to embrace every aspect of high school, including the social and athletic factors. At what point do students and their parents realize they are compromising the high school experience for the sake of their resumes?
Looking at many of my peers and the way they view school has made me especially grateful for the way my parents taught me to balance such a full schedule. While they understood that getting a few B’s was a reasonable side effect to engaging in daily exercise and spending time with friends on the weekends, they never let our social situation get out of hand. Our curfew is strictly 11 o’clock, we’re encouraged to put our phones away while we’re doing homework, and they’ve come to realize that not a lot of studying happens on a study date. However, they don’t pressure us about our grades as long as they think we’re doing the best we can. For example, last year I took AP Calculus and just didn’t get it. None of the concepts came easily to me and my grades consistently backed that up. When my mom noticed that I was overwhelmed and unsatisfied by how poorly I was doing, she encouraged me to look at the class as a test in resilience and stress management rather than to worry about how a C will affect my GPA. When I ended the semester with a C in the class, I didn’t feel as though I’d disappointed anyone and I was able to accept that although I’d done my best, Calculus just wasn’t my thing.
Considering this situation from an alternate perspective, I feel like some immigrant parents would have handled it differently. There were four sophomores in my AP Calc class when, according to the normal course pace, sophomores should have been two classes behind. I don’t think it is any coincidence each of these sophomores came from either an Indian or a Pakistani background. The sophomore who sat next to me always did considerably better than me on tests and quizzes, placing in the low 90’s at least, but she never seemed satisfied. She instead wondered aloud how her mom would react, and how disappointed she would be to find out that her child earned a B in Calculus instead of the expected A.
By putting so much pressure on their kids to do outdo everyone academically, some immigrant parents are beating the purpose of high school. I can’t imagine the constant stress I would have been under knowing that my mom was mad at me for getting a C. Furthermore, had I spent all my free time studying for Calc instead of running Cross Country and volunteering regularly with National Honor Society, I would have probably earned a higher grade. In my eyes, it’s more about embracing the full package than putting too much attention on one aspect of the high school experience.
Little faces, big smiles, and curious eyes are all directed towards the parent as a child innocently asks the typical question, “What do you want me to be when I grow up?” Seeking a well-supported answer, the parent’s mind immediately rushes through academic interests, hobbies, skills, and favorite activities. Engineering is usually recommended for a child who excels in math while Medicine seems suitable for those who do well in science classes, and Law School is the typical answer for the argumentative little ones. Lucrative professions are always given priority as parents also want to see their children live comfortably.
You were probably eight when you first asked me this question. Your ability to clearly express yourself and easily connect with others prompted me to talk about public relations and jobs that utilize social and people skills. Over the next ten years, our discussions about course selection, college applications, and choice of major have all steered me in a different direction. At the present time, the important question that I think needs to be answered is, “Who do I want you to become?”
I would like you to always be clear with yourself and with those around you about the things that you value and the principles you stand for. That is why I am a strong proponent of books, talks, panels, movie screenings, and trips near and far. I believe that the more exposure you have to the world around you, the easier it is to identify your own ethical code and uphold it in meaningful ways wherever you are.
I would like you to always have great ambition and big dreams that fill your heart with hope and thrust you forward. That is why I keep track of your personal running records, encourage your varied involvements with school organizations and clubs, and support your summer activities in every way that I can. Just make sure that you pursue attainable goals and realistic plans to avoid getting stuck in the dreamer phase or disappointed by inevitable limitations.
Broadmindedness is a great complement to these points as life situations and circumstances vary, and your personal moral compass will eventually become necessary in evaluating the wide grey area that exists between the two small margins of black and white. Define success according to your own values, not what is common or popular, and always be flexible to accommodate twists and turns as you pursue your dreams. I hope you enjoy the journey as it lasts much longer than the brief moment of victory at the end.
I would like you to always place high value on your time and energy, take every minute as a slice of life and every ounce of energy as a valuable gift. I enjoy watching you plan your days, apply for jobs, pursue hobbies, and select leisurely activities. It is not about serious or fun, it is about purpose and substance. Self-worth is something that no one can give you, and once you are in the habit of making your time and effort count, it becomes about the quality of life rather than just passing the time.
I would like you to always be mindful of your responsibilities, school is a major part now along with work, family, friends, and community. The future does not change the components much, but it definitely changes the proportion of required attention and the type of duties involved. Your serious commitment and work ethic will remain central to a productive lifestyle and I am always happy to see you plan ahead, develop to-do lists, set priorities, and play an active role in school and community events.
Regular assessment of strengths and weaknesses lead to self-awareness and will allow you to capitalize on what you like and what you are good at while correcting and marginalizing flaws. This will guide your involvements and contributions and put your time and energy to best use as you represent yourself and serve your community through deep interest and strong capability.
I would like you to always have an active social life that is rich with close friends and healthy relationships. Diversity is a beautiful reality and I maintain that our family has always been blessed with amazing friends, neighbors, and colleagues. I would love for you to have as much of a meaningful presence in the lives of your friends as they do in ours. That is why I always encourage you to attend games, go to camp, engage in conversations and seek quality times.
I would like you to always keep your heart alive and your spirit uplifted. Working with the disadvantaged yields empathy and a sensitive loving heart. Spiritual practices and deep thought keep the soul nurtured and elevated. I would like you to examine the true meaning and the symbolism behind religious practices so that you enjoy the inner peace and the gracious interactions that they invoke. Interfaith events provide safe spaces for finding commonalities and understanding differences, which leads to understanding and respect, thus, bringing people closer.
There are numerous academic prospects and career possibilities out there, and you are the one who will give meaning to any of them. When I say that I want you to have it all, nothing materialistic comes to mind because what I want for you relates mainly to the mind, the heart, the soul, the character and human assets.