The Pressure and Price of being an Asian Student

In many Asian communities, education is the top priority.  Many parents put tremendous pressure on their child to not only graduate from high school, but do so with honors. According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2009) ” Non-Hispanic whites had the highest proportion with a high school diploma or higher (90.0 percent), followed by Asians (86.8 percent), African-Americans (80.6 percent) and Hispanics (58.4 percent)”. Simply passing is not sufficient or satisfactory for some Asian American parents. Instead they want their child to excel in high school and college.  While it is obvious that education seems to be important to a great number of Asians, the statistic does not tell more than the basic facts. For example, it does not show the pressure and stress some of these Asian students go through in their quest for a high school diploma or post secondary education. Of course there is a good reason to celebrate this achievement, but the road to higher education attainment can be detrimental to some Asian students due to excessive parental pressure, critique, and admonishment.

Most parents no matter what ethnicity they are, equate a good education to a brighter future. While some motivate and encourage their kids to do well in school, others lecture, prod or  threathen their kids to be successful. Most of the Asian students I have heard from and taught are under more pressure from their parents to be the best when it comes to school.  I am not taking anything away from American parents or contend that only Asian parents are tough on their kids when it comes to education. However, it has been my experience that Asian parents can be slightly tougher, overbearing and demanding when it comes to achievement in school. Simply getting A’s is not enough for some Asian parents. The want their kids to get the highest A’s and be the best. To put it bluntly, they want their kids to be perfect when it comes to school. For example, one of my former student is a senior this year and number one out of over 586 students. Due to her Advanced Placement courses she is number one as well as her dedication and hardwork. Also she has close to 30 hours of college credit. To make a long story short, most parents would be estatic about this achievement. While her parents are proud of her, they still think she can do more. For instance, another student in her community (Indian) was nominated by our school for a prestigious scholarship and her parents asked her why she wasn’t nominated. They nagged and nagged her about it and made her feel that she was at fault for since the other in her Asian girl was nominated. Things like this, drives her insane even though she is the best (academically), her parents are not giving her any slack. She can’t go out like other teens. She works, but is not allowed to drive while her other senior friends do. The tremendous pressure from her parents to do well is cultural she says. In her Asian community, there it is understood that the kids represent their parents and they have to be the best in everything, from behavior to academics.

This student along with many others have shared their frustration about their parents’ expectation. All of them ask what they can do to make it better? What they can say to their parents to give them a break.  Also, they have asked what other students have done to survive the madness while they are still at home. Here are some suggestions, but it is best to seek professional counseling like your school counselors or a private one if you can afford it.  Based on my reflections and personal experience, here are several ideas to lessen the pressure your parents put on you.

1. Communicate your frustration to your parents. Talk to them. If that doesn’t work which from my experience with Asian parents will not. Some of your parents will accuse you of talking back to them. Some will say that they are doing what is best for you and they really are,but just going about it the wrong way. If verbal communication is ineffective, write them a letter or email them. If your parents are not computer literate than that will not work. Sometimes, leaving a note for them explaining want you want and having them read it, gives them time to process the information.

2.  Create your own network of supporters ( friends, other family members, your church, temple, etc).  My friends and siblings helped me out tremendously. Simply talking them actually helps.

3. Get involve in school activities so you have an outlet. Join clubs or sports or do community service.  This is actually beneficial to your college dreams because it helps you become more marketable for scholarship. Explain to your parents how this will help you get money for school (colleges are looking for students who can balance school and extra-curricular activities).

4. Get a hobby. Mine was writing, drawing, reading, and sewing. You have to relax! Make it a point to take a break from school for an hour a day to do what you want like listening to music or take a nap or do something nice for yourself.  Since my parents did not let me do much outside the house, I read a great deal. Also, my friends came over to my house since I was not allowed to go to theirs. My mom barely let me go three houses down to hang out.

5. Get over it. What I mean is that it is useless to focus on the problem or frustration. Like many of us, our parents will not let up or stop nagging. You know some of your parents are not going to stop so why stress about it. Crying about the unfairness or injustice is not going to get you anywhere. You have to work with what you have. For example, if your parents don’t let you go anywhere, then find something in the house to do that will relieve the stress.

6. Put everything in two categories: things you can control and things out of your control. For example, your reaction to your parents’ expectation is controlled by YOU not them. Whether you cry, scream or yell is up to you. Don’t let them frustrate you. You know their rules is out of your control so work within the confines of it. For instance, my mom did not let me go to hang with my friends if they were not in the same neighborhood. So, I compromise with my parents to have my friends come over to the house. Also, since my parents were so strict and did not allow me to have any social life, I joined clubs at school and participated in church activities.

I know many of you are under tremendous pressure to do well. Don’t give up. Hang in there and give yourself a break once in a while.


8 thoughts on “The Pressure and Price of being an Asian Student

  1. Billy Mitsamphanh

    This helps a little, thanks. I’m 17 years old. I’m currently a senoir this year in high school. I’m Laotian, and I’m going through a lot of hardships.

  2. Gary Tran

    thanks a lot for this. I am 17 and I am also a senior this year in high school. I’m not Laotian, but this has given me a lot of information that i can use. I’m doing me senior project on this topic actually and i very much appreciate you for writing all of the things said up above. I would like to use it in my research paper. Please email me if you disapprove or want to speak with me more. Please and Thankyou

  3. Katherine

    Interesting advice. I agree with pretty much all you’ve said on there. My parents do the exact same thing. Only problem is that they nag me to do more extracurriculars and to win more competitions. I’m already on the debate team, ranked third in my district in debate, president of the biology society at my school, in SHS, NHS, in FPS, as well as the environment club and marching band at my school. My parents are now pushing me to join biology olympiad. Any advice on this? Thanks!

  4. Laotian Teacher

    Katherine, speaking from and mother’s stand point and teacher, you are already doing a fabulous job! Tell your parents, you want to do the best in what you are doing now and if you add more you will not have time or motivation to do more! Make sure you take some time off for yourself at least one hour a day.

  5. Reah

    I’m currently nearing the end of my first year of high school, and I need help. My high school is extremely prestigous, so the bars and ranks are set very high. A B is considered a failure, in my parents opinion and an A is ‘alright.’ I feel ashamed to look at my report, and I feel like I can’t express my opinions to them. They call it ‘talking back,’and it is forbidden in my house. All my friends are allowed to go out on weekends and after school but I’m busy with debating, a social science club, dance/ballet and violin lessons. Even if I didn’t have all the extra-curricular activites, they won’t let me step outside the house for fear an ‘accident’ might occur.

    My weak point in my subjects is mathematics. My parents continually force me to do tonnes of extra homework on it, and some which I can’t even understand. When I ask them to explain it to me, they get angry and ask why I can’t do it by myself.

    They want me to take up a career in law or medicine, but that is the thing I will refuse to do. I do not care if they chain me up and lock me in a cell, I don’t want to be stuck with a job that I don’t enjoy. I tell them I want to be a violinist or a dancer, but they think that it is a too western way of a career path. I am angry that I can’t choose my own life. I feel alone. Please help?

    1. Laotian Teacher


      I am not a professional counselor so please make sure you talk to someone who is an expert. Have you ever considered talking to your school counselor about the stress you are going through? Also, school counselors can also help you talk to your parents.

      The best advice I was ever given when I was going through similiar stress is: do what makes you happy. Do what you feel passionate about. If you go into a career that is chosen by someone else then you will not enjoy it. It will just be a job… one that you hate. Your parents probably do not want you to be a violinist or a dancer because they considered it a hobby. They probably think you will not be able to find a job as a violinist or dancer. Going into the medical field or law is a safe bet and prestigious. That is why they probably want you to go into. Doing what you want that will make you happy should not be categorize as Western or Asian… because doing what we love and what we are good is a personal choice not a cultural choice. Ask your parents why did they pay for your dance and violin lesson if they did not want you to utilize it? Hang in there. Don’t let the stress get to you. Give yourself a break.

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