For South Asian parents one of the biggest sources of pride is when their children are successful academically. Receiving the highest grades possible, doing extra work to expand knowledge and being ahead of the class are all examples of what many South Asian parents wish to see from their children. With this push to always try harder, many South Asian children grow up to become successful in their careers, striving for the best and trying to achieve more.
Unfortunately, for many other South Asian children, these expectations placed on them by their parents cause an incredible amount of stress. Instead of thriving under the pressure to continually better oneself, quite a few South Asian children crack, experiencing numerous symptoms of depression, anxiety, as well as countless illnesses that keep them out of school while they recover. In addition, countless South Asian children as young as the age of 9 years of age begin to contemplate suicide, believing that if they do not achieve a set standard academically, their parents will not want them anymore.
When South Asian parents define their child in terms of how they perform academically, the children who do not meet their parents often unrealistic expectations begin to internalize the negative messages sent by their parents. They think they are not worthy, not lovable, not important and that they are inherently flawed.
This has serious and long-term consequences for the physical and mental health of the child as well as their overall happiness and self-esteem as they grow. Research has shown that when children have low self-esteem, they are even less likely to succeed academically, have more trouble making friends and will have a more difficult time finding a life partner when they are adults.
South Asian parents should be aware of the signs of excessive academic pressure so that they can make changes at home before the situation becomes too serious:
- 1. Feeling sick when it is time for homework, receiving grades or taking a test. Some children may wish to get out of responsibilities so that they can stay home and play instead of going to school, most South Asian children who repeatedly fall ill around times of evaluation are often extremely stressed, not about the grade they will receive, but about how their parents will react to the report card or exam grade.
- 2. Seeking approval for most tasks including, but not limited to, academic work. Children who are constantly looking to be reassured have received the message that being “good” means being exactly how the parents expect. Whether that was the intended message or not, South Asian parents who emphasize a global definition of success without considering the child’s individual talents are reinforcing the belief that the child must fit into a pre-determined mold created by the parents. These types of children will continue to seek approval in their lives as they grow older and will have trouble taking leadership roles in work and other parts of their lives.
- 3. Hiding grades, papers, homework and report cards. These children are afraid of their parents reactions and what their parents will say. They have become so anxious about being called a “bad” child that they will do anything to avoid that confrontation with their parents as much as possible.
- 4.Sudden drop in grades. Children who consistently receive negative messages such as, “Why did you miss 4 points on this homework assignment” sometimes give up and stop trying because they learn that they will never be “good enough”. A sudden drop in grades is an indication that they believe no amount of effort will matter in receiving their parents’ approval.
- 5. Increase in aggressive behavior. Children who have low self-esteem especially because of negative messages they hear from their parents, can take out their frustration on other children. These children may repeat the same things they hear at home to their friends or may get into altercations with peers as a way to release their anger and irritability.
- 6. Significant decline in play time and creativity. Some children internalize the pressure of academic success and try to be the best child they can be, which they believe is a child who studies all the time. They may prioritize studying over playing and creative activities, both of which are necessary for healthy cognitive and physical development of children. These children are often exhausted, have sleep problems and usually begin to exhibit signs of depression at an early age.
Expecting children to succeed is a great value to have. However, South Asian parents must remember that success can have many different definitions. Instead of teaching your child to be one type of person, it is more important to teach them the tools to succeed in competitive situations so that they are prepared for life as they get older.
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