Packing on the Pressure

High Parental Expectations’ Affect on Students


Photo by Natalya Shelton

Parental pressure is a part of life for most teenagers. Kate Clarke (11) explained how these expectations encourage her to give her best effort. “I definitely think there’s some value in the pressure they put on me,” Clarke said. “I do tend to put my full foot forward when I do things since I’ve grown up with that expectation. But at the same time it can be hurtful sometimes…” – Made in Canva

With class ranking, GPA and college applications looming, high school students do not have a shortage of things to worry about. Many, including Jailen Readoux (12), feel like their anxiety over these things is intensified because of the pressure that they feel from their parents.

“My parents put pressure on me to get straight A’s,” Readoux said. “They never forced me to take AP classes, that was something that I kind of chose to do, but I would probably relate [that decision] back to earlier pressures.”

Readoux is not the only student who feels pressure to maintain academic excellence, as Jake Schmerse (12) shares a similar experience.

“[The pressure] has always been to get good grades,” Schmerse said. “But that has lessened as I’ve gotten good grades.”

Schmerse is not the only student who has found benefits within the pressure, as Kate Clarke (11) also feels that there are positives that can result from the high expectations.

“I definitely think there’s some value in the pressure they put on me,” Clarke said. “I do tend to put my full foot forward when I do things since I’ve grown up with that expectation. But at the same time it can be hurtful sometimes…”

Although dealing with parental pressure can feel like a lot, oftentimes parents are only expecting their children to give their best effort. English teacher and mother of three Megan Ross describes her opinions on this.

“To me when I see you at the house, let’s say you have a test the next day, and you’re not doing anything to prepare for the test and then you get a B, that’s not you doing your best,” Ross said. “It’s not about the grades, it’s about what you are doing to prepare for the things you have to do later.”

Sometimes it is hard for students to find the motivation to do the things they need to do and parental pressure can help them get on the right track.

“[Pressure from my parents] usually starts as a boundary to get me in the right direction,” Schmerse said. “Sometimes they just have to pressure you to go on the right path.”

While parents mean well with the high expectations they have, sometimes the way that those expectations are expressed can come off as negative to their kids.

“Growing up my parents used to say ‘there will always be someone better than you,’” Readoux said. “And I guess that’s true but at the same time I feel like that’s not a mantra you should live by because then you feel like… it’s always a competition.”

It is often human nature to compare some people to others, but many students feel like this form of pressure is not very beneficial.

“I get compared to my siblings sometimes,” Clarke said. “That is a part of the expectations and stress and the pressure.”

Comparisons are not the only form of pressure that students deal with, as pressure can also come in the form of ultimatums where parents will take away things from their children if their grades are not to their standard.

“Once my grade was a little low in physics which is a super hard class,” Readoux said. “[My parents] threatened to make me quit my job and pull me out of choir and theater and all the stuff that I go to school for. …From that moment on I don’t think I’ve ever had the same vigor that I had for school…”

Although it can seem like the stream of pressure is never ending, when it comes down to it, Ross claims parents are just trying to raise their kids to the best of their abilities.

“We don’t know how we’re messing our kids up,” Ross said. “We don’t know what we’re doing. We’re just trying to do our best, learning from people that came before us. I hope that I’m bringing up kids who are responsible, hard working, caring… but I don’t know. I could be totally messing this up.”

This mix of parents trying to raise responsible young adults and their kids feeling overwhelmed by their expectations often leads to a strained relationship between them.

“[The pressure] made my relationship with my parents quite bad,” Readoux said. “I felt like their love was almost conditional in a way. Like if I’m not doing the things they want, I’m not the son they wanted.”

Some feel like their parents’ love depends on how well they live up to their high standards, while others know their parents love them unconditionally but they still feel the negative effects of the expectations placed on them.

“Generally speaking, the major feeling I tend to feel is guilt,” Clarke said. “I know that they still love me no matter what… but I tend to feel like there’s this underlying tone of guilt that I put on myself whenever I don’t live up to any expectations that they have. I care about my parents and I care what they think of me so whenever I feel like I’m not living up to their expectations…then I tend to feel a little bit guilty…”

One way that students cope with this feeling of internal guilt, is to shift their focus from doing things for their parents and choosing instead to do something for their own benefit and happiness.

“I think for the longest time my success was about them,” Readoux said. “But now that it’s about me I think our relationship has gotten a bit better because I’m not necessarily concerned about how they feel in that aspect. I’m proud of myself and that’s enough for me.”

All in all, parental pressure is a part of life for most teenagers, and while it doesn’t always feel beneficial, it does come from a good place. Despite that, most students feel that there are ways to hold kids to a high expectation while still showing them that you care about them.

“You want your kids to think that you expect them to do good things because you believe they can do it,” Clarke said. “But I would try harder to show them how much I support them in a loving way. Sometimes I think that parents get so focused on believing in their kids that they forget to show them that they love them, even if they can’t do all the things that [their parents] believe they can.”