The Price of Pressure

High school is an important phase in a student’s life. It is the predecessor to the next important step, namely, college. Due to this fact, grades are quite literally the bane of a high school student’s existence. Their presence is constantly felt by the student, and the ominous shadow of stress that accompanies grades, especially around finals, is an added reminder of their importance. Possibly more agonizing than the fact that universities seem to take pride in accepting students with a specific letter grade, is that the student’s grade depends sometimes on the preference of their teacher. However, grades cannot seem to stop taunting the student even once they have managed to turn the teacher against the student. They must now trick the student’s own parents into perceiving their child as a thick-skulled simpleton, simply because of a large red letter at the top of the student’s work. The relationship between the parent and the child is such that the child will either comply with the bidding of the parent out of affection and respect, or that the child will attempt to increase academic performance out of sheer terror of the parental power. Admittedly, pressure the student receives from the parents to do better academically may help increase the student’s efficiency in school, make the student more goal-oriented, and help the student succeed in further academic endeavors. Conversely, extreme amounts of academic pressure may raise the student’s hopes of achieving potentially unattainable goals, focus on grades rather than application of skills, and may cause the student to resort to suicide in the event of academic failure. Therefore, parents applying heavy pressure on their children to perform flawlessly in high school are contributing to the deterioration of the child’s mental well-being.
Occasionally, there comes a point in a high school student’s life when a minimal amount of encouragement to do well academically will help boost their success. This comes off as a positive thing, especially when taking into consideration the number of high school dropouts in the state of Texas.
However, there are many parents who abuse this motivational pressure, and instead end up placing a burden on their child’s shoulders that the child can hardly bear. Parents begin by expecting stratospheric grades from their child, and progress to a stage where punishments are dealt if an appropriate grade is not achieved. This is extremely unfair to the child, as every student performs in a different way, and not every child may meet the expectations of the parents. While it is important for the parents to counsel their child through high school, it is important for them to keep in mind their child’s limitations.
The reason for this marked increase in academic pressure can be attributed to the rising standards for students who wish to be accepted into a specific university. Parents of high school students are generally very concerned with the collegiate future of their children, and typically want their progeny to enroll at a name-brand school such as Harvard or Yale, or attend their alma mater. Thus, parents begin enforcing strict rules regarding the standard of grades their child achieves to help them accomplish what they believe is their child’s “dream” of attending a respected university. With heavy competition against equally qualified students across the globe, high school students must seek to attain a nearly superhuman application – perfect grades, perfect SAT and ACT scores, a million volunteering hours, NHS president, varsity soccer athlete, valedictorian, etc. Even after these heroic stabs at perfectionism, the student’s chances of acceptance are still only as good as the next applicant’s resume. Yet, parents seem to think that the more academic pressure they load onto their child, the latter’s chances of becoming an Ivy-League student will rise significantly. Ultimately, the enormous amount of academic stress parents place on their child may not even reward the student with a spot at the university they want to attend.
It can be argued that after handling this academic pressure for some time, high school students will evolve and become more goal-oriented, thus actually propelling them toward future success. However, this illusion of student-evolution through parent-induced academic pressure is skewed in
many respects. Students become so immersed in obtaining the grades associated with academic success that they fail to absorb any of the material they are supposed to be learning. This results in the child’s inability to apply academic skills to problems they will eventually face in their life.
The reason for this decline in the ability of the student is partly because the parents themselves are so focused on keeping their child on the path to “success” that they forget what is most important in the scheme of things: learning. The parents subliminally feed their child messages that insinuate such things as grades are the most critical component of high school life. Through this method, the extreme pressure the parents have placed on their child has translated directly to the child’s mental work ethic, essentially transforming the latter into a serial memorizer. Ironically, the parents are unintentionally making their child lose his/her individualism, a trait that most prestigious universities find alluring in a prospective student. Due to this, when parents place extraordinary levels of stress on their child to receive spectacular grades, they are actually reducing the child’s chances of being noticed by Ivy-League schools.
Of course, the extreme academic pressure that parents place on their high school children can help them succeed in future academic endeavors. The parents subconsciously end up providing the basis for their child’s collegiate and professional careers. This can allow the child to have a strong educational infrastructure, and can help foment academic achievements to come. Nonetheless, this academic pressure, when forced upon a high school student in large amounts, has detrimental consequences. Students have been known to resort to such activities as cheating, drug use, and even suicide to relieve, or in the case of the last example, completely end the severe mental stress they feel.
Oftentimes, parents set such high expectations for their child that the child must slave day and night to even come close to achieving the goal set for them. Even when the impossible is accomplished, the parents have developed such a passionate obsession for perfection that they take the child’s efforts for granted, and then proceed to set the bar even higher. In many cases, students feel that the only way out is suicide. In 2001, a 15-year old girl from Mumbai, India, committed suicide after being rejected from the college she had wished to attend (Kapur and Singh). Other parts of the world face the same problem, especially Japan, a country known for its high-pressure schools and heavy academic competition. Japanese officials had recently noted that “juvenile suicides usually *occurred+ most frequently around the start of a new school term” (Shapiro). Even in the United States, where the education system is trailing behind its Asian counterparts, pressure-induced high school suicides are present. In the United States, suicide was the third leading cause of death for individuals aged 15-24 years (CDC). This range of ages coincides with the time period during which an individual would typically be enrolled in high school or university, suggesting that there is correlation between high school suicides and academic pressure.
Therefore, parents applying heavy academic pressure on their children are assisting in the deterioration of their child’s mental health. Parents may begin to prod their child on the path to success with good intentions, but the series of events that follow can be extremely destructive to the child. As a result of the parents’ feverish obsession for their child to perform impeccably, the child will lose the ability to function socially and will not be able to process key concepts for future application. In some cases, the student may be so plagued with constant stress and pressure that he/she takes their own life for the sake of ending their suffering. What is certain is that the result of this increased academic pressure is more often negative than positive. Parents should learn to accept their children for the way they are, and should cherish their child’s unique characteristics, both at home and in school. After all,
high school is a place meant for enjoying the last four years of childhood, not a hell of grades and pressure.
Kapur, Mallika, and Harmeet Shah Singh. "Student Suicides Worry Mumbai Educators." Connect the World. CNN, 4 Feb 2010. Web. 31 Mar 2010. <>.
Shapiro, Margaret. " Opening of Japan's Fall School Term Marred by Eight Student Suicides." The Washington Post., 2 Sept 1988. Web. 31 Mar 2010. <>.
"Suicide." Facts at a Glance 2007. Hopeline, n.d. Web. 31 Mar 2010. <>.

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