Sources of Pressure among Young Asian-Americans


One of the current Asian cultures is education, which is of high importance to many of them. Current statistics show that almost a half of all Asian-American adults are educated because at minimum, most have a college degree. This is the highest compared to others races in the country. Research also shows that most Asian-Americans perform the highest in their school. As a result, there is a common stereotype related to this which holds that “all Asians are smart”. This culture has led to one of the most current topics in relation to Asian-Americans education, which is the increased pressure that most young Asians students face. This has led to increased suicide of many in the past few years. According to the American Psychological Association, most Asian teens die from suicide. In fact, suicide was considered among the top ten causes of death among this population as it was ranked 2nd among the top ten leading death causes in the recent research. From these startling statistics and from the concern of increased pressure among these teenagers, many researchers have set out to determine the cause of this education related pressures among the young Asian-Americans. Some of the identified sources of pressures include academic pressure, parental and societal pressure that comes from racial differences. In order to understand these sources of pressure and their effects on the young Asian Americans, a discussion of all these pressure will be done in this paper.

Current Situation and Background

As explained in the introduction, one of the organizations that have concerned itself with the issue of societal pressures on Asian teens is the American Psychological Association. According to the recent report released by this organization, suicide was ranked 8th among the leading suicide causes for Asian Americans. However, it was ranked 2nd among young Asian-Americans between 15 and 34 years. The 20-24yrs age group was ranked the highest in terms of suicide in the entire Asian-American populations. Asian American females were also found to have the largest number of suicides compared to other from different racial back ground. The same applied to suicidal thoughts as young Asians were found to have higher suicidal thoughts compared to others from different racial groups. According to the American Psychological Association, there are some factors that have led to increase suicide rate among Asian Americans and these include; mental illness, social factors such as family conflict and burden, chronic medical conditions, ethnic group identification and family cohesion and support. In relation to Asian teens, other risk factors such as education pressures and pressures from parents have been identified by different researchers.


The report by APA is supported by recent statistics on this issue. In 2014, for example, it was reported that four an Asian students was among the four University of Pennsylvania students who were reported to have committed suicide. Although whites too committed suicide according to this report, the suicide rate among Asians was considered to be higher.

Academic and Parent Pressures

In an article on parental influence on Asian American students, Poon explains that most Asian parents put more value on education and hard work. As a result, they are considered by most as model parents. The main reason behind this is that most first generational Asians were denied some rights by the past American government including tenant rights, civil, marital and other rights. However, these were lifted in the recent Immigration and Nationality Act that was put in place in 1995. The immigration and discriminatory quotas against immigrants was lifted as they were allowed to be part of the US citizens. Poon therefore argues that the harsh requirements from parents are therefore a reflection of the harsh requirements and environment that most of their parents lived in.

Yang supports this in his CNN article by arguing that most Asian parents who have struggled see their children’s success as a ticket or as their way out of the sacrifices that most have experienced in their adult lives. School hardwork is viewed as a small price to pay in order to obtain a lifetime security. Yang argues that they are somehow right since education is a very good investment. However, he argues that the bar has been set so high for these students that they are required to get to the best in every educational level including preschool and kindergarten.

This piece of information can be captured in the words of one Asian student who explained that, “We endure because our parents did”. Holleran, the student who asserted these words explained that when he told his parents that he was unhappy in school, they scolded him instead of finding the reason why he was unhappy. They told him that he was ungrateful and that they had sacrificed a lot to keep him in such as a school. According to his parents, he was a “privileged brat” who had “never tasted poverty”, like his parents and never witnessed what his ancestors passed through.

In her argument about Asian parents’ pressures on their children, Poon argues that most Asians come in the country with the American dream in their mind. They come expecting high employment and also expect higher education opportunities. Sometimes, they aspire for great socioeconomic status, which can mostly be obtained through higher education and income than the white community. Eventually, those who come with these aspirations project the same on their children and therefore try to push their children to the highest limit. This is supported by Lee in his observation that most Asian parents pressure their children to study subjects like engineering and applied science, which are considered to be more promising in terms of a better future. Holleran, one of the Asian teens explains this. He argues that his parents were happy to hear that he was an engineering student. However, when he dropped business, one of the highly regarded subjects for art, his parents intervened. His parents explained that they invested a half million dollars to obtain a US permanent residency. Holleran explained that his parents took him to a private school hoping that he would multiply the money they used and provide them with a billion dollar. Research in this areas have proven this since it shows that most Asian Americans are in the science technology fields with few in the social and human sciences. Most of the undergraduates have been reported as having more interests in science and engineering as their major. This means that most of them are not true to their personal interests, but choose their subjects based on parental influences.

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Society’s Pressures

The other comes from societal pressures. Poon observes that some Asians tend to adapt their behaviors with the societal requirements and this is based on minority stereotype. When the pressures presented by their parents and their society are combined, it becomes too much for the young brains. Most of them fear failure and work hard to uphold their social, economic and educational standards, which are always high. In his argument on societal influence, Lee explains that it is traditionally known that most Asian Americans are educated. He explains that in fact, most of the rate of college degree attainment is actually high and most of them have diplomas. This has led to a common stereotype that most Asians are smart. What most people do not know according to Lee is that not all Asians are educated. A good example is the Vietnamese whose college degree attainment is at 16%, which is only a quarter rate compared to other Asian Americans. This is also the same with other groups such as Khmer, Laotians and Cambodians. who although they are not educated fall under this stereotype. As a result, most of them live under the pressures of the society to act according to the society’s beliefs that they are educated. Most people, according to Lee do not know that most of these Asians are struggling to be immigrants in this country. In addition, most of them have to conform to this expectation, which is very unrealistic despite having the highest amount of high school drop outs in the country. People fail to understand that not all Asians are the same. Some have low English proficiency and that most and in fact a half of them are immigrants meaning that they are not fluent in the English language. In fact, most of them are not fluent according to Lee. They therefore have the same needs like other minority groups in the countries and still in need of more education especially bilingual education like most other immigrants. They are also sensitive to problems of immigration and family situations despite this common stereotype. Lee argues that the concepts of the right formal education has not been adopted by many and to some, it is a new concept and they should not be viewed with a stereotyped eye or should not be put under pressure by the society.

The combined effect of societal influences with other influences such as parental influence is seen in one of the story of a young Asian girl under the name Sarah Kim who was recently under media scrutiny as the Korean media brought her unique achievement to the limelight while encouraging young people to be like her. The media explained that Stanford and Harvard had joined up in making sure that the girl would become one of their scholars and that Harvard had joined up with Zuckerberg to make sure that the girl achieved the best. The story later came to be untrue as Harvard and Stanford claimed that this was not true. It was found out that the congratulatory letters that had been printed and presented were actual forgeries and that the presented email between the girl and the two colleges were fake. The father had to apologize to the public and assume responsibility of pressuring his daughter meaning that the outcomes were both as a result of societal pressure and parental pressure.

Cultural Pressures

Apart from pressures from their parents, society and academic, most Asians students are pressured by their culture. This is why the educational goals among Asian Americans are similar and also similar to their cultural background. The ideology that guides them is the Confucian ideology together with values of interdependence and filial piety. This is seen through the way most Asian families are unified even in their households. The main priority in this case is family; it is seen as the central institution of reference in terms of religion, money, politics and education. This is the major reason why most Asian Americans comply with their parents in relation to vocational and academic decisions without consulting their personal interests. They comply with the need to respect their parents and families and to reflect the abilities of their parents to raise them as good children, most end up following their parents’ requirements even in education. The filial piety needs, which are Confucian ideals that guide most of these families, also force most Asian children to find steady jobs so as to compensate their parents for the work and the sacrifices that they have gone through to educate them especially as immigrants.

Most of them also tend to operate under the concept of relative functionalism where they seek education and occupation that provide them higher chances of surviving. This is based on the stereotypes that keep them from going beyond some social expectations and that place them in certain jobs. They therefore seek to climb the social ladder using the jobs that provide them greater opportunities of economic success. They also tend to overlook such occupations like politics, entertainment since they are related to increased economic barriers. Research has shown that the more the generations move from the immigrant generation, the more likely for them to move away from the cultural behaviors and characteristics that most immigrants share. This means that the pressure becomes lesser as children move away from the immigrant generation because of the effects of acculturation, which plays a huge role in impacting the values, attitudes and behaviors of the new environment. The difference between them and the white communities is seen in the fact that the Asian community is more of a group community while the white community is more individualistic. Therefore, as most become acculturalized, they become more individualistic and are therefore free to make decisions especially educational and occupational decisions on their own without the influence of their families. However, those who are still under their parent’s grips in terms of moral are forced to bear with the pressures of the family members.

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Peer Pressures

Apart from academic, parent, cultural and societal pressure, young Asian-Americans also suffer from peer pressure, which leads them to different undesirable actions. Unlike parental and societl pressure that leads young Asian-Americans to the path of education, peer pressure has been explained as having the power to increase bad habits such as smoking and substance use among this population. Fang argues that in relation to this problem, peer pressure was viewed as the most compelling force. This explains why most young Asian-Americans become substance users at their junior high school year. This is because peer pressure and connection with friends becomes more possible at this age. Fang notes the words of a young boy who argued that being in junior high school calls for having friends in high school and that copying their behavior is possible. this is also the case when they have college friends and following their behaviors is necessary according to this respondent. Other reasons why peer pressure is is more among this group is because most want to fit in and they don’t want to lose their friends. Even in the education pressure, which was one of the areas of discussions, peer pressure exists. In Yang’s story about the student, Kim, he explains that one of the student’s classmates was famous for being accepted in all Ivy schools. Fang argues that not all peer pressure is negative. Sometimes, some peer influences leads to good behaviors and this is shown in a respondent argument that his friends told him not to be a smoker.

Personal Pressures

Another source as identified by researchers is personal pressure. These comes from stress, low esteem, depression and the need to feel good, the need to get high, look cool and also lose weight. The same personal pressure also protects some young Asian-Americans against bad habits like substance use. This is because some of them have high self-efficacy, which is an individual strength where one is determined to make the right decisions regardless of parental, peer or societal influences.


In relation to parental pressure Lee argues that parents need to understand that the concepts or the culture of education that have swept across the Asian Americans is new to the young children. In addition, most of them are forced to adapt to the American norms and assimilate to the socializing norms in their schools and peers. They must adapt to the growing need of the sense of independence, need to complete their homework and also need to engage in other activities in their schools. Parents also need to understand that conflicts are likely to stem between them and their children as both do not understand each other. The parents, as explained earlier, do not understand the new environment needs of their children. Children, on the other hand, do not understand that their parents have gone through a lot and have invested in their lives and in this case, an understanding is needed. Apart from this, Lee argues that another solution can be from school administrators and knowledgeable educators who need to play a vital mediating role in this case so as to reduce the tensions and he conflicts that might force students in this ethnic group to resort to worse situations.

In conclusion, one of the cultures adopted by the Asians-Americans is that of education, which has resulted to increased pressures especially among the young people in an effort to please their parents and conform to other societal standards. This means that the pressures for increased education do not come from their parents. Instead, other factors such as peer pressure, personal pressure, society’s pressure also play a big role. On its part, the society has stereotyped Asian-Americans as educated and most are forced to conform to this belief. Because of this, many young Asian-Americans have resorted to suicide as most of them are unable to deal with these pressures. Therefore, there is a great need among parents in this ethnic group to understand their children so as to ease their pressures. Educators and administrators also need to join and help as mediators so as to ease the pressures on young Asian-Americans and eventually reduce education related suicides.

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