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As the school year progresses, students’ lives might be altered by their changing grades, extracurriculars, and social lives. Their parents, however, are the only consistent forces influencing the various choices they make. Stuyvesant is known for having stereotypical “tiger parents,” and it has long been debated how “involved” parents should be in their children’s lives. Stuyvesant’s student body has their own opinions to share.
The common perception of a Stuyvesant parent is clear: overbearing, strict, and invasive. Every day, students constantly complain about the pressure their parents put on them, but less often do they compare their parents to others and analyze the reasoning behind so much pressure. As in every community, there is a diversity of experiences that must be taken together in order to obtain the bigger picture.
Some parents take a very active part in their children’s lives early on and maintain this pressure on their children in high school, not through direct intervention but through the influence of their expectations. This is the case for freshman Aileen Ruan, whose parents signed her up for music lessons, helping her to develop an interest in playing piano, starting in pre-kindergarten. At Stuyvesant, her parents became less direct: “They said to be more active and social and to join Key Club,” Ruan explained, showing that her parents still maintained their influence over her without actually signing her up for the extracurricular activities they wanted her to participate in.
Nonetheless, she still feels that her parents place pressure on her, especially in getting good grades. “They say my grade averages need to be above 90 or 95,” she said. “When my test grades are low, I’m not happy to go home.” If students are emotionally distraught over grades before even facing their parents, then they are most likely experiencing at least a part of the Stuyvesant parent stereotype.
However, Ruan would rather have her parents over more laid-back ones, saying that their pressure has provided a source of motivation and a sense of affection. “Otherwise, I would feel like they wouldn’t care about me,” she said. This ties into the common belief that parents are overbearing in order to protect their kids and ensure the best futures for them.
This vision is shared by junior Enrique Arcaina, whose parents come from both sides of the spectrum; his mother often influences his decisions and behavior in what he believes are attempts to create a stable future for himself. Meanwhile, his estranged father has mainly been uninvolved in Arcaina’s life, only recently becoming closer to his son and taking a lenient approach to parenting when he gets the chance. “He still is incredibly uninvolved with my life and is just happy that I’m in his life,” said Arcaina, who believes that the lack of communication is responsible for the added pressures he feels from his parents.
“My mom usually expects nothing less than perfection from me,” Arcaina said. His mother pressured him to join various extracurriculars such as the Stuyvesant Robotics Team. This pressure is a result of his mother’s efforts to provide Arcaina with useful knowledge that can be applied in and beyond college. Though Arcaina did not have an initial interest in robotics, the time he put into the team led to a fierce passion for the subject. This is partially why Arcaina sees the reasoning behind his mother’s strict attitude, though he would like for her to express her expectations in a less harsh way. “Randomly throughout the day she’d go into a fit of rage, ranting about how I’m not doing anything with my life, unable to comprehend the workload and stress I have,” Arcaina described.
A similar issue takes a different form with his father, who Arcaina believes struggles with emotional issues from his own childhood, impeding his familial interactions. “I believe he does care for me and my siblings but is unable to express these feelings properly,” Arcaina said. This inability to express himself has made it hard for Arcaina to understand what his father expects from him, creating even more confusion when he is faced with hard decisions, especially ones already influenced by his mother.
However, there are many exceptions to the stereotype that, though not as common, do exist. These lenient parents hold just as great of an influence as the overbearing ones. They give their children more freedom to develop the ability to think for themselves and become their own people.
Freshman Lindsay Phung experienced both parental dynamics growing up: “They slowly gave me more independence as I got older because before when I was younger, they would really breathe down my neck, but slowly they relaxed.” However, it wasn't through complaints that got them to loosen up, Phung said. Her parents, like most working families, grew too busy to constantly keep up with her.
Phung said that her personality allows her parents to continue with their laid back attitude “Academic wise, they're chill because they can trust me and my ability to be able to do things on time, because it’s my mindset,” Phung explained. “I'm not one of those party people—well I am—but I prioritize academics first.” Self-motivation combined with freedom gives her the power to control her own schedule, which works out with her interests. Phung enjoys spending time with her friends who, like most Stuyvesant kids, have strict parents. “My friends have overbearing parents, but that [doesn’t] really change much, and I don't hate the parents for being like that, but it's just less time to hang out,” she said. Allocating time to be social is a problem for Stuyvesant students since it is not a priority to most parents.
Based on these differences between the students and the parents, Phung believes that if her own parents were overbearing, she would be willing to go to great lengths to maintain her independence: “I might just run away, leave the house, and sleep at a friend’s house or something,” she said. Similarly, junior Dean Carey described how he firmly yet respectfully challenges his parents’ authority by continuously presenting his standpoint from different angles for his parents to understand. Carey explained: “If my parents didn't ground their decisions based on reason, and instead replied with unconditional no’s, I would almost certainly fight their word.”
Carey’s parents make him justify his reasons when they are at odds. This kind of communication may be lacking in a more controlling parent dynamic, but he finds it incredibly useful. “The question, ‘Why should I listen to you?’ does have its merits,” he said. “If a child doesn't understand his parents' legitimate concerns, how is he supposed to make better decisions in the future?” The outcome was normally a compromise that he had to fight for. Carey learned that “standing up for one's independence is always favorable to submission.”
Even though Carey’s parents do not force him to adhere to their way of thinking, he applies it in his everyday life: “I often find myself attacking problems the same way they handled me all my life: through logical reasoning.” His parents’ philosophy provides favorable outcomes in his life. “Sometimes I feel a little heartless at the calculated decisions I seem to make,” he described. “But in the end, they always seem like the right choice—it's only logical, anyway.”
In regards to their influence in academics, Carey said, “I want to do my best in class to prove to them that I deserve the benefit of the doubt I am given.” Even though they are understanding, there is still pressure to excel. Having a trusting relationship with his parents fostered the normalcy of feeling comfortable and confident in all environments.
While we can choose the family we are born into, and we try to change our family members, it is our own decision as to who we become and how we treat others. As Arcaina advised, “Don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself if it makes you unhappy. Your parents are supposed to be there to help you through life for a while, and you need to make them know that sometimes, they get a bit too involved or don’t know how you feel.”