Generation Z. iGeneration. Post-Millenials. Homeland Generation.
Yet again, another label that does not carry much meaning besides the time period that it refers to, yet at the same time, is characterized by patterns so obvious that they practically scream “The Modern Era!” And although this label is not used in an everyday conversation, this is a reality that we live in–we are that reality.
Older generations seem to have a few stereotypes about this new generation: 1) We’re all lazy. Your typical “I had to walk 3 miles to school in 6 inches of snow!” story–our parents all have their own versions. 2) We’re masterminds at technology. 3) Life is just so, so much easier for us.
As if they’ve forgotten that mental illness is still a prevalent problem! As if they’ve pretended that bullying doesn’t exist, that discrimination still happens, that for some, school just isn’t a safe place. Just because they don’t see the same issues that they faced in high school, our parents automatically think that our lives are picture-perfect.
Please, I wish my iPhone could solve all my problems too.
It’s definitely true that not all high school students face the same stressors or have the same priorities, and therefore we must recognize that what may seem ridiculous to one person is causing a great burden on another. For me specifically, this blog post will be about the insane pressure that some parents place on their students. For some, I may sound privileged for this to be my biggest cause of stress, but I hope you’ll let me explain the true implications of parental pressure.
I’m sure everyone has heard of the tiger mom stereotype. But everyone’s perception is slightly distorted by the examples they’ve seen, maybe their own experiences, or what media portrays. Don’t worry, in my case I don’t have a mother as terrible as Amy Chua. The most immediate comparison I can make would be Jessica from Fresh Off the Boat (or actually, she’s my only comparison because she’s the only Asian mom I can think of on the top of my head in American media…yet again another issue worth discussing).
My mom’s infamous plan for me includes:
- marrying a Jewish guy (I think her Zuckerberg-Chan fantasies have gotten too wild)
- going to a top 20 college
- but the college shouldn’t be a public school
- oh, also it’s her definition of top 20, which means Brown University doesn’t count
- only four career options: engineering (which I detest), medicine, law, and business
You’re probably thinking that it doesn’t sound bad. Maybe, “I wish I could have a mom that cares about my education so much!” And that’s what I thought too–how lucky I was to have someone who wasn’t too demanding but still cared! Until…
One: the lapses started happening. You know, when all the homework, books, Youtube videos, and Gossip Girl episodes just don’t have its effect anymore; when any type of distractions can’t occupy your mind any longer; when you look at the people around you and your mind goes blank, because suddenly you’re not thinking about what homework you will do once you get home, but you start pondering, “what will I do when this is all over?” And that’s a scary thought, so you try to search, you crave for something, anything that will distract you. Living unconsciously is better.
But at last, you cannot fight it any longer. It’s a game of tag, and at last you’re breathless, gasping for air and mercy. You’re forced to deal with…nothing really. There’s nothing to do now except for think about your life. And the questions flood in: “What do I want to do when I’m older? How much time do I have left? Do I enjoy my life? Am I happy? Is this what I want to do, or what my parents want me to do?” And the worst: “Why am I doing this?” But you cannot find the answer–you don’t know what you’re doing because you’ve been buried under piles of distractions for too long now. Who even are you? When did you become like this? And all that responds is silence…because you’re too scared to answer that question.
Two: you start obsessing over how you compare to others. It’s silly at first. The fun competitive games to see who scores higher on tests, the playful “I’m smarter than you!” jokes that hold no meaning. But soon, it’s every point that counts. You became agitated when someone scores 5% higher than you. Maybe you were just performing badly that day, but no. You keep thinking that maybe you’re just dumber, that every single score and grade you get reflects your success later in life.
And you start wishing that your friends get worse scores. If you get a bad score, you pray that they got a worse score than you, so then maybe you won’t feel so terrible anymore. You’re reluctant sharing test answers, not willing to open your mouth because maybe one of your studying strategies will slip out and they’ll get better scores than you now. You feed off of their losses, because someone else’s failures translate to your happiness. All you’re thinking is, “as long as I perform relatively better, then I’m still considered good.”
But in reality, it’s just so pathetic. You’re making World War III out of nothing. What, you’re not going to get into college just because your friend gets an A+ and you only got an A on a chemistry test in first quarter of ninth grade? Guess what: no one gives a f*ck.
And when you see what you’ve become like, you realize how absurd it is. But it starts to seep in: this is who you’ve become. You’ve become this obsessive monster who eats others’ failures to feed themselves, receiving validation for another’s misery. And now you don’t know yourself anymore. What happened to you?
Three: the mental breakdowns. You’re the reincarnation of David vs. Goliath, except this time, Goliath is no dull-witted giant. Goliath is the universe this time, and it’s a ruthless battle–you versus everything else, and this time, there’s no way out. Every step you take, your enemy surrounds you. But this time you cannot take it anymore. It’s a helpless cry of help, lost in the indifferent brutality of the world. And how alone you are. It does not matter what you say because it’s impossible to communicate what’s going on in your head…because even you don’t know how to characterize the tangled knot of emotions. All you know is that it hurts, you’re tired of it, and you’re not ready to deal with the cruelty of the world. You’re not ready to fight when you hardly know yourself (that would be fighting without armor, and you’re not dauntless enough for that).
Four: repeat. It’s an endless cycle that you are trapped in. Your daily life is a prison cell, except there is no key. Back to the lapses when you everything seems meaningless, back to being a monster, and your will to continue shatters again. But somehow, just when you think it’s all over, it starts again. Over and over, we begin again (Yoshimoto, Kitchen).
When an outsider looks at the situation, what do they see? They see a reserved student who is so hardworking, who is only stressed because they have high ambitions, whose physically sluggish body is only a commonality among all teenagers. They don’t know about your tears and the hollowness that seems to swallow you whole. Even your dear parents who you used to share everything with quickly glance over any oddities they see.
But you are not alone. However hidden we try to keep it, everyone faces a similar struggle. And therefore, it is important to recognize that we are not given a significant advantage. All sayings that our lives are so much easier are purely myths, because as long as these societal pressures still exist, there is always a risk for us to become victims.
If you are a fellow Post-Millenial reading this:
You are not alone. Talk to someone–it does not even have to be an adult figure. The best people to talk to are the people who know you most, and if these people are your friends and will understand what you are going through, talk to them. The worst is suffering quietly. Don’t be embarrassed; they are likely to be experiencing a similar situation.
You are loved, you are loved, you are loved.
If you are a parent reading this:
Take a break, and look closely. You will see that behind your child’s smiles are eyes that are lined with sadness. Just pause for a moment and reflect: when was the last time you saw your child not locked up in their room and have a real conversation with you? If you cannot answer because it has been too long, that might just be a sign. Are your expectations the best for their happiness? Or are they for your own?
Now before this post starts to become a rant about my own insecurities of my teen life, I’d like to end in a poem from the infamous Milk and Honey: