My Asian Pussycat Parents
The day I received my letter of acceptance to New York University, I was ecstatic. It was my dream university, and my parents were pleased for me. But they also hadn’t pushed me to get into such a competitive school. In fact, the best thing they ever did for me was to discourage my perfectionist tendencies – indeed, when I was in elementary school, my dad offered to buy me a present if I got a C.
收到纽约大学(New York University)录取通知书那天，我欣喜若狂。它是我梦寐以求的大学，我的父母都为我感到高兴。不过，他们此前并未鼓励我进入这样一所竞争激烈的学校。其实，他们做过的对我最有益的事情，是给我的完美主义倾向降温——事实上，爸爸在我念小学那会儿曾答应我，如果我得到“C”，他就给我买礼物。
It happened when I was in third grade. An only child in an Asian family, I had just moved with my family from Taiwan to Los Angeles. Months into third grade, I developed a consuming worry about getting subpar grades. Seeing my anxiety, Dad said, “Kate, tell you what. If you get a C or lower, I’ll buy you a present. If you score higher than that, I won’t buy you anything, because you won’t need it.”
Clearly my dad wasn’t the stereotypical Asian tiger parent, pressuring me to work tirelessly for the best grades, and neither was my mom. They didn’t want to push me. They wanted me to be happy and healthy. Dad’s offer of a “failing grade” gift did wonders to quell my worries and it took the pressure off. What’s more, I ended up getting A’s and B’s throughout high school, but without the added stress and fear of failing.
At New York University, I started out pre-med, aspiring to be an anesthesiologist. One late night, holed up in the library, studying for the dreaded organic chemistry midterm, I went 22 hours without sleep. When my parents heard of this, they tried to dissuade me from my medical school plans.
“You don’t have to break your neck to make a living,” my dad said via Skype.
Eventually, I did switch out of the pre-med track, not at my parents’ persuasion, but because I realized I didn’t enjoy the subjects. I switched to psychology, after falling in love with the Intro to Psych class I took my sophomore year, and graduated with an honors in psychology.
I think it was my parents’ lack of emphasis on grades that gave me room to foster my own desire for achievements. I developed a strong work ethic of my own accord, instead of doing it to placate my family. Intrinsic motivation, as it’s known in psychology, is doing something because that activity is inherently rewarding. Extrinsic motivation is doing something for outside rewards — praise from parents, money or recognition, for instance. Goal pursuit directed by intrinsic motivation is not only more powerful, but exponentially more fulfilling. I believe that when parents oppressively push their children toward academic success, it prevents them from forming intrinsic motivation for scholarly accomplishments.
That’s not to say the harsh tiger parenting tactic isn’t effective. Statistics show that Asian-Americans tend to excel academically. They make up just 5 percent of the United States population, but constitute about 20 percent of the student body at Ivy League colleges.
This academic edge, however, comes at a hefty cost. Asian-American students have higher rates of suicidal ideation than white college students, and these pernicious thoughts translate into behavior. At Cornell University, there were 21 on-campus suicides from 1999 to 2006, 13 of which were Asian students. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where 16 percent of students are Asian, Asians accounted for 42 percent of student suicides in the last 15 years.
然而，要取得这种学业上的优势，必须付出高昂的代价。在美国的大学里，比起白人学生，亚裔学生的自杀意念产生率要高一些，而且这种有害的意念会转化为行动。在康奈尔大学(Cornell University)的校园里，从1999年到2006年共有21名学生自杀，其中13名是亚裔学生。麻省理工学院(Massachusetts Institute of Technology)的学生有16%是亚裔，但在过去15年间，亚裔学生占到了自杀总数的42%。
I now realize I was mistaken when I thought I didn’t receive a present from my dad that day. He gave me two invaluable gifts: the space to cultivate my own desire for excellence, and the healthy psyche to pursue it.