Encouragement or Expectation

Last night I received an email from a student: “My parents pressured me to study something that I do not like. They want me to study Medicine or Engineering. Anything else is NOT acceptable. My parents think if I am NOT a doctor or an engineer, then I am a failure to my family. I do not know what to do. Please help.”

Answer: Your parents want the best for you but they may not have the thorough knowledge of the global market so they think that Medicine and Engineering are the only choices. Of course, there are many other choices too but I do not know what do you like or what do you want to study? It is best to discuss openly other options with them in a calm manner without being emotional.

From your parents’ view, they believe that you can have a good career and live well in these positions (i.e., Doctor or Engineer) but they may not know whether you have the potential to succeed in these fields or not. I know that there are many students who fail to meet their goal and disappoint their family because they could not complete their education in the fields that are not their choice. I know that some parents expect too much out of their children because they love them and want the best for them and they think their children could achieve anything without being practical about it.

In my teaching career, I have seen many students do not like math, science or technology because they were forced upon them since they were young but they were never allowed to discover how these fields could be fun and enjoyable. Some students told me that these fields are a “curse” and never want to learn them as they are afraid of them. A few years ago, a student told me that when their friends went on vacation in the summer, he was forced to study programming languages so he can get to the top school. Since he was accepted to Carnegie Mellon, he did not want to study Computer Science anymore.

Many parents do not know that expect too much from their children can create a wound that can never be healed in their children’s psyche. Of course, children always want to make their parents proud, but some parents make it impossible. This can create an unhappy adult life when they could not fulfill their parents’ wishes and become more fragile and have low self-esteem because of their failure.

I often advise parents that it is best to encourage their children to learn and discover what they like than forcing something on them. The best way is providing them with books on history, science, and technology that they can choose to read early when they are young. It is important for parents to make the book reading as a fun activity when both parents and children are reading together. Children should be given a choice to develop their own interest so they can make their decision later in life to do what they want. Science and technology should be considered as something useful and fun to learn, not something to be forced upon. By reading together, both parents and children can develop a mutual understanding of each other where parents can observe and encourage their children to learn more.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University