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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

May 7, 2006

Written by C.N.

Parental Pressure Leads to Murder

As many of us can tell you, Asian parents can be pretty demanding. Some may even say that the pressure many Asian parents put on their children to succeed may border on obsessive and overbearing. Unfortunately, in the case of 16 year old Esmie Tseng of Kansas, it appears that the pressure she experienced from her mother was more like abuse, and in the end, resulted in her murdering her mother:

Esmie was ranked among the best classical pianists of her age in the state. She got top marks in school. She competed in athletic meetings and was on the debating team. She was – in the words of local father Jacob Horwitz – “a kid any parent would be proud of”. . . . Esmie had for years been wrestling with her feelings for her parents, Chinese immigrants who, she said, held her to impossibly high standards.

They had threatened to sell her piano if she did not win a state-wide competition, she wrote. She said they had grounded her for scoring only 96% in an exam. And, when she disappointed them, she said they had forced her to stand naked in a corner. Like many teenagers with diaries, she had written of her hatred for them, especially her mother. . . .

Ten days later, she stabbed her mother to death with a knife in an incident that apparently took the mother and daughter through several rooms of their home. . . . [Horwitz] was stunned when Johnson County District Attorney Paul Morrison pushed successfully for Esmie to be tried as an adult rather than a juvenile. Esmie pleaded guilty in an adult court to voluntary manslaughter. Prosecution and defense have agreed to recommend a sentence of 100 months – just under eight-and-a-half years.

This has to be one of the most tragic stories in a long while. Clearly there is no excuse for murder, particularly “hacking someone to death with a butcher knife” as the prosecutor describes. Just like the case of Chai Vang who shot seven White men who are believed to have racially taunted him over a hunting dispute, experiencing abuse is not an acceptable reason for this kind of murderous violence.

At the same time, this sad story hopefully illuminates the toll and damage that overbearing parental pressure and abuse can have on a young person, regardless of race or immigrant status. Unfortunately too many parents (in particular Asian ones) cannot understand or accept that life is not all be about achieving status and material success.

If Asian parents insist on putting so much pressure on their children, there will be consequences, sooner or later. We should all hope that such consequences will not be as extreme or violent as what happened here, but the emotional and psychological toll can be just as damaging for all involved. Another .2 increase in GPA or 200 point different on the SAT just isn’t worth that kind of pain.

In other words, families should be about love, not status.

Author Citation

Copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le. Some rights reserved. Creative Commons License

Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Parental Pressure Leads to Murder" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <> ().

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