pressurecookerSome kids need encouragement to do their best and aim high; there are students who settle for average when they are capable of much more.

But some parents take it too far. The pressure is on for their children who are pushed to pursue an ideal. These parents believe it is necessary to push their sons and daughters toward a vision of success. The students must be driven to be the best if they are to compete in today’s world … or so the logic goes.

I read a book two years ago addressing this mindset called No More Push Parenting. An excerpt, “Introducing the Seven Hypes,” can be read here (and an excerpt from the excerpt follows):

Unfortunately, many of today’s parents, many of us, go at this whole parenting thing full tilt. For reasons, some good and some misguided, that we’ll explore, we feel that our child’s ultimate success is all up to us, and that the goal is to win, or to get our kids to win. This is not news to you. You’ve read the articles about test prepping for the best colleges that rivals astronaut training; bar mitzvahs that demand the financial and emotional fortitude of a Broadway producer; and athletic competition so fierce that it has actually been fatal to at least one parent.

Why are we so competitive when it comes to our children? Why are we convinced that it’s so important for them to have a dazzling resume? To have a “passion”? To stand out, in some way, from the crowd? What is it that makes intelligent, sensible parents prep their young child for an IQ test, or hire a sixty-dollar-an-hour coach for their beginning Little Leaguer, or drive a half hour after a busy work day to bring a toddler to an art class when everybody might be happier at home enjoying dinner or bath time?

What I have learned from countless parents is that just about no one wants to push, but most feel they must. They’ve come to believe in a fearful and anxious way that they as parents or, more crucially, their children will fall short in the relentless competition of everyday life if they don’t keep pushing.

For some families, however, the pressure, the speeding up, the pushing is not without consequences.

Much more recently, I picked up a used book with an intriguing title, The 7 Worst Things Good Parents Do, by psychologists John C. Friel and Linda D. Friel (parents of three grown children). They warn of the consequences of pushing kids into too much.

One of the things on their list of worst things good parents do is to “Push Your Child into Too Many Activities” (Chapter 5).

A very bright psychologist raised her hand during the question-and-answer period of a professional seminar to ask:

“‘But what about all the advice the colleges and high schools are giving us, that our kids won’t get into the best universities unless they have umpteen million extracurricular activities on their resumes?” (Friel and Friel 50).

The Friels’ answer?

It has two parts, they said.

Part 1: A Duke University senior told them, “The universities are looking for depth. Two outside accomplishments done with depth will go as far, if not farther, than umpteen million scattered activities that were obviously done to beef up one’s application” (Friel and Friel 50).

Part 2: Their (the Friels’) caseload is packed with young professionals whose parents pressed them to excel and achieve during high school and college in order to go to the best and become the best. These parents were motivated by the fear that their children would be miserable if they were anything but the best at the best. Sadly, their fear became reality—their children are indeed miserable, but not from falling short of being the best; rather, their children are miserable because of trying to be the best to the exclusion of everything else that is more important in life (Friel and Friel 50, 51).

To illustrate, they cited studies found in Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ (Daniel Goleman) that were conducted at Harvard in the 1940s.

The Harvard study revealed that men with the highest grades were less happy, less adjusted, less productive and had lower salaries and status in middle age than college peers who had lower grades in college (Friel and Friel 51).

The authors tell parents who wonder about kids’ activities and college admissions, “You can push your kids until they drop, and then push them a lot more, but the only thing you will produce are miserable adults who may become moderately successful in their careers, if they are lucky” (Friel and Friel 51).

Parents who drive their kids like this, these authors claim, will produce:

  1. children who are driven to fill in the void left by being emotionally neglected; or,
  2. children who don’t care about succeeding much at all because they’re so lonely, hurt and angry about being neglected (Friel and Friel 51).

They suggest evaluating your child’s current state. He or she may be just fine, but if your child is getting sick regularly (this can include emotional illnesses such as depression, addictions and getting stuck in destructive relationships), has no social life or social skills, has no time whatsoever to be with the family, is blunted emotionally, then it’s time for a change (Friel and Friel 52).

Some ideas to lessen the pressure and the pushing included lowering academic standards for a kid who is stressed out by grades. A child who feels pressured to go for a top university may need to know that a state university, community college or vocational school could be an equally good option—or even a better fit overall for their personality, interests, skills, goals, and health (Friel and Friel 52).

They recommend reading the book Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman (I haven’t read it yet), and “you will discover that there is much more to success, to life and to happiness than getting straight As in school or going to an Ivy League university” (Friel and Friel 52-53).

We must be convinced to stand our ground and resist the relentless competition of everyday life … to slow down and embrace a different concept of success that refuses to compromise faith, friends and family.

Let’s stay slow enough to maintain our deepest values.

And let’s help each other stay strong when the voices are loudest.

Pressure cooker photo from stock.xchng
Work Cited:
Friel, John C., and Linda D. Friel. The 7 Worst Things Good Parents Do. New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 2007. Print. (earlier copyright 1999 John Friel and Linda Friel)
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