Achievement-obsessed parents put students at a disadvantage

Author and Harvard University lecturer Richard Weissbourd examines the negative effects that “achievement obsessed” parents have on their children in the recent article “The Overpressured Student.”

Many of the parents who fall into this category are from the upper-and-middle class and are guilty of behavior like playing a Baby Einstein video for their children, hiring a tutor for their preschool student, and making their college-aged students believe their life is “ruined” when they don’t get into a prestigious school.

In research conducted by Weissbourd and his team, they found more than one-third of the 40 juniors surveyed believed “getting into a good college” was more important than “being a good person.” Almost 50 percent of students believed that their parents thought it was more important for them to get into a good school than be a good person.

Of course, students should be motivated to succeed, persevere, lead, and dream big but studies show, if anything, added pressure is keeping students from succeeding rather than preparing them for a successful college experience and career. Weissbourd believes parents, schools, and communities are selling unhealthy standards of achieving and a balance is needed in the community as a whole to make students not only high-acheiving, but also happy and moral.

Research shows the following problems have a strong association with achievement pressures:

  • Poor children and teenagers from affluent families suffer from emotional and moral problems at roughly the same rate.
  • Affluent children suffer high rates of behavioral problems, delinquency, drug use, anxiety and depression.
  • In a study of 144 girls from affluent families, the girls were two to three times more likely to report clinical levels of depression than the general population.

When parents put such a large focus on their children’s achievement, especially when it’s done in subtle ways — like involving their students in extracurricular activities they don’t show any interest in just to spice up their college resume, or pushing them to apply to a prestigious college even if it’s a poor fit — children feel like their individual qualities are not valued by others.

There is a disconnect between what parents want their children to achieve in school, and the skills their students will need to succeed when they get out in the workforce. Not only will these AP, IB, and G&T students be unhappy and overstressed in K-12, the feeling will follow them through college and into the profession their parents chose for them. No matter how intelligent the student is, if they don’t have compassion, know how to communicate, or value their personal strengths, they won’t be valued in the world of work.

References: “The Overpressured Student” – http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/may11/vol68/num08/The-Overpressured-Student.aspx

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