Protect Your Child from the Dangers of Achievement
Every parent wants their children to succeed. But is that a wise desire? A healthy desire? Don’t get me wrong. Our children need a certain level of achievement so they can make a meaningful contribution to the world around them. But an overemphasis on achievement becomes toxic. In fact, the pressure for academic and career success has become toxic in our society. One survey found that 70% of 28- to- 30-year-olds believed their parents “valued and appreciated” them more if they succeeded in school. A full 50% believed their parents loved them more if they were successful. Those statistics reveal achievement gone awry, an achievement toxic to our children’s health.
In fact, a report from the experts at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine have added “excessive pressure to excel” and “youth in high-achieving schools” to the list of “at-risk youth.” They rank the overemphasis of achievement in our society to be as detrimental to a child’s healthy emotional and mental health as poverty, trauma, discrimination, and parental incarceration. (Learn more in Why Achievement Culture Has Become So Toxic.)
Why has achievement become so toxic? Probably a number of factors contribute, including parents’ legitimate concern for their child’s future. Let’s face it, we (parents) fear for our children’s future economic and reputational future. Society tells us that our children’s future security is based on success in academics, extracurricular activities, and careers. But all the academic, sport, or career achievement does not necessarily bring success in adulthood. And it definitely does not result in happiness or well-being in life. In fact, an overemphasis on achievement increases stress, anxiety, and depression, placing our children in the “at-risk group” for emotional challenges.
What can a parent do to counteract society’s push for overachievement? First, make sure your children know they matter to you and others. As many as one third of adolescents in the U.S. believe (dare I say, “fear”) they do not matter to the people in their communities. They don’t feel heard, celebrated, or delighted in. They fear no one cares enough about them to check in on them when they are sick or simply missing from an activity. Make sure your children know they matter. Check in on them. Learn about their friends, their interests, their fears, their struggles. Celebrate their progress. Acknowledge and celebrate their efforts. Remain actively engaged in their lives.
Second, provide opportunities for them to engage in activities that add meaning to other people’s lives. Such activities can be as simple as mowing the lawn for a shut-in or doing a significant task to maintain the household. Or it may be as complex as volunteering at a homeless shelter, sharing a mission, or becoming active in a social cause. Such activities help our children find their sense of purpose. They help our children discover that they add meaning to other people’s lives through service and seeking the greater good of others.
Third, support their hobbies. Research has discovered that those who engaged in a hobby of interest to them experienced a boost in well-being and a drop in stress and anxiety. Of course, a child’s hobby may also tie in with their purpose. At times, it may even overlap with an “activity that adds meaning to other people’s lives.” Either way, pursuing a hobby boosted well-being and decreased stress and anxiety.
In the long run, what do you really desire for your children? A wall of plaques noting their achievements…or happiness, healthy relationships, and a sense of well-being? Don’t let a goal of achievement become toxic and poison your children, robbing them of happiness, well-being, and healthy relationships. Instead, help them build a life in which they know they matter.