Today’s children are more stressed than ever and the pressure to achieve can be relentless. Teachers, family, peers, and college admissions counselors expect strong grades and high test scores. In order to get into the most desirable schools, students need to be involved in extracurricular activities, demonstrate leadership, and volunteer their time in the community. Kids are expected to do everything and do it well.
Often the parents of high-achieving children tell me the most difficult part for them is that they feel helpless. They feel that they can’t take the chance of their kids losing the opportunity to go to a top school. The competition is crushing and the stakes too high. They tell me they feel that until the whole system changes, their kids will have to push as hard as they do. And even when the parents don’t push, children often push themselves because of peer and school influences.
There are no easy answers to this issue. Parents can't wait for things to change, and children need to be prepared to succeed in the world as it is, even if a different system would be better.
But whatever the system, parents can provide their children with many fundamental and effective kinds of support. Most kids would like to turn to their parents as an outlet and as someone who will support their growth without pushing too hard, even if it may not always seem that way. In addition to providing emotional support, parents can also encourage and model resilience, strong self-advocacy, and other positive traits that will set their children up for achieving success measured by their happiness in adulthood.
Therapy can help in a number of ways. With adolescents, one key role I can play is to provide children who are striving for independence from their parents a safe place to talk and express their feelings to someone who is neither family member, nor teacher. I also work with parents to identify the optimal way to support their child in the way that works best for them.
My treatment practices support both parents and children in developing healthy strategies for navigating achievement pressure, encouraging achievement, and finding success from within oneself.
©2012 Brian Clark, Psy.D.
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