Raising Healthy, Joyful Achievers in a Hyper-Competitive World

Advice from award-winning journalist and author Jennifer Wallace.

We recently hosted a webinar with Jennifer Wallace about her book “Never Enough: When Achievement Pressure Becomes Toxic – and What We Can Do About It.” She told us the reason why she wrote the book was twofold.⁠

  1. Childhood differs now from previous generations as it is hijacked by homework and activities. ⁠
  2. In September 2019, Jennifer wrote an article for The Washington Post naming students at high-achieving schools as part of the “at-risk” groups among children in poverty, children with incarcerated parents, children of refugees, and children in foster care. This is the first time this group was identified as part of the “at-risk” segment with clinical levels of anxiety and depression and with an increased rate of drug abuse. ⁠

Jennifer had researchers from Harvard find out if this is just a regional or nationwide issue. They created a survey that 6,500 parents filled out for the book. And found out that one in three students is a high achiever.

  • 83% of parents felt that other parents were judging them on their kid’s achievements
  • 75% of parents felt responsible for their kid’s success
  • 87% of parents wished today’s childhood was less stressful for their kids

Additional Findings:

  • Modern parents feel caught between longing for nostalgia and easy childhoods and wanting their kids to thrive in the future. Is there a balance? 
  • Today, millennials are not doing as well as their parents. Economics plays a role in this epidemic, as healthcare, higher education, etc., become less accessible. This sets a hyper-competitive tone, and parents pass the pressure onto their kids. Preparing our kids for when we are not around is becoming more challenging. 
  • Many modern parents are betting big, and it’s drowning our kids. Jenifer wanted to find a better way.
  • “Super Zips” (a.k.a. Super Zipcode communities) refers to the economic divides and how our country is coming apart. Communities can be narrow and create a heightened sense of competition. Think good school = good college = good job = good life. What was once considered great grades (B+) is now called “average excellence” in these communities.
  • The bar is constantly rising. Sports are no longer just to reduce stress; they also help set them up for a good college. This causes a loss of perspective.
  • Ironically, affluent young kids don’t realize they have already won by living in a “Super Zip” and having access to all the resources.

Some of Jennifer’s suggested solutions include:

  • Raise “Healthy Strivers” by teaching them they are worthy of sleep, fun, balance, etc. “Healthy Strivers” (healthy achievers) can understand that it’s not developmentally appropriate to take 3 AP classes. They also understand the fallacy that you must wreck your childhood to get into a good school.
  • Teach kids to be curious about themselves.  
  • The number one intervention for a child in distress is to ensure the primary caregiver’s mental health is intact. Model resilience and vulnerability through sturdy friendships so we can be first responders to our kids. Prioritize YOUR support system so you can be a support system to your family. Find friends who will put the O2 mask on you so you can then put it on your kids.
  • Kids need to understand failure. Show your vulnerability and self-compassion by sharing your thoughts and with all the imperfections vocalized.

Below are some resources and tools if you are curious about what you can do to help your kids thrive healthfully!


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