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Cultivating a Healthy Definition of Achievement

Ask the Experts
by Carla Palffy, Sean Hogan-Downey and Mary Beth Garvey

Q:  How does one raise a well-adjusted child in today’s K-12 world obsessed with test scores, over-achievement and individual accolades?

Recent studies (Weissbourd, 2009) suggest when it comes to raising children the intense focus on over-achievement has taken both an emotional and moral toll on our children.  The reality, according to Weissbourd (2009), is that children subjected to intense achievement pressure by their parents, do not outperform other students.  Part of the solution rests in cultivating healthy definitions of achievement within our homes, our schools and our community-at-large.  What can we do?

What Parents/Guardians Can Do:

  • Discuss what success means to your family. Do your family’s actions reflect your values?
  • Reduce performance pressure.
  • Avoid over-scheduling.
  • Allow time for play, family, friends, downtime, reflection and sleep.
  • Ask your children how they are feeling.
  • Allow your children to make mistakes and learn from them.
  • Have conversations with your children about their experiences in school.
  • Know the signs of childhood depression.
  • Attend school board meetings and other venues where education is discussed and policies are established and reinforced.
  • Organize other parents to join you. As a group, talk to your children’s teachers, school administrators and attend School Board meetings.
  • Discuss with your child what path he/she may want to pursue after high school.
  • Make the college search about finding the “right fit” rather than finding the “best” college.  Finding the “right fit” will ensure college success and retention.
  • Allow your high school children to make independent choices on course selection.
  • Follow your instincts.

What Students Can Do:

  • Speak to the adults in your life about how you are feeling.
  • Make sure you get plenty of sleep.
  • Unplug, slow down and reflect on the important things in life.
  • Make time for things you enjoy.
  • Limit AP classes to subjects you enjoy.
  • Limit extra-curricular activities.
  • Seek colleges that use a comprehensive approach to looking at applicants.
  • Learn about the long-term impact of stimulants and performance-enhancing medications.
  • Create alliances with students at your school who desire a mindset that values the individuality of every student and moves away from a one-size-fits-all approach to education. Seek the support of one or more faculty members.

*Resources include:
Weissbourd, Richard (2009) “The Overpressured Student” Education Leadership. Retrieved from

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