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Our view: Too much pressure pushing kids to breaking point

April 5, 2019 GMT

Americans love a good scandal, and if it involves rich and famous people being hauled in front of a judge, so much the better. So, when news broke that dozens of rich and powerful people allegedly lied and cheated to get their kids into top colleges, people reacted with a mix of glee and righteous indignation.

We should point out that the kids themselves appear (so far at least) to be innocent victims of their parents’ pride and social ambition. If these young people are “guilty” of anything, it’s probably their inability to live up to the unrealistic expectations of their famous, successful parents.


All parents should think about that.

The March 27 edition of the Post Bulletin included a front-page story about how Zumbro Valley Health Center is teaming up with Rochester Community and Technical College to provide mental health services for the ever-growing number of students dealing with stress, anxiety, depression and other issues. RCTC students will be able to meet with and get therapy from licensed mental health professionals at the Student Health Services center on campus.

Also in the March 27 PB, a story on the front of the Life section explained how over-scheduled, overworked high school students are breaking down under the pressure to build the sparkling academic and extra-curricular records they think they will need to be accepted by their college or university of choice.

Dr. Rachel Gordon, a sociology professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago, who studies high school cliques, reports that high-achieving students today report higher levels of stress than in previous studies. One cause? “Students in the ‘brain’ peer crowd were less mentally healthy, due to a fear of upsetting their parents.”

But the pressure to achieve isn’t reserved just for “brainy” kids from high-achieving families. Parents from every strata of society want their kids to reach a higher rung on the ladder of success, to the point where high school kids are signing up for extra-curricular activities that don’t interest them and registering for Advanced Placement and honors classes that are too rigorous for them.

This is why kids are taking the ACT test a half-dozen times. This is why teens are sleeping just four or five hours on school nights, then collapsing on weekends. And this is at least part of the reason why a record number of high school students are taking medications for depression and/or anxiety.

Clearly, something has gotten out of balance.


It’s easy to criticize the so-called “snow plow parents” who use their time, wealth and influence to remove obstacles from their kids’ paths, but it’s increasingly evident that many parents today push their kids too hard. Still others simply stand idly by while their kids push themselves past the breaking point.

The solution, if there is one, lies somewhere between snow plowing and doing nothing. Nudge kids when needed. Rein them in when they are racing toward danger or exhaustion. Don’t spur them toward goals that are yours, not theirs. And, if a child appears to be struggling, don’t let pride or embarrassment keep you from getting them the professional help they need.

Every child is different. Some are self-starters, while some need a push. Some are joiners, while others dislike social settings. Some are natural-born performers, while others shun the spotlight. Some leap without looking, while some refuse to even peer over the edge.

Ultimately, the most a parent can hope for is that a child becomes the best version of themselves. That might mean going to the University of Minnesota and becoming a brain surgeon, or it might mean joining the Army. It might mean becoming an electrician or a welder, or it might mean going to Winona State and becoming a third-grade teacher. And it might mean two or three “false starts” before they figure out what they really want to do.

That, however, is in the future. Right now, we’d remind parents — and school officials and guidance counselors — that childhood is fleeting. Kids are kids for a very short time, and today they seem to be spending too much of it trying to answer the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”