By Amy Joyce | Washington Post
Several years ago, Jennifer Breheny Wallace noticed research was emerging that showed children who attended “high-achieving schools” were experiencing higher rates of behavioral and mental health challenges. It was so stark that youths in these schools were added to a list of “at-risk” groups, right along with kids living in poverty and foster care, recent immigrants and those with incarcerated parents.
Wallace wrote about this for The Washington Post. But the findings continued to vex her and coincided with the “Varsity Blues” scandal. Parents, she realized, were putting an inordinate amount of pressure on their children to achieve, to take all the AP classes, join all the activities, essentially do whatever it took to get ahead. The results of this are devastating. “How did we get to the point where parents were going to jail?” she wondered, because they were so desperate to get their children into high-end colleges.
At the same time, Wallace’s oldest of three was about to go to high school. “I came to the realization that I had four more years with him at home,” she said. “I wanted to know what I could do … to buffer against it.”
Her new book, “Never Enough: When Achievement Culture Becomes Toxic — and What We Can Do About It,” is the result of Wallace’s reporting on the topic. She talks to The Post about what she discovered and how she is trying to fight against the dangers of pushing our children to achieve.
The following answers have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Q: Along with the research you were seeing, the scandal, and your own family, what did you do to determine this warranted delving deeper?
A: I wanted to make sure this wasn’t just an East Coast-West Coast problem. I worked with a researcher at the Harvard School of Education and developed a survey because I wanted to know if it was everywhere, and what was the hidden landscape parents were feeling, and I was certainly feeling it in my own home. Over 6,500 parents filled it out. I asked parents if they’d be willing to be interviewed, and hundreds reached out.