As a parent, do you push too hard? Or not enough? Or not the "right" way for the child?

NPR has an interesting article with answers from kids about their experiences growing up.

Placing a student in a highly selective prep boarding school such as Andover, Exeter or St. Paul’s can affect his or her self esteem with respect to academics. Most have to adjust from being the or a top student in his or her class to being outside the top 10 % or 20% for most subjects. And, by definition, half finish in the bottom half of their class.

Sometimes it is the student that pushes himself or herself too hard in a new, ultra-competitive, academically gifted environment and that can lead to one’s first experience with academic mediocrity which may be seen as failure by the student.

My ex-husband and I silently agreed to not push our children, having both grown up to be anxious academic overachievers. In my case, my parents never pushed me, so I believed (and still do) that my children would pick up on the fact that I value academic achievement without me saying anything on the topic, just as I picked up on the fact that my parents valued it without them saying anything on the topic. My actual talking about the topic has consisted mostly of “It’s okay to not get all As!”

We really tried hard not to push our kids, but they told us they still felt a lot of pressure. When I asked their psychiatrist about it, he said, “I think in your children’s case there are a lot of IMPLIED expectations. They have two parents who have advanced engineering degrees. One grandparent is a professor and two others were physicians. They assume they are EXPECTED to do well.” So I guess we couldn’t win!

Same here, @MaineLonghorn. My parents met in college and were avid readers and my dad became a college professor. My ex and I have advanced degrees and also are avid readers. I know our children made a lot of assumptions.

I never insisted on As, but I did insist on consistent “best effort”. And we had an expectation that they would do extra credit when it was offered. One has turned into quite a perfectionist (too much of one…) in her 20s. Other one, not so much. I don’t think they hsve complaints about how much or little they were pushed, but I’d have to ask.

One or both of our daughters have told me (as adults) that they knew what the expectations were without us saying anything. Both are perfectionists, in their own ways.

My wife and I have pushed very hard on our children, but we have also tried to get them to understand that they are competing against the best version of themselves. Things like reading a lot came naturally since my wife and I read a lot and they just picked that up but we have been unwavering on things like building a work ethic and competing (I am definitely not a participation guy). We have also tried to keep things in perspective and show them what I consider to be the ultimate pressures/stresses that people face daily (not knowing where your next meal is coming from, homelessness, financial instability). The question I ask myself is did we provide enough hardships for our kids. One of my favorite sayings from my Grandfather sums up how I feel. “It is hard to get a diamond without heat and pressure”.

I didn’t push my kids at all but we live in an area with a lot of professional parents who expected their kids to excel academically. The expectations of their peer group provided more than sufficient pressure! I provided counter-point. I’d tell the kids that I expected them to do their best in school and life but that wasn’t measured by grades or teacher/boss evaluation - your “best” is something only you know how to define. I told them failure was not only an option, it was an inevitable result of wanting to learn and grow - no one who takes risks doesn’t fail sometimes. I told them I wanted them to be happy, good and responsible adults. That was all I wanted for them. My husband told them he wanted them to find and pursue their passions. We supported them in the things they chose to undertake but we never asked them to take on more than they wanted. We weren’t perfect parents but one thing I don’t regret is letting them take the wheel on their educations - it worked out very well for both (so far… life has a way of mixing it up so I’m not saying we’re “done” yet, lol).

I agree with the poster above ^. The pressure came from the peer group. That said, I also think what other’s have said is also true - that there is some non spoken pressure based on parents’ success and life style.

All through elementary school I felt pulled by my eldest who complained regularly that he wasn’t learning enough. So I pushed the teachers to give him more. He asked for more math so I signed him up for EPGY in 3rd or 4th grade. I told him that it was pretty pricey, so he had to spend at least 15 minutes a day on it. He did, but he also got a lot more involved in computer programming and in the end that was where he spent his time. For the most part he could get A’s in his sleep. I did consider prep school for him - my father in particular felt that being made to go to Exeter was a formative experience and would have loved to pay for a grandchild to attend. My kid was adament about staying with his friends, and while I’d enjoyed being a boarder my senior year, I was not anxious to not be part of his growing up. I don’t think he really, truly got challenged until college. The only time I yelled at him about academics was when he decided (as a freshman) that getting a zero on an English assignment he didn’t like (write a poem) was worth it. I told him that even a terrible poem would tank his grade a lot less than no poem at all. His math was good enough to figure that out. :wink: He’s employed at his dream job. So in retrospect, I think we did fine.

Younger son, perhaps should have been pushed a bit more. But he’s so stubborn, that I’m not sure it would have helped. I think he mostly needed to mature and to know exactly what the goal was. When he decided he wanted to be a naval officer he studied like mad for the Officer Candidate Exam. I’ve never seen him work so hard!

I’m not going to lie. I am a recovering helicopter parent. My two older children, now adults, will attest to that! Although now, they will say they benefited from my constant hovering/pushing. I was all about grades, test scores and rankings. What they didn’t appreciate was my constant nagging. DH is successful in his field and that in itself put pressure on them as we found out much later. In the end, they chose their own majors and colleges. They both had wonderful college experiences and are now happy, independent adults.

So, with my youngest, it is different (it helps to have had a few years break) and we have more open discussions about school. I see that she puts a lot of pressure on herself and I find myself encouraging her to take breaks from her summer schoolwork and hang out with friends.

I’ve always told them “No regrets.” Make decisions that are right for you by considering all the options. But, just in case, my helicopter is on standby.

Reminds me of the nature vs nurture discussions we would have with other parents. My oldest D(going into Sr yr) for the most part has put the pressure on herself or it was somewhat implied pressure. My better half and I both went to a pretty good school not quite ivy. She got the idea of doing better than her parents.

My wife has always stressed doing your best to my kids. My oldest D has good stats. My youngest is a different animal all around. She is 4 years younger. She worries a bit about living up to what her sister did. Math is a struggle for her. But she reads like crazy. On Sunday she came down and said she read for 6 hours that day. I told her to take a break and play a game on the computer. Go figure. She is an introvert. Her and I have this great theory. If you can read and do simple math and you have a library card then you can learn anything you want. Just go read about it or learn about it on the internet. It is all free.

A friend once gave me some advice. He said if your child goes through HS and can’t get into the good state college then that is on you as a parent. Getting anything above that is all on the kid. They have to want to do the work to be special. I have always felt like I give my children the opportunity where they go with it is up to them.

My oldest daughter told me the best thing in the world on the way home from swim regionals one night. She said “Dad thank you for not putting the pressure on me to get the state cuts unlike many other parents.”

I got to witness my other daughter doing something wonderful as well. In 5th grade we were playing in the finals of a BB tournament. We knew the team we were playing as we played them in years past and earlier in the season. We were walking into the gym and my daughter out of the blue tells one of the girls on the other team good luck tonight. I could have cared less if we won or lost that game. I knew my daughter won right there.

I have many times told my daughters that I only want them to be happy and be able to support themselves. I don’t care what they end up doing as long as they are happy.

Some of the stories in the original article make me sad.

[quote] I became an engineer and I loathed it.

...after elementary school I never received any pressure or help.

I was kept in the accelerated classes, not offered tutoring or testing, and just expected to struggle through.

In the eighth grade my mom stressed about my science project because, she said, it might impact my college admissions.


…and so on.


I don’t think we pressured. We set expectations and my son had a good group of competitive friends; he could have been a straight A student but I wasn’t going to put that pressure on him because he was doing well in subjects he loved. Guess what, he went to a good college and is now in a PhD program.

My D struggled all through HS. Said it was stupid, didn’t study or didn’t study well. The only pressure we put on her was to finish and get a diploma. At one point she even thought about just getting a GED. Many of my friends were aghast that we did not pressure her - she was in the gifted program and talented in a lot of ways. But she struggled with depression and some other issues and it was glaringly obvious to me that being a top student in HS is not the be-all and end-all of life.

She didn’t want to go to college, thought it was a waste. Fast forward 2 years and suddenly she decides to take one class. LOVES it. Applied and was accepted to a great school near home. Started in September and became a sponge in the classroom - she could not wait to get her syllabi. Took a class this summer for fun. She, who never had close to straight As ever, has all As and most of them are above 95.

I could have pressured her to a terrible end. I think the desire has to come from within. All we can do as parents is set the stage.

I was the kid with the implied expectations, two Ivy parents, one a research MD. Luckily, neither had blinders on about what a great education really is.

My girls, in about early hs, confessed they knew which parent was which. DH, the total pushover. Me, the one who wanted them to stretch. Interesting conversation. Was not a helicopter parent or a boot camp type and they both learned the pleasures of both stretching and leaning back. They do both well, lol.

We had expectations for our kids but daily pressure was absent. Our school district has a parent portal to check grades and assignments but we never made an account. They never had a tutor or a prep class. I bought an ACT prep book for my oldest, passed it down through all 3 kids, and gave it away unopened. S1 did do one practice test they handed out in his school.

None of the kids knew how to read when they went to kindergarten but we read them lots of books. They went to preschool so could recognize letters, write their names, and sit in a circle. Smart kids catch up soon enough. Could they have done better? Don’t know, don’t care. Having a good childhood was more important.

They did have a typical childhood of physical activity with swim lessons, ski lessons, rec sports and select level when they wanted. S1 and D kept at it through HS, S2 dropped after 10th grade and switched to mountaineering. We hiked a lot and went camping.

S1 probably could have used a little more hand-holding than we gave him. Or a little less, or different, not quite sure. He had a rocky freshman year but still managed to graduate in 4 years with a 3.5. It seems to have been better for D and S2.

I’m not sure young people always know what to ask for or what they need when they are in the thick of it.

After all, they are still learning about themselves, who they are, how they interact with the world.

It seems like some (not all) of the parent critiques come from 20/20 hindsight?

We nudged our laid back kid some, which she sometimes took as disapproval or criticism.

We tried to convince our serious tightly wound kid to get some balance and perspective about academics, and she thought we didn’t understand how important getting straight As, having good ECs and getting into a “good school” was.

I’m not sure either one, when teenagers, thought we parents had anything valuable to add.

I’m hoping one day they will see us as human beings.

My kids would say that we push them but I hope it’s a reasonable amount. I will say in hindsight that we probably pushed our oldest D’12 too much because she puts a lot of pressure on herself. I think it worked out ok and we had talks when she got to college about how it’s ok to relax and not stress herself out.

We were both underachievers who weren’t really pushed and that has led our view. Our opinion is that we expect you to do your best. If you are trying but struggling and get a C or lower that is fine. If you are slacking and still pull a B, we will push you to try harder.

D18 jokes that she’s the only kid who gets a B on a test and her parents expect an A. We do at certain times but only because she does not put much effort into it. The most angry we have gotten has been when S19’s grades started to slip because he wasn’t paying attention to turning in the work. That was just a dumb reason not to do well and he finally figured that out.

We have had talks with both kids about effort vs outcomes. Neither are overscheduled and we generally stay out of their way otherwise.

D18 needed some steering to start the college process but we didn’t push her towards any direction. She only applied to 5 schools and only because one app was used for all 3 state college branches. No reaches, only high match or safeties. She knows if she doesn’t keep her grades up, she’ll lose her tuition break and won’t be able to stay at her OOS school.

I guess we’lll see if we did ok in the upcoming years!