Sunday, April 30, 2006

*Is School Too Much for Students?

Is School Too Much for Students? - Washington Post

Earlier this school year, a classmate of my 15-year-old daughter killed himself. He was, by all outward measures, an excellent student who was popular and adjusting well to the first year of high school. He even tutored my daughter in math as she worked to find her footing.

In my quest to be supportive, I asked her why she thought he did such a terrible thing. She said she could not understand it all, because he was nice and joked around just like all the other kids. But again, he was Asian, she said in passing, implying high expections. This was the first time I considered the downside of expecting too much.

After the tragedy, I took a harder look at the messages that I had been sending her. Study hard, get good grades - not C’s - go to a good college, get more good grades, have a good life. I also painted a very un-rosy picture of what poor grades can do to her future. Forget about buying this, or having that, or doing thus, I would often say. But wait a second - this is no Asian-thing, we are all guilty.

In those days before the funeral, I could only see myself in his parent’s place, asking why? My own parents had never planned on me going to Harvard, I thought, but I got there anyway. My dad even asked me one day, ‘what got into me’, to tackle such a challenging place. They always said they just wanted me to do my best.

My parent’s brand of pressure, I now understand, gave me room to fail, without becoming a failure. I realized that I was not passing this along. Of course, I could rationalize that the world is more competitive, and kids have to grow up faster. But what if there was no kid there to hear me?

It seems we are making a simple, but critical, parenting mistake. We are not communicating to our kids that doing their best is good enough. This leaves room for them to find their own path. The tragedy is that we never know which kid will die, but for hearing this simple instruction, from those who mean so much to them.

This is what I learned.

James C. Collier


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