An author, journalist and mom is calling on parents, students and teachers to become free of a “toxic achievement culture” that has taken grip over their lives at school and at home.
Jennifer Breheny Wallace told Fox News Digital in an interview that her book, titled, “Never Enough: When Achievement Culture Becomes Toxic—And What We Can Do About It,” is not meant to accuse parents of failing their children. Instead, she said the book is intended to shine a spotlight on a new at-risk group, “students attending what researchers call high-achieving schools.”
“Toxic achievement culture” is at its worst for students who are pressured to maintain top grades and multiple extracurriculars in order to get into a competitive school, Wallace said. Some of the students most affected by the nonstop pressure of competition in education are at high-achieving schools across the country.
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“Those are competitive public and private schools around the country,” Wallace explained. “Those kids were now an at-risk group, meaning they were two to six times more likely to suffer from clinical levels of anxiety, depression and substance abuse disorder than the average American teen.”
The author said her children, and her desire to be a loving and caring mother, inspired her to write the book.
“I have children attending these competitive schools,” she said, “and I wanted to know, one, how we got there, and two, what could I do in my own home to buffer against the excessive pressures.”
Wallace called on parents who aren’t sure if they are part of a “toxic achievement” culture to ask themselves four questions.
“The first question is take a look at your child’s calendar,” she said. “How are they spending their time outside of school? Next, look at how you spend your money as it relates to your kids. Third, what is it that you ask your kids about when they walk in the door? And fourth, which I think is the most telling, what do you argue with your kids about? Those four questions will tell you a lot about the signal you are sending your kids about how important achievement is to you in your home.”
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Beyond mental health, Wallace also spoke about the loss of self-reflection among students as America has become an increasingly “secular society.”
“I am Catholic,” she said. “I was raised Catholic, and I have been noticing as we become more secular as a society, our young people are asked to not necessarily be as reflective as maybe we were when we were a more religious society, meaning that religion really helped us to answer, or at least to think about and contend with the big questions like, ‘Who am I?’ ‘What is my place in the world?’ ‘What is my purpose?’ ‘What is my meaning?’ ‘Why am I here?’ Kids are not really asking those questions of themselves anymore, even though that’s actually a normal part of development.”
The author, who began her television career at “60 Minutes” and is a contributor to The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, emphasized she has no problem with high achievement.
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“Just to be clear, this book is not anti-ambition or anti-achievement,” Wallace said. “I am a high achiever. My husband’s a high achiever. I get joy from achieving. I’m ambitious, but I’m ambitious for more than just career success. I’m ambitious as a wife; I want to have a great marriage. I’m ambitious as a mother; I want to have a healthy, connected relationship with my kids. I’m ambitious with my hobbies; I want to have joy in my life. I’m an ambitious friend; I want to have deep, meaningful, close relationships. And so what I’m saying to parents in this book is, don’t not be ambitious for your kids. Just be ambitious for more.”
Wallace encouraged parents, adults and grandparents to read her book, “Never Enough: When Achievement Culture Becomes Toxic—And What We Can Do About It,” in order to learn how to “foster cultures of mattering.”
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