Is it futile to try to slow down the ‘high-stakes parenting arms race’?

by Grace

Wilma Bowers, president of an affluent Virginia suburban high school PTA, is on a quixotic crusade to get parents to slow down the ‘high-stakes parenting arms race’.

Bowers knows it’s a high-stakes parenting arms race in McLean and communities like it. The obsession with grades and college résumés can overwhelm everything. She wants people to back off — and is trying to get them to, with film screenings, workshops, lectures and meetings with clergy and mental health professionals.

In a twist on the NIMBY “Not in my Backyard” concept, many parents agree that although not every kid is destined for Harvard, they’re reluctant to be the first ones to ease off with their own children.

Many fellow parents think that disarming sounds good, in theory. The problem is, they’re reluctant to try it with their own kid.

Parents should encourage “authentic success” instead of pushing for perfection at any cost.

There are 3,000 colleges out there, Allison said as she ran through a presentation of nearly 100 slides. The guiding principles for parents, she told them, should be: Students should be doing something they love; they should be able to support themselves; and they should give something back. That’s authentic success.

Fearful parents

Despite this uplifting advice, I predict that affluent parents will continue to push their children to achieve at the highest levels.  They do not think of themselves as average, so they are unlikely to settle for average outcomes for their children.  And they are fearful their children will be left behind in the ongoing economic rat race.

Brigid Schulte, “In McLean, a crusade to get people to back off in the parenting arms race”, Washington Post, March 23, 2014.


5 Comments to “Is it futile to try to slow down the ‘high-stakes parenting arms race’?”

  1. “doing something you love” and “being able to support yourself” are, in many cases, contradictory.


  2. Very true, which makes “authentic success” sound quite phony.


  3. Reblogged this on College Money Man Podcast and commented:
    I don’t see an parent really backing off. We have a culture that tells the parents that they have to push their children to go to college, failure to do so means that they’re guilty of poor parenting. So while we all may see other children as not college capable, we will never admit that about our own. And to be honest, I’m no different with my son.


  4. forgot to mention, great article btw!


  5. Not only do we want to see our own children as college capable, but we also see the wage premium offered by a college degree. Of course, that college premium is closely tied to the individual’s profile, sometimes a more important factor than the college degree.


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