Dear Estelle. This fall, our daughter Meg, a sophomore, seems to have undergone a change in her demeanor and attitude. Last year she was happy and carefree, and loved going to school. Now she has difficulty sleeping, hardly eats, spends little time with her friends and seems constantly stressed. She takes a heavy academic course load, including a few APs, which her guidance counselor says is quite unusual for a 10th grader, and studies for hours every night. After school, it’s field hockey and clubs. She desires to be perfect but the toll on her physically and mentally is too great. Concerned Parents. Denver
Somewhere along the way our girls heard the message that “girls can do anything and can have it all.” They can rank in the top 10% academically, achieve almost-perfect test scores, be passionate about their community service, be a varsity athlete and…….! This will give them acceptance into an Ivy League college and major in a field where they will be successful, marry, balance family and career and live happily ever after.
The media perpetuates this scenario and parents too have encouraged their daughters to believe they can equal or surpass their male peers. Frequently it comes at the price of working much harder and sometimes experiencing the symptoms mentioned above. Being a perfectionist and overachiever can result in extreme anxiety, depression and physical distress.
If you notice those symptoms in your daughters it is important to understand the negative impact this attitude can have on the high school experience. A love of learning becomes replaced by a tenacity to succeed at any cost.
Your daughter will probably not welcome your intrusion and concern into her current lifestyle but this is an important time for intervention. Her symptoms may be similar to those some of her peers are experiencing. This is an important time to discuss some strategies with her guidance counselor and social worker at school. As concerned objective third parties they can provide support to your daughter and find ways for her to alleviate her excessive need to achieve. They can provide some interventions that will help her understand that it’s OK to be imperfect. As parents you can model behavior and language that supports this.
This is not an easy process to undo and may require intervention by a psychologist to assist your child in understanding the harm she is doing to herself. If your child is a junior or senior, her lifestyle may negatively impact on her college planning. If she’s applying to highly competitive colleges and is rejected, this may be difficult for her to comprehend considering the work and effort she’s made.
Some high schools around the country are already taking measures to ensure that their students find time for rest and relaxation in their school day. Many require a lunch break and schedule less periods during the day.
We want our children to work hard, enjoy learning, and have a positive high school experience and transition to college but it shouldn’t come at a cost of mental and physical distress. Doing anything in excess can have negative consequences, even too much homework!