Challenging “A Nation of Wimps!”

May 31st, 2013

I was struck by my reaction to an article entitled, A Nation of Wimps, shared recently on Facebook.  While this article was published originally in Psychology Today in November, 2004, it was “last reviewed” in February, 2013.  The article highlights a seemingly then-current perception that “parental hyper-concern has the net effect of making kids more fragile,” and that “that may be why they’re breaking down in record numbers.”  I certainly understand – and to some extent, agree – with the notion that “parental hyper-concern,” itself a manifestation of parental anxiety, can have a deleterious effect on a child’s developing sense of identity and autonomy.  As a clinical psychologist, I have witnessed many times the degree to which anxious parents struggle with letting their children take even minor risks in their efforts to explore, and eventually, separate from home to live independent lives. Further, anxious parents often foster over-attached children who find it difficult, if not painful, to stray too far from the parental nest. I understand this dynamic and have dealt with it frequently in my pediatric psychology practice. While this dynamic can, indeed, be challenging for parents and children alike, labeling children of anxious parents as “wimps” seems a bit condescending, if not utterly disrespectful. 

The author, Ms. Hara Estroff Marano, highlights the fact that many parents seek educational assessments for their children in an effort to explore the possibility that they might qualify for various accommodations – such as extended time or taking tests in a distraction-free setting – claiming that these accommodations “sanitize childhood” and therefore, deprive children and adolescents of the psychological equivalent of “skinned knees or the occasional C in history.” To strengthen her case, Ms. Estroff-Marano even cites child psychologist David Elkind of Tufts University as having stated, “We learn through experience and we learn through bad experiences. Through failure we learn how to cope.” I do not doubt that Professor Elkind uttered these words, and to some extent, I agree with him.  We do learn from “bad experiences,” but if these “bad experiences” are frequent, intense and/or enduring, the “learning” can take on a more negative and damaging quality. … Read more and comment »

Trouble In Paradise?

May 15th, 2013

A recent New York Times article reported that “International Schools Boom as More Seek Education in English” (April 29, 2013).  In that piece, Joyce Lau notes that “a century ago, International schools were small, elite replicas of Western schools for the generally white, rich children of parents posted in ‘exotic’ locales.”  However, Lau reports that “as developed nations have become wealthier and as the world has become more multicultural, international schools have boomed. According to ISC Research in Britain, there are now 6,400 international schools all over the globe. In a decade, that number is expected to almost double.”

In a similar New York Times article in January, 2013, “International Schools in China Point Students to the West,” Lucy Hornby-Reuters reported that “upwardly mobile Chinese parents are willing to pay as much as 260,000 renminbi, or about $42,000, a year for a Western-style education and a possible ticket to a college overseas for their children.”  Further, Hornby-Reuters noted that “the number of international schools registered in mainland China … Read more and comment »

When Stars Fall…at Independent Schools

October 26th, 2011

Graham had not anticipated how difficult school would be. Graham’s middle school advisor had recommended Graham as “a star student, a skillful athlete, a talented musician and a trusted friend who was even voted Most Likely to Succeed by his peers.”  It was for these reasons that Graham couldn’t have been happier when, on March 10th, he had received an acceptance letter from St. Paul’s School where he was to begin the next fall as member of the School’s 3rd Form.

By late-October at St. Paul’s, Graham’s academic “star” had begun to fall.  He had already received several grades that were lower than any grade he had ever received in middle school.  Further, not only was he struggling to keep up with the constant homework demands but Graham had also just received a failing grade on a Humanities paper.  Graham was distraught.  By now, Graham’s parents were really worried, too, because Graham had recently complained to them, “Nothing I do here seems to work!” … Read more and comment »