On October 7 a large group of interested and concerned parents attended a Challenge Success speaker presentation about “The Pressured Child,” given by Michael G. Thompson, Ph.D., and co-sponsored by the Middle School Parents Association and the Bedford High School Parents Association.
Dr. Thompson spoke with experience and humor as he shared his insights on how parents can help their children navigate their own journeys through childhood and adolescence.
As stated on his web site, www.michaelthompson-phd.com, “The Pressured Child” is, in fact, a presentation for “pressured parents who have forgotten what school is actually like, and who are trying to respond to the anxiety of families who believe, erroneously, that there is a one-to-one correlation between school performance and success in life.”
Dr. Thompson began the evening by asking the audience why they were there. Several parents shared they were concerned about the increase in student anxiety, the peer social pressure that children face, and the peer competition for grades that brings out anxiety and lowers self-esteem in children.
Many agreed that families moved to Bedford for its great schools, but now they are in a paradox – being surrounded by high achievers causes more competition and anxiety among students and parents. Dr. Thompson explained that lots of parents believe that highly competitive colleges are the only ‘good’ schools and that if their kids don’t get in, it will be calamitous and ruin their lives forever.
He shared a story about a father of a three-year-old who was concerned his life would be ruined if he didn’t get into the ‘right’ preschool. Although the audience laughed at the outrageousness of this, it brought up a misconception many parents have. He reminded parents that school is not a race or even preparation for life, because children are living their lives right now. Dr. Thompson suggested that parents should relax and not focus so much on grades and college, and their children will turn out okay.
Throughout the evening, Dr. Thompson shared many stories gleaned from his extensive experience working with students and schools, both public and private, about how children experience school, from the students’ perspective. He explained that most students fall into one of three categories: those who sail along through school, mostly successful and with few problems; those who have consistent, but manageable struggles; and, “those whose journeys are characterized by fury and despair.”
Many are just doing school, and just want to survive it. In this journey, children are rarely judging themselves by grades, but rather are searching for connection, some kind of recognition, and a sense of power or mastery. They are looking for meaningful connections to their peers, to adults in school, and to something they love.
Children want to succeed, but not always in school, and they are always doing the best they can at every moment. They want to feel useful and recognized for who they are, not who they are going to be.
Dr. Thompson closed the evening with two touching stories that drove home his final take away: “our child’s development and journey is not in our control.”
He went on to explain that in the ‘race’ of life, parents should not be far ahead of their children calling to them to run faster, nor should you be far behind them signaling you don’t care about them succeeding. It is a parent’s job to always be just behind their children, encouraging them to push on and being the ‘coach,’ but also being there when they need you to lean on.
For those interested in learning more and helping to further Bedford’s work with Challenge Success (challengesuccess.org), parent co-chairs, Lori Alper and Stacy Mortenson, are hosting a Bedford High School Parent information night on October 21 at 7 pm in the BHS LGI room. Please consider attending that evening event if you are interested in having a larger role as part of the parent committee.