Why So Many High-Achieving Parents Raise Kids Who Fall Apart In Their 20s

Is it college acceptance rates, social media pressures, the economy ... or is it you?

college-age woman facing high expectations from parents Look Studio | Shutterstock

Let's be real, all parents want what's best for their kids. In a perfect world, hard work and their innate potential would land all deserving kids the opportunity to go to Harvard, Yale, Columbia, or anywhere else they desire. But that's not how it works — especially these days.

Many parents blame "the system" or other abstract factors for how hard it is to get into a "top college", without realizing they play a role in what actually harms their children's future success. According to Dr. Shefali, a therapist and best-selling author of The Conscious Parent: Transforming Ourselves, Empowering Our Children, parents who raise "high-performing" children can unintentionally doom them to failure.


Yes, the parents who spend thousands of dollars on schools, tutoring, and extracurricular activities are finding that their highly-prepared children still fall short.

In the podcast Open Relationships: Transforming Together, host Andrea Miller sits down with Dr. Shefali to discuss why many high-achieving parents raise children who struggle in their twenties. Meanwhile, kids who are raised with goals separate from outward "success" may find a higher level of happiness in the end. 


Why Many High-Achieving Parents Raise Kids Who Fall Apart In Their 20s

Listen, raising kids is never easy. So we throw whatever resources we have to ensure that our children become the best version of themselves. After all, the opposite of success is failure, right? And it can only be one or the other, right? Actually ... no!

In fact, our good intentions, paired with this false binary of "win" vs "lose" can unknowingly cause your children to spiral out of control in adulthood. A National Library of Medicine study found that "when parents’ educational expectations exceed their children’s educational expectations, their educational expectations reduce a child’s cognition and increase the probability of depression."

Okay, but then what should we do instead? After all, we don't want our children to fail in life — but that may be where we are making a mistake. Everyone needs to fail. In fact, failure is often what extremely successful people credit for getting them where they need to be in order to achieve their dreams (small or big!). 

As Dr. Shefali points out, "In India, children are [dying by their own hand], because they're not 'toppers' [top-rated students]." They aren't meeting their parents' high standards and they don't know how to get there. 


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This is also happening in the United States. Children from high-pressure families who live in safe, upper-middle-class communities and who often have all the best resources are actually experiencing more stress than nearly any other group. If you can believe it, this group is now considered "high-risk" because of toxic achievement culture.

Here's the sad reality: children are already working themselves to the bone to impress their parents. They're already doing their best to meet those high expectations and to be successful. But what happens if their successes are never rewarded? What happens if nothing they do is ever good enough? They collapse. They grow depressed and anxious. They isolate themselves and take prescription drugs to handle the pressure they're under. And the saddest part about all? How we as parents don't allow our children to grow.

Dr. Shefali says, "When we are putting them into this cookie-cutter factory of achievement, we are stripping them of being able to go through those developmental stages as they need to be."


And your child reaching those developmental milestones is crucial to their journey into adulthood. They need to hit these milestones so they can function as healthy adults and have healthy relationships

@yourtango Universities with low acceptance rates aren't necessarily better or more special than schools that accept more students #college #collegeacceptance #university #student #collegeapplications #comparisonculture #greenscreen@Harlan Cohen ♬ original sound - YourTango

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We get so caught up in trying to do what's "best" for our kids and to help them be their "best", we forget the most important things: love and understanding. 


As Gov Wales writes, "Love and affection are essential to a child's healthy brain development. A child's feelings about themselves, how confident they are and how well they cope with stress, are all affected by the way their parents respond to them."

And if you are dismissive or overly harsh, well, it's no wonder why your children spiraled out of control in the first place. 

Understand that we as parents need to make room for our children. To make room for their growth, problems, fears, concerns, and mistakes. And if they don't end up getting into  Harvard or Columbia, so what? 

Regardless of what college they attend or major they pick remember this: it's always going to be a snail race.


Dr. Shefali says, "This is a long marathon. This is not a sprint, but we act as if time is running out because we parents are so anxious to sink into the present moment and allow life to work itself out."

But we can't rush life and we can't rush our children. We have to understand that our children will change their minds many times. That they will pick and drop majors. Pick up and drop careers. 

So, give your child the grace necessary to figure life out. And as a parent, the best thing you can do for your child is support them along the way.


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Marielisa Reyes is a writer with a bachelor's degree in psychology who covers self-help, relationships, career, and family topics