You don’t often get a parent so self-aware that they admit to being the problem when it comes to pressuring their child to perform academically.
Usually parents talking generally about pressure on kids today say, “But we don’t put pressure on him,” and go on to wonder where the pressure is coming from. Is it the school? Is it their peers? Is it the system? Is it from within the kids themselves?
“It’s not us. We just want him to do his best.”
Other parents blatantly pressure their kids. One principal told me of a teenage student who, teachers noticed, was looking a bit unkempt and dirty. Further investigation found that he had been sleeping rough in a train station because his parents had thrown him out of home for under-performing.
There are stories of parents trying to get teachers to give their kids better grades insistently enough to border on harassment. Kids have told me about parents grounding them from a longed-for party because they failed an exam, and I’ve heard of private school kids being constantly reminded of how much money their parents are paying for their education, so they’d better get straight As.
One psychologist I talk to deals with the fallout of pressure within wealthy families, in particular, when expectations of children are heightened by their financial investment in private school education.
"I’ve seen some parents with this basic expectation that these kids will get into Oxford or Harvard and places like that because they’ve put money into it.
"One family I worked with, the parents ended up splitting up over the issue because the father was so determined, after all the money he’d spent, to get his daughter to go to Oxford, which was where he went. She was very bright but she just wasn’t up to it – she probably was academically, but not in terms of the stress of getting there.’
When I ask how the pressure manifested in this child, this psychologist says, ‘Cutting, suicidal thoughts, and school refusal.’
Another principal told me that one parent rang him and asked for permission to beat his son – beat his son – in front of his class because he didn’t do as well on a test as he was expected to do. High expectations, high stakes.