In a recent post, I described the high cost that pushing kids too hard can have on their lives. A truly tragic example of this trend is Madison Holleran, a U. of Penn student and athlete, who committed suicide in early 2014. On the surface, she was a happy, and successful young woman. But inside there was turmoil.
It reminds me of Sarah Devens, another star student-athlete, this time at Dartmouth (I wonder if the fact that both were at Ivy League schools has any meaning?), who seemed to have it all, yet ended her own life in 1995. I discussed Ms. Devens in my first parenting book, Positive Pushing: How to Raise a Successful and Happy Child.
The similarities are striking: attractive, intelligent, successful, loved by family and friends. Also, perfectionistic, driven, never satisfied, very good at putting on a happy facade in front of an unhappy internal life.
One distinction that emerges out of the article about Ms. Holleran is the role that social media plays in young people's lives these days. As research has shown, young people usually present an overly positive and often inaccurate of themselves on social media. This external impression is, however, sometimes entirely disconnected from and at odds with their internal reality.
These stories demonstrate the ultimate price that young people can pay for buying into the hyper-achievement culture. Yet, though infrequent and extreme in their finality, they only lie at the far end of the continuum that many young people exist in these days. In my own consulting practice, I see young people who are very successful, yet profoundly unhappy and on their way to unhappy lives. Even though suicide is very unlikely, a life of sadness, dissatisfaction, worry, and anxiety just is no way to live.
Once again, every parent who has immersed their child in this bizarro world of "nothing is ever good enough" should think deeply about what kind of person they want their child to be and what kind of life, both internal and external, they want their child to have. The choices that parents make can literally be a matter of life and death.