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Achievement Culture: How it hurts our kids and 4 ways to combat it

Achievement culture is detrimental to our kids.

As the leaves begin to fall, so does the pressure of college applications for high school students across the nation. The quest for success becomes paramount, but are we, as parents, inadvertently adding too much weight to our children’s shoulders?

Studio 5 Parenting Contributor Heather Johnson shares the detrimental effects of an achievement-driven culture and provides insights on how to strike the right balance.

To contact Heather for counseling, email, or visit


How to Combat Achievement Culture

Achievement Culture: The Silent Strain

Achievement culture, as Heather describes it, is the relentless focus on outcomes. It’s the constant evaluation of whether your child won the match, secured a spot in a prestigious college, or aced all their exams. In an increasingly uncertain world, this pressure can become toxic when it’s tied to a child’s self-worth.

This culture is found throughout our society, leaving teenagers feeling uncertain and uncomfortable about their lives. The consequences are alarming: heightened stress, drug abuse, and promiscuity. When children are led to believe that their worth is solely based on their achievements, it takes a toll on their self-esteem.

Mattering: The Key to Healthy Parenting

Heather’s first piece of advice is to focus on making our children feel like they matter. Research shows that when kids know they matter, it has a profound impact on their mental health. It’s not about constantly assessing their happiness, but rather ensuring they feel valued, cherished, and that their contributions are significant.

Imagine a home where the priority is whether your child feels they matter, not just their grades. This shift in perspective can be transformative, not only in nurturing their self-esteem but also in helping them achieve their best.

Getting a PhD in Your Child

Understanding your child’s hopes, dreams, and insecurities is a crucial part of parenting. Heather likens it to getting a PhD in your child. This requires sacrifice, time, and genuine interest. By asking the right questions and actively listening, you can gain deep insights into your child’s world.

Building this level of understanding creates a strong foundation for trust and communication, making it easier for your child to confide in you and seek guidance when needed.

Resilience: A Lesson for Parents

Heather emphasizes the importance of parents cultivating their own resilience. When parents can bounce back from setbacks and challenges, they model this behavior for their children. Surrounding yourself with adults who don’t support the achievement culture can be a significant step in this direction.

Your home should also serve as a sanctuary from external pressures. Make it a safe space where your child can be themselves without the fear of judgment or criticism. Let them know they are accepted just as they are.

Separating Worth from Performance

Lastly, Heather advises us to disconnect our worth from our children’s performance. We often tie our own self-worth to our children’s achievements, which can be damaging for both parties. By teaching our children that their worth is not determined by their accomplishments, we free them from the burden of constant achievement.

Instead, focus on recognizing and verbalizing their strengths, emphasizing their intrinsic qualities rather than their extrinsic achievements.

As parents, we hold the power to shape our children’s outlook on life. By fostering an environment where they know they matter, where we understand them deeply, and where their worth is not tied to their performance, we can help them navigate the pressures of an achievement-driven world with resilience and self-assuredness. It’s time to prioritize our children’s well-being over success.

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