Today’s New York Times magazine has an amazing look at what it means to be a girl growing up in an affluent, north Boston neighborhood where expectations are high in so many ways and where kids, and families, are struggling to deal with them. As the father of a nine-year old daughter, I read this with a sense of sadness for these girls who, by all traditional measures are getting a “great” high school education but whose motivations are borne more from what they perceive as necessary to achieve as opposed to their true passions. The author, Sara Rimer, just does a great job of chronicling this struggle for the main protagonist in the story, Ester Mobley, whose mother worries that these “amazing girls” will end up with an “anorxia of the soul.”
A couple of passages that really struck me:
And, for all their accomplishments and ambitions, the amazing girls, as their teachers and classmates call them, are not immune to the third message: While it is now cool to be smart, it is not enough to be smart. You still have to be pretty, thin and, as one of Estherâ€™s classmates, Kat Jiang, a go-to stage manager for student theater who has a perfect 2400 score on her SATs, wrote in an e-mail message, â€œItâ€™s out of style to admit it, but it is more important to be hot than smart.â€
â€œEffortlessly hot,â€ Kat added.
And if you think that the SAT prep services don’t know a gold mine when they see it:
The test-prep business is booming. Kaplan (â€œBe the ideal college applicant!â€) is practically around the corner from Chyten (â€œOur average SAT II score across all subjects is 720!â€), which is three blocks from Princeton Review (â€œWeâ€™re all about scoring more!â€). My First Yoga (for children 3 and up), with its founder playing up her Harvard degree, is conveniently located above Chyten, which includes the SAT Cafe. High-priced SAT prep has become almost routine at schools like Newton North. Not to hire the extra help is practically an act of rebellion.
I’m not sure what the best path for my daughter (or son, for that matter) is, but I’m pretty certain it’s not this. I care less about where (or if) she goes to school and more about what I can do to support her passions. And that’s the question I constantly struggle with…not what she needs to ace her SATs, but how do I help her find those things that she’ll love learning about her entire life? And how can I help instill in her the work ethic to master it, to, as Darren asks of his students, become an expert at it? And how can she get through all of this with a strength and character that is measured by her own standards and not societies? If I can help her get there, the rest will take care of itself regardless of what scores she gets or schools she graduates from.
Technorati Tags: adolescence, schools, education
Harold Jarche says
Will, I’m really thinking that doing something like building a boat would be a better option than the industrial cognitive hothouse:
We start homeschooling with our 12 year old son this year.
Mrs. Durff says
I think your daughter is pretty lucky to have a dad like you. She probably won’t tell you that until she is at least 30, but she probably knows it too. She is not seeking education in spite of her parents, like many of us had to do, but discovering paths to education with the help of her parents. You can not give her any greater gift. Or as a good Bronx Jewish grandmother would say, “Quit yer worrying!”
Wesley Fryer says
Well, I agree that worrying by itself is not constructive, but if it leads to thoughtful changes in the ways life is lived in can be a good think. I think there are 2 big keys here: Lots of open communication adult to child, and lots of time spent together. I’m of the mind that when it comes to raising kids, you have to have quantity time in our to have quality time. The “quality time message” which I think at least in part came from the feminism movement is largely a myth created to help those who want to rationalize spending less time with their kids as OK. My wife and I were talking about this last night on a long drive home, in the context of homeschooling. The key that we really need more of is TIME. And how do we get more time? The traditional school schedule does not provide time to do many of the things that matter most: It wastes time. Certainly socialization activities can be important, but what are our children (in this case girls specifically) being socialized to believe and value? A number of years ago I heard Stephen Glenn speak and read one of his books (“Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World”) and remember the graph of parent and peer influence. They key to maintaining relatively strong levels of parent influence on kids as they enter adolescence was DIALOG, which he defined as “a meaningful exchange of perceptions in a non-threatening environment.” A big part of the answer I hear you struggling for lies in these two key areas: TIME spent together and DIALOG. If you can find ways to increase those two variables, I think chances are much greater that you and your wife can and will continue to “socially inoculate” your kids against many of the destructive and negative influences of the culture.
I agree, it’s not necessary to have both. As long as your children are successful and they got to do the things that they love, it’s well rewarding enough.
I had to fight hard to help my daughter counteract the pressures she had in high school. She had friends who were taking nothing but AP courses in their senior year. These girls were sleep-deprived and angry. It was all about the weighted GPA. My daughter wanted to study music. She had to take correspondence courses to fulfill her academic requirements so she could take the music classes she wanted.
Yesterday I had the pleasure of watching her perform the lead role in her college opera. Talk about passion! She will be applying to graduate programs in vocal performance this summer.
She truly is a force of nature and I am so glad that we supported her in what she really wanted to do.
Karen Janowski says
There is hope.
My daughter is a senior in high school and we read the book, “Colleges that Change Lives.” Can not recommend this book highly enough to help our kids get off the high-pressure, best college rat race. It will change your mind about Ivy League and other “high status” schools. It gives our kids “permission” to consider their college career differently from the messages that their schools and guidance counselors give. These forty schools have set themselves apart as outstanding in many non-traditional ways.
I’m thrilled to say that my daughter will attend one of the “colleges that change lives” in the fall.
Julie Lindsay says
After reading your post Will I was reassured once again that our decision to leave the west (Australia) when our daughter was 3 and try an ‘alternative’ international lifestyle was the best thing to happen to our family. I am a little smug I know as embracing international teaching and an expat life is not an option for most people however I do do feel that between your ideas and those of Wes’s in an earlier comment there is plenty of scope to have a healthy approach to growing up female.
For my daughter (now 12) I hope she finds engagement and passion about something. I do not really care what it is but have a hidden desire for her to continue to be part of a global community and work towards something that will change not only her life but that of others, in other words to make a difference! I do not expect her to study for a regular job as I am sure she will take on numerous jobs throughout her life (though I think she would make a very good teacher), I do not expect her to make a lot of money. I do expect her to be an individual and to never compromise herself in what she wants and what she believes in. If we succeed in teaching her and encouraging her in this path I will be satisfied (elated in fact).
I am originally from an affluent town in Illinois. A town filled with 16-year-olds driving Lexus’s and 5th grade girls who believe that collecting Coach Purses is a typical pastime. My friends were daughters of high profile lawyers, plastic surgeons, and very successful realtors. So, one could imagine the excessive amount of pressure on these girls to become overachievers. What most people do not see is the dark-side of these demands. While parents are shelling out money for their girls to attend ACT prep class, receive extra Calculus tutoring, direct Student Council and Spanish Club, and hit the ice rink at 5 am for some extra practice, these kids are overdosing on drugs, committing suicide, and struggling with eating disorders and depression. These girls want to please everyone so bad that they resort to the extremes to do so. I think the only thing that got me through my high school years was being lucky enough to have parents that supported my passion for dance. I was not valedictorian and I did not get a perfect score on the ACT, but I was encouraged to do what I loved and that was all I needed. I am currently studying to become a teacher (at a non-Ivy League school) and I could not be happier. We must let our children discover what makes them who they are on their own and I am pleased to see that most people here agree.
This pressure is sometimes caused by the influence of peers. I think that parents and teachers need to teach them that good things in life doesn’t need one to be hot and smart. It’s all about teaching them self-esteem.
Thriving in School says
You can’t help be concerned by the pressures girls face today. As an occupational therapist, I am always promoting a work-play balance in life. So when my daughter (a Newton North graduate last year) was looking at courses for her senior year, I encouraged her to take a sewing class to balance AP Latin. Would it look good on her transcript? Who cared? I knew it was a passion as I watched all her T-shirts get transformed into bags and purses for her friends. Despite striving for a balance, it seemed that her senior year was robbed by the all consuming task of trying to get into a good college. Living in the present was replaced with sticking one foot out the door and riding the current to a “suitable” school. She faced a huge disappointment from not getting into her top choice (and others). Life cannot be a string of successes, however. I am pleased to say that she is happily engaged in college now, taking a variety of courses and exploring her interests.
Your posting makes a lot of sense. With all the choices, it is hard to determine how to help kids – especially young girls – succeed. Have you heard of TutorVista? http://www.tutorvista.com. They have come up with a very cost-effective solution to the (much!) higher priced alternatives. I know of several students who have benefited enormously with TutorVista’s unlimited online tutoring for $99 per month. They also offer test-prep services.
Gary S. Stager says
My youngest daughter is a freshman at one of the finest liberal arts colleges in America. The school does everything right and gives me some room for optimism. My kid also got accepted to six other fine undergraduate institutions.
She took two AP course. One was in environmental science because a non-AP version didn’t exist and she took AP English because in our local high school the AP English class was the one where you read a book or two.
There was no cramming for the AP or extra-curricular test-prep courses.
She got into very fine institutions because she was a well-rounded INTERESTING kid who had traveled, been in band, started a knitting club, earned a Gold Award in Scouting, etc…
The moral of this story and the advice I would give anyone with adolescent children is this.
Do everything in your power to ensure that your kid can get through high school without hating it.
As a girl who is going out into the world after college and looking for a job, i feel that there is still a lot of pressure on women to not only be as smart if not smarter than men, but also to maintain their physical appearance. men only need to be smart to get a good job or make it far in the world. for women, however, it is a double edged sword. if you are smart and not pretty you won’t get the high profile job you crave. at the same time if you are good looking and not as smart you are seen as a shell, just good looks and nothing more. however, there is an occasion when you get the whole package. the question is, which one stands out more, the pretty face or the IQ?
i think it is important to teach the younger generations of not only girls but boys also that it is unfair and wrong to treat girls who aren’t “pretty” as though they are stupid also. While it is ideal to say that companies should hire on the basis of skill alone, we do not live in and ideal world. women have come so far in the corporate and academic worlds, but we are still being objectified. it is like we have to choose between being the pretty one or the smart one, being both isn’t an option.
I watched a news report today about the goal most women strive for â€œhaving it all.â€ The â€œallâ€ includes, the perfect home, family, social life, body, and Iâ€™m sure the list goes on and on. When I read this blog, I wasnâ€™t surprised. The feminine goal is trying to be reached at a younger and younger age. Maybe it is because these girls see their mothers juggling life and they think that is what they are supposed to do.
My daughter’s (she is 12) favorite TV show is ABC Family’s, Gilmore Girls. She idolizes one of the show’s main characters, Rory Gilmore. Rory is a girl who effortlessly is perfect in both physical beauty and intellect. I am not sure if this show is art copying life or life copying art, but I know that this show has struck a deep chord of emotional recognition with my daughter and her frinds
I heart Gilmore Girls, too!! Rory is a guide for where I wanna be, and go to.. but I don’t think I can ever be her. Maybe in a decade or so…