Author Jennifer Wallace tapped into the Mercer Island schools community when penning her recent New York Times bestselling book “Never Enough,” which delves into excessive achievement pressure and striving to overcome the toxic atmosphere.
“I suppose that my advice would be for parents to make homes a haven from the pressure,” said Wallace, who interviewed dozens of Island students and parents along with Mercer Island School District (MISD) Superintendent Fred Rundle for her treatise.
Wallace was apprised of the MISD’s robust efforts to tackle achievement pressure from the late Dr. Suniya Luthar, a researcher who visited Mercer Island to present overviews and findings of High Achieving Schools Surveys.
Luthar identified Mercer Island as one of a few communities that was diligently trying to solve the widespread problem in their own back yards, and local psychologists pointed Wallace toward struggling families and those who were rising above the pressures in raising healthy achievers.
“She gave me a piece of advice that I really keep top of mind as I’m parenting my three kids. And her advice was minimize criticism and prioritize affection,” said Wallace, who raises her teens on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and is ultra-familiar with achievement culture.
Wallace added that Luthar further noted that students’ abodes should be “a place where their sense of self is never in question, where their value is inherent in who they are not based on what they achieve.”
Mercer Islanders provided myriad helpings of insightful information for Wallace to include in her book, which features an entire chapter with local input titled “Confronting Grind Culture.” During one of many conversations with one local mother whose family was identified as thriving despite the pressure, Wallace landed on the title of her book.
“She had some extraordinary advice. And so one of her pieces of advice was that she and her husband thought that their job was to take the kettle off the heat,” in other words, dampen the overwhelming pressure that their kids were facing everywhere they roamed, Wallace said.
Wallace further explored the mother’s path of assistance by adding: “She saw her role as helping her kids create a life, a balanced life, that they would not need drugs and alcohol to escape from.”
More than 100 Islanders signed up to view Wallace’s “Never Enough” webinar and parents attended a pair of Parent Circle Discussions hosted by MI Parent Edge on Nov. 9 and 15 at the Mercer Island Community and Event Center. At the gatherings, parents discussed strategies to create a balanced environment for their children.
Island parent Tessa Lowe, a paraeducator and drill team coach at Islander Middle School (IMS), watched Wallace’s webinar and listened to her audio book and came away with the following vital items to carry in her proverbial parenting toolkit:
“I think living in a high-achieving community, there are some drawbacks, and what was eye opening in Jennifer’s talk and also in the book was just the high risk of substance abuse and pressure that can cause long-term mental health issues,” said Lowe, whose children attend grades six and eight at IMS. “That’s not to say that we can’t have high expectations for our kids and we want them to do well, get the grades, but at the same time, to make sure they’re being seen for the kids that they are — not just as human doers, they’re human beings.”
One of Wallace’s main kernels of advice to parents to help their kids traverse a mentally and physically healthy track — and succeed in life now and in the future — is: “We want them to be achieving, but we want them to be ambitious for more than just this very narrow band of achievement that our culture seems to be obsessed with.”
Enjoying rest and recuperation after reaping success is an immense plus as well, Wallace added.