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The Importance of Holding Kids Back: How Toxic Achievement Culture Can Impact Mental Health


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Sometimes, Parents Need to Hold Their Kids Back for Success

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Parenting researcher Jennifer Breheny Wallace reveals that sometimes, the best way for parents to help their kids succeed is by holding them back. In her book “Never Enough: When Achievement Pressure Becomes Toxic — and What We Can Do About It,” Wallace explores the concept of a “toxic achievement culture” and how extreme pressure to achieve can negatively impact kids’ mental health.

The Research

Wallace conducted interviews with psychologists and collaborated with a researcher from the Harvard Graduate School of Education to survey 6,500 parents across the United States. She discovered that many parents felt their children were the ones pushing themselves to take challenging classes and participate in impressive extracurricular activities.

According to Wallace, the healthiest high-achievers she encountered were often held back by their parents. These parents didn’t encourage every opportunity but set limits and boundaries.

Environmental Influence

Wallace explains that children are usually influenced by their surroundings and the increasing competition to gain admission to top colleges. While the child may be driving their own ambition, they pick up on the social pressure from their peers.

Research shows that attitudes and behaviors can be contagious, and being surrounded by stressed-out classmates can worsen children and teens’ anxiety and mental well-being.

The Need to Slow Down

When this happens, parents should step in and insist that their child takes a break. They may need to enforce rules like getting enough sleep, spending downtime with family and friends, and taking regular breaks.

Lead by Example

It is crucial for parents to model healthier habits and relationships themselves. Wallace highlights the importance of not overwhelming their own schedules with work, getting sufficient sleep, and dedicating regular downtime to spend with their family, where interruptions for work-related tasks are not allowed.

According to Wallace, children notice when parents exhaust themselves trying to secure the best for them, creating a disconnect between words and actions.


In order to promote their child’s success, parents sometimes need to hold them back and establish boundaries in the face of a toxic achievement culture. By providing a balanced and healthy environment, parents can help their children thrive without succumbing to excessive pressure.

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