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My Parents Are Pressuring Me to Get Perfect Grades
Q: This year I am a sophomore in high school and am taking every possible advanced class. I am also in a quite a few extracurricular activities (including math and science team, student goverment, honors society, etc.). Since middle school, I have always been on the honor roll, but I didn't make it this semester. I feel so pressured by my parents, yet they tell me they don't expect anything! I know they do! They were so angry with me when I didn't make honor roll. They expect so much from me. My mom and dad are divorced (my dad lives in a different state) and they only thing they can agree on is how I need to try harder! What can I tell them so they don't expect so much?
A: Your parents are certainly sending you mixed messages if they have told you that they don't expect "anything" of you academically and then show you anger when you miss honor roll for the first time since middle school. When parents behave like this, it can make a kid feel that the only time she is appreciated by her parents is when she gets high grades. This is the first time that their bright daughter was not an honor roll student. They are overreacting to your grades and have, unfortunately, made you feel horrible through their anger and insistence that you must try harder. They have not thought about the fact that you have challenged yourself academically by taking as many advanced courses as you could schedule. You have also involved yourself considerably in the extracurricular life of your school. You could have chosen to take easier courses and not participate in extracurricular activities, probably guaranteeing yourself better grades in the process. But that's not who you are -- you want to challenge yourself and not take the easy way out. I admire you for that choice and your desire to challenge yourself will always be an enormous asset in every aspect of your life.
Consider writing a letter from your heart to your parents about how they have made you feel. Don't make it a letter full of blame. Talk about how their unrealistic expectations cause you to feel lots of pressure and tension. Tell them that you don't want them to love you or be proud of you only when you live up to their expectations. It would be great if you could sit down with them together and have a calm talk about what you feel.
You have every right to be saddened and disappointed by your parents' insensitive reactions to your report card. I am sure that they think they are doing their "job" by telling you that you must work harder. Please write that letter to both of them, seek the help of your guidance counselor (and any other trusted adult family members), and continue to challenge yourself in your desire to learn and grow. Keep me updated if you'd like. I'd appreciate hearing how things are going.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.