On January 20, 2014, in a blog post titled Academic Ability ≠ College Success, I wrote about struggling young man named Evan. “Evan” was based on a real person (although his name was changed for privacy). After I posted the piece, I met with Evan and asked if he would like to read it, and we began discussing the possibility that Evan might like to write for the blog in his own voice. His hope is to help parents understand that there is more to guiding adolescents than getting them into great colleges.
Dr. Deuter: You’re out of school after completing three semesters. Can you describe how you feel about your current situation?
Evan: It’s really quite hard to describe how it feels. During my last semester at school (Top 20 University in the US), last fall, I started off pretty strong; I attended all my classes, was prompt in doing homework, studied hard, and was doing quite well. Then after the first wave of midterms I slowly started to lose motivation and drive. I found myself skipping classes, my homework started to slide - not even turning it in some weeks, and studying became a thoughtless action, just open the book and read a couple of paragraphs, lose focus, reread the same paragraphs, lose focus, reread, etc... I cared really deeply about how I did in school but the care and drive to do well just tapered off to the point of nonexistence. And when I didn’t do well because I didn’t care or try, I gave up even more. It was a downward spiral and nothing stopped it.
Dr. Deuter: Do you believe you were prepared for college?
Evan: I had graduated high school as an A student from a top tier prep school, varsity soccer team captain, Eagle Scout, extracurriculars by the handful, 5’s on my AP’s, I was a sure success for college. But I fell and fell hard. I honestly did not expect this to happen, but it did reveal some glaring problems, most notably with how I was raised. My parents are Tiger Parents, through and through.
Dr. Deuter: “Tiger Parenting,” as I understand the term, means very strict oversight with a heavy focus on academic success. Is that what you mean? And what was wrong with that type of parenting, for you?
Evan: Yes, strict and big on academics is what I mean. There wasn’t one part of my upbringing that my parents didn’t have a direct hand in, especially in middle and high school. In middle school, I had just one thing on my mind and was told, encouraged, and mandated to do one thing: do well enough to get into a good high school. Then in high school, the ante got upped. I now had to do very well to get into a good college, establish a good resume for colleges, maintain and go far in all of my extracurricular activities, and I had to do all of this to the utmost level because that’s what was expected of me. My parents were very, very strict about this, to the point where it’s all the mattered in my life. It worked, I got into my number one choice school, a very good school, but even when I applied I felt a slight emptiness to myself, like I was just a robot who was programmed everyday by my parents. And then when I got to college, I stopped getting programmed. I was told that I was free and had to make decisions for myself, and I thusly fell apart. I had this hollowness, this lack of drive and motivation.
Dr. Deuter: What has been happening since you came home from college?
Evan: I was not doing well in school and am at home now for this semester. My parents have, in my eyes, reverted to their high school way of raising me, which is the worst thing they could do, and things have become rather tense. There are other exacerbating factors in the equation, but nonetheless it is tense between me and my parents. The part that gets me though is that they act like this entire situation doesn’t have an effect on me, like I just am okay with it. I am not at all. In fact I’m horribly disgusted with myself for letting it happen and am furious with myself. And yet they still, day in, day out, berate me nonstop, like it’s going to all of a sudden spark that change in me. Well it isn’t going to, just like it didn’t for all of those years before. I realize how shitty of a situation I’m in and every single second of the day I’m thinking about it, my future, and how I’m going to get out of it. It’s horrifying every day, having that sense of impending doom creep up on you.
Dr. Deuter: It sounds a little like you’re blaming your parents.
Evan: That may have come off a bit ranty and rather angry, but it’s how I honestly feel. My parents just followed a “Tiger” philosophy, but I’m a person. Parents need to know their children and know what motivates and drives them and parent them in a way so that they have the best chance of success in life and have the best chance of succeeding on their own. My parents did not do that and now the frustrations on both of our ends are creating a rather explosive relationship between us.
Dr. Deuter: Do you think your parents can help you turn things around now?
Evan: I think the solution of my situation is rather simple: let me figure out what drives myself and force myself to grow up and mature. Yes it means, I will stumble and I may need advice or some help. No it does not mean you should berate me and “Parasite Parent” (the elite level of helicopter parenting) me. Parents, especially my parents, need to try to understand how I think and work and what drives me, and if parents genuinely don’t know, then the parents need to assess their relationship with their children and figure out where it went wrong or why they don’t understand their children and work towards an understanding. Then the parents will be able to best guide their children in a successful direction. If not, overparenting will only cause tension and at worst could cause the ruin of the relationship between parent and child, as anger towards the other festers inside of each side. Let me fall, but be there to guide me and give advice. Every fall helps me build up the strength to walk and walk strong in the best direction of my life.
Dr. Deuter is a psychiatrist who specializes in the care of emerging adults.