And "best" now means only one thing. "I have found, both as a [former] student and in working with students, that young adults are pushed by parents and society to be 'the best,' " says Alison Malmon, founder of Active Minds, an organization devoted to improving campus mental health. "But 'the best' means only: get into the best college, excel once there, and get a high-paying job right after graduation."
Invasion of the Mind Snatchers
Talk to a college president and you're almost certainly bound to hear tales of the parents who call at 2:00 a.m. to protest Johnny's C in economics because it's going to damage his life. The thinking is, "If my son doesn't get this course, then he's not going to get the internship he wants, he's not going to get into the grad school he wants, and he's not going to get to become a judge." Too often, say administrators, that's how detailed the parents have gotten in their thinking about collecting "the right combination of stuff," foreclosing the possibility their child might by serendipity discover something that interests him.
Not long ago, Judith Shapiro, president of Barnard College, wrote an article in the New York Times urging parents to back off their desire to manage all aspects of their children's college lives. "One mother," she recounted, "accompanied her daughter to a meeting with her dean to discuss a supposedly independent research project." Then there was the father who called his daughter's career counselor so he could contact her prospective employers to extol her qualifications. And the one who took a year off to supervise the preparation of his daughter's admissions portfolio.
Shortly after the California psychologist Robert Epstein announced to his university students that he expected them to work hard and would hold them to high standards, he heard from a parenton official judicial stationeryasking how he could dare mistreat the young. Epstein eventually filed a complaint with the California commission on judicial misconduct, and the judge was censured for abusing his officebut not before he created havoc in the psychology department.
Excerpted from A Nation of Wimps by Hara Estroff Marano Copyright © 2008 by Hara Estroff Marano. Excerpted by permission of Broadway, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
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Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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