Be Best – Is It A Dangerous Directive?

Be Best – The Danger of Pressuring Kids Too Much

I’ve struggled with the words Be Best since the day the First Lady spoke them for the first time.

Her heart is definitely in the right place. But those two words as a ‘stand-alone’ phrase create an opportunity for failure.

I never want to Be Best. I want simply to be better today than I was yesterday.
Be Best is a dangerous phrase, indicating an expectation few can achieve.

I’ll never forget the pressure I suffered as a child.

My parents gave me five dollars for every “A” on my report card. In today’s dollars, that amounts to roughly $41 for each top grade. I lived in terror that I might not get all “A’s.”

That’s silly or greedy, you might say.

Actually, it’s neither. The money didn’t matter. They made me use it for school clothes and I usually got a new book and some chocolate out of it.

The real terror was that I’d be hurt again if I didn’t achieve those miserable “A’s.”

Be ‘THE’ Best – or – Be ‘YOUR’ Best

Very few people in life are “The” best at anything.

Telling a child to simply “Be Best” allows them to fill in the blanks.

I know. There was never a moment in my childhood when I felt “Good Enough.”

That isn’t the message our kids need to hear.

Here’s where the disagreement begins.

According to a 2013 Pew Research Center Survey, 64% of us don’t believe parents are putting enough pressure on their kids to achieve goals. I can’t disagree with that.

The thing is, far too many parents are putting enormous pressure on their kids. These parents pressure their kids to be the best in football to get that scholarship to the Big 10 school of their choice.

Kids are pressured to practice the piano for hours each day to get a music scholarship. The list is limitless and far too often the goal is not theirs. Instead, it’s what the parents have dreamed for them.

Consequences of Putting Too Much Pressure on our Kids

Unfortunately, we are raising our kids in a culture driven by performance and appearance. There is a constant environment of competition at school and pressure for perfectionism at home.

No one can feel successful under this much pressure.

I’m not arguing about having high expectations. We need to encourage our kids to be better today than they were yesterday. Each opportunity for improvement and learning is a critical moment in which you, the parent, can make or break your child’s ability to cope with the pressures of life.

It’s all about balance. While we need to encourage our kids to improve their performance on a daily basis, the pressure of demanding they Be Best can have damaging consequences:

Sleep Deprivation

Because my parents expected me to Be Best, and I do mean THE best, I could often be found during those teenage years at two or three in the morning, still studying while the rest of the family slept.

It would have been so easy for my parents to tell me my health was more important than the grades, but that didn’t happen. They had a position in the community that they felt required them to ensure that their kids were at the top of their classes. That kind of pressure, in addition to the abuse from my father, triggered another major psychological reaction to being pushed far too hard.

Attempted Suicide

Constantly pushing our kids beyond their capabilities is a ‘no-win’ situation for them. No matter how hard some kids try, they’ll never be able to meet such high expectations.

How much force do we exert to convince our kids to ‘Be Best?’

The day I took all the pills, I felt absolutely worthless. I’d worked diligently to ‘maintain a straight ‘A’ average, but it wasn’t enough. My parents didn’t believe me and they didn’t trust me. Nothing I did was ever good enough.

You can’t place your children in that position.

Anxiety

When we insist on our children ‘Being Best’ in life, we place far too much stress on them. The anxiety they feel can lead to depression, drug use, suicide, and multiple mental health issues.

I’ve suffered from sudden onset of the ‘fight or flight’ response since I was a child. This reaction and the accelerated heart rate and high blood pressure in response to stress or a perceived threat haven’t diminished over time.

What if your child can’t ‘Be Best?’ What’s going to happen to them if they disappoint you, or their teacher, or their coach, or…?

Self-Esteem

As a parent and grandparent, I cannot imagine a nation where everyone pushes their children to excel to the point it damages their self-esteem.

This one result of too much pressure on our children should make us all take a deep breath and think about what we really want for our kids.

I want my sons to strive to be better tomorrow than they were today. I don’t want them to compete with anyone else. The biggest job I want them to achieve is to compete with their own accomplishments day in and day out. By concentrating on improving themselves each day, they will become heroes in their eyes and in mine.

Exhaustion

Kids who are being pressured to ‘Be Best’ find themselves constantly struggling to reach unrealistic goals.

  • They stay up too late studying.
  • Relaxation is impossible because they constantly worry about meeting your expectations.
  • There is a higher risk of physical injury when they tough it out and ignore strains in sports.
  • Friendships suffer when children spend all their free time studying or practicing.
  • The ability to compromise is lost on those who never seem to measure up in the eyes of their parents.

Isolation

Kids who don’t think they’ll be able to excel are more apt to drop out of sports or music.

The fear of failure is so high that kids are unable to participate in the everyday activities kids are supposed to enjoy while they’re growing up.

No, one-hundred percent of their time and effort is dedicated to the unrealistic goal you’ve set for them.

I wish there was a way to describe how totally isolated I felt as a teenager. It was impossible to have fun and do the kinds of things most kids were doing without feeling a sense of shame for not putting all my effort into pleasing my parents.

Unpleasant Outcomes

There are so many things that can go wrong when you pressure your kids too much.

You might discover they’ve decided to cheat on the exam in order to meet your expectations for a perfect grade.  Most concerning are the kids who rebel and start using drugs to stay awake and study far past a normal bedtime. Or, what about the kid who takes off in his car after getting a lower grade than expected on an exam, and causes an accident.

The consequences of a ‘Be Best’ Campaign may create more problems than solutions for our children.

The primary goal for our children should be for a happy and healthy life. They were not created to become the mirror image of what we couldn’t achieve in our lives. They are very separate and amazing personalities.

We need to honor their goals and rejoice in every achievement, no matter how large or how small.

Click Here for a great list of Do’s and Don’ts for Parents

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