Thursday, January 13, 2011

"The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids" by Alexandra Robbins

If you have a college-bound teen in your house, then “The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids” (Hyperion, 2006) is a must-read for you. In this 448-page book, Alexandra Robbins delves into the lives of several high school students to disclose what parents need to know about the pressures kids are under today to get into prestigious colleges.

Robbins went back to her alma mater, Walt Whitman High School, and followed several students as they went through the college application process. She detailed their heavy schedules and included portions of their personal diaries and online discussions with friends. She talked about how much (actually, how little) sleep they got and how their interactions were with their friends and family.

The author followed the applications as they went through the hands of high school counselors and college administrators. She went into New York City pre-Kindergartens and revealed the shocking imbalance of supply and demand and the effect it has on parents bent on getting their youngsters into the right pre-K program. Finally, she spoke to students of other schools around the country to make sure the experiences were not based on one school or area.

Some of Robbins’ points include: the need for teens to get more sleep; the stress of having too many activities; and the dangers of being too focused on entrance to a school based on its name. She claims there are many excellent schools out there where the students are happier overall and have equal success in life with those who graduate from Ivy League schools. And she reveals the way statistics are twisted so that the top colleges stay on top of the charts year after year.

The research that went into this book is obvious, and the evidence to back her conclusions well-documented.

I picked up this book because I was amused by the picture. My ninth-grader balances school cross-country/track and travel softball as well as a few advanced courses. Missing from our picture is music: although we have a piano, we never had time for me to give her lessons and she lost interest. I thought she had enough activities and that she was happy and well-balanced.

One of the reasons I opted for public over Catholic school is I noticed how much pressure I thought many of the parents put on their children to be perfect on paper. Some of the kids would cry if they came home with a 99 on an exam. I was criticized for putting sports over academics. In the end, she came out in the top of her class with several scholarship offers from local Catholic schools. I turned them down and so far we are both happy with this decision. Reading this book clinched that for me.

While Robbins was focused on academics and school sports, I have been part of the world of travel softball as well, and could write a whole book on the politics of this sport. Girls now play four seasons per year, with games in indoor sports domes in the winter. Elite softball teams abound, promising college commitments to their top girls. We turned down the elite teams in favor of a small, local team that has talented girls who play for fun. Reading this book made me happier about that decision.

I am glad I read this book because it made me more aware of the dangers of putting too much on a kid’s plate and forcing them to live up to expectations that will not help them with their personal goals.

For the author’s website visit

To order from Amazon click here.

I obtained this book from my local public library and as of this writing have had no correspondence with the author.

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