Parents say, ‘All I care about is that you’re happy,’ and then the kid walks in the door and the first question is, ‘How did you do on the math test?’ ” Ms. Levine said. “The giveaways are so unbelievably clear.”
Denise Pope, an education expert at Stanford, calls this gulf between what people say and what they mean “the hidden message of parenting.” Ms. Pope said that children are picking through the static to hear the overriding message that only the best will do — in grades, test scores, sports, art, college. “In everything,”
One solution, said Ms. Pope of Stanford, is “downtime, playtime, family time.” For parents, too. In other words: Take a leap of faith (well supported by science) that downtime will lead to a healthier perspective.
I believe the challenge for parents is to want the best for your child, but not for your child to be the best. Reading for pleasure could be one of the most rewarding activities to put into “downtime” and just might be an antidote to the exorbitant expectation to succeed that children suffer from. Reading fiction builds empathy and compassion for the self and others. The best of stories introduce us to the one character we might recognize, but are not always eager to know better, ourselves.
Reading fiction gives a person the opportunity to know who they are and discover what is of importance. This is what will help children be their best selves become free from the thankless and unattainable goal of being the best.