Getting good grades, playing sports and participating in school clubs are all part of the high school experience. But what happens when a teenager's need to be at the top of the class becomes a perfectionist workaholism? Author Alexandra Robbins reports on the disturbing rise of overachiever culture in The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids.
Robbins' compelling investigative journalism traces a year in the lives of several overachieving teens at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Maryland, a public high school often touted as one of the best in the nation. These are teens who skip lunch to squeeze in one more Advanced Placement class, who continue to play competitive sports while seriously injured, and whose extreme stress leads to unnaturally thinning hair, panic attacks and eating disorders. Increasingly, the author shows, these teens are becoming the norm rather than the exception.
Robbins also explores the repercussions of an overachiever culture, from a spike in suicide rates among teens, chronic sleep deprivation, and abuse of Adderall and Ritalin by non-ADD teens to rampant cheating, loss of childhood, and academic competition starting as early as preschool. She finds irony in today's hypertesting education systems that compromise the quality of education and in helicopter parents, so named for hovering over their children, who leave students so sheltered that they lack social skills and initiative.
The author concludes this eye-opener with suggestions for high schools, colleges, counselors, parents and students alike on ways to break the addictive, abusive cycle of extreme perfectionism. Angela Leeper is an educational consultant and freelance writer in Wake Forest, North Carolina.