The Pressure of Perfection

by L

Perfectionism and depression at college: will the helicopter parenting pendulum swing back the other way?

Suicide on Campus and the Pressure of Perfection

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112 thoughts on “The Pressure of Perfection

  1. She chose math, envisioning a teaching career.

    Then why not go to directional State U and save yourself all that effort and expense? Or, by teacher did they mean professor? Otherwise I can’t see the point of hyper intense education unless you want a hyper intense career.

  2. It is well known that physicians (and dentists) have a high suicide rate. I have often heard that they attempt at the same rate as the general population, but are more likely to complete their attempt (perhaps related to the fact that they know what will work and not work). I wonder about the college high-achievers – if they are not more suicidal than their less-driven counterparts, they are perhaps more likely to choose lethal means/circumstances.

  3. Harvard 11.8 per 100k, MIT 10.17 per 100k. WPI 1 per 100k and for BC 1 suicide in 30 years.

  4. Rhett – she had been raised with the expectation that she would attend a top school. I think she would have felt like a failure if she had gone to just an everyday university.

    I look at instagram and think my friends/aquaintences are having more fun than I am, but I take it with a grain of salt and move on. I can’t imagine the pressure and anxiety that these girls feel to be so perfect.

  5. A few things concern me:

    1. Kids, even in their early years, aren’t allowed to face opportunities for failure or to make mistakes because with so much zero tolerance the failure/mistakes could be permanently damaging.

    2. Competition for many opportunities is fierce and we encourage the kids to do what it takes and play it safe to keep themselves in the running, which often means avoiding risks.

    3. Kids are not helped enough to learn balance of time/effort/money vs the reward or outcome you reap for it. (Rhett is extremely good at this.)

    4. Kids are not schooled in the “game face” vs how someone really feels. Our society places a value on looking happy, successful, etc. Yes, people are always posting all the positive stuff on social media or turning their conversation to their successes, but that is their own self promotion. They aren’t going to post that they forgot to turn their paper in on time and it dropped their grade 20% or that the “cool intership” was really a lot of grunt work no one else wanted to do.

    This means they are often facing the world with unrealistic expectations of what they will experience and feel.

  6. Anonymous, with the caveat that I have no professional qualifications in this area and speak only from my personal experience as a perfectionist who has struggled with this kind of angst at that sort of school:

    – Get off campus and meet older people. Find a way to meet and spend time with people over 70, whether it’s grandparents or older relatives, a hobby group, a boss, or a volunteer opportunity (as long as it’s with happy older people). They have perspective that is impossible to get from fellow students, and often have lived through things far worse than what your kid faces, so the kid will know it is possible to survive and thrive.

    – Babysit or volunteer in a preschool. This also offers some perspective, although of course it isn’t a good idea if you’re suicidal or seriously depressed at the time! I found it helpful when I was dealing with routine stress.

    – Consider transferring or taking a break. If all the student needs is to get out of the pressure cooker, get out of the pressure cooker.

    Make sure your kid knows that your love is not conditional on graduation, a corner office, or a glamorous career, by saying it explicitly. If your kid can’t handle the stress of their academic program, it rarely gets easier in the sort of jobs that follow from an intense academic program. Change what you need to change now before you send a stressed kid into med school and a surgical residency.

  7. Rhett – she had been raised with the expectation that she would attend a top school.

    I think it’s important to examine why she was raised to believe that was important.

  8. I worry about perfectionism with DD – this is a good reminder that I need to explicitly tell her we don’t expect her to be perfect and that the world won’t end if she gets a B.

  9. I’ll add to Sky’s comment that one of my good young adult friendships was with an 80-something widow I met while working in the church nursery. She cuddled fussy babies and I chased and changed them. She invited me to her house for lunch and I got to tell her about my life and hear about hers. She modeled being a good listener for me and I rarely heard about aches and pains. She also understood when I admitted I couldn’t understand a particular experience.

    In short, I agree with Sky.

    I wonder how much of the pressure/helicopter parenting has to do with smaller families. My Asian friends, especially only Chinese children, experience enormous pressure. This probably has to do with both culture and family size.

  10. Ada – I have seen that before and my experience would agree with it. As a parent, I think about all the things I or my friends did before age 21 that would now be a permanent black blotch if my child did that now. But, I learned about decision making and consequences as well as the relationship between expectations and happiness.

  11. I think I have 2 -3 more years until the pressure starts for my DD, but we got a glimpse this year during a testing period for an honors math class. It was fascinating, and predictable to see the reaction of certain parents when their kids were not accepted into the class.

    My friends with HS kids in my town have told me about girls cutting their arms. I’ve the same story at least three times now in different grades so there is definitely a lot of pressure in HS here. We’ve had two recent grads from our HS die in college from an overdose.
    There is so much pressure on so many of these kids from a very young age to succeed.

  12. Anonymous – share stories from your life about things that did not go as planned/were not perfect and how you handled them – well or otherwise. Let your child know that you know she will not always be perfect and that is OK.

    I see “perfect” people held up as role models all the time. No – give me someone who is human, does the best they can, doesn’t always have things go well and still perseveres. That’s someone to admire.

  13. Lauren’s comment makes me wonder to what extent pressure on kids varies by geography. A person I talked to who did undergrad at Reed College (laid back yet quality liberal arts college here) and graduate work at Harvard didn’t like the “image” culture at Harvard at all.

    I’ll paste a quote and a link to an article, because the pressure in this article is mostly UMC. “A second issue concerns the geographic generalizability of problems among affluent youth. Extant evidence of modest inverse links between family wealth and positive adolescent outcomes (i.e., subjective happiness and closeness to parents) has derived from cross-national samples (Csikszentmihalyi & Schneider, 2000; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999). On the other hand, the studies showing elevations in negative outcomes—greater psychopathology as compared with normative samples—were conducted in Northeastern suburbs (e.g., Luthar & Becker, 2002; Luthar & D’Avanzo, 1999). It is plausible that regions of the country vary in the degree to which affluence implies highly stressful, competitive lifestyles and, thus, increased vulnerability to symptoms. In a similar vein, it is not clear whether the problems suggested represent a largely suburban phenomenon or might generalize to high-SES children in large cities.” from
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1950124/

  14. I’m reading this right now am and only about a third of the way through, but it talks about the same problems.

    http://www.amazon.com/The-Price-Privilege-Generation-Disconnected/dp/006059585X

    Apparently affluent teens are experiencing unprecedented rates of depression, anxiety and drug abuse. The author thinks that this pressure to constantly achieve, all of the activities and helicopter parenting, plus the pressure to be popular and good looking is preventing kids from being independent (not following the normal course of independence as they age because their parents do too much for them/not allowing them to make decisions for themselves when they are developmentally ready to do so) and developing personalities that can withstand bumps in the road. It’s an interesting read.

  15. “Kids, even in their early years, aren’t allowed to face opportunities for failure or to make mistakes because with so much zero tolerance the failure/mistakes could be permanently damaging.”

    Yeah, that.

    Which leads me to the Cogmed update: it has been fantastic. We’ll see if it helps with actual mental performance at school, but the maturity and approach to the work have both shot through the roof. And I think it comes from this very point. The program is designed to force failure and frustration — as soon as the kid succeeds at one level a few times, the program kicks it up to the next level until they fail too much, and it steps down again. At first, DD did her typical avoidance approach, i.e., procrastinating getting going, then whizzing through as fast as possible to get it done, and getting visibly frustrated/worked up at every fail. But with patience and advice and support (mostly from the coach — as if she’d listen to it from me!), she slowly learned to focus more when it got hard instead of veering away, and to keep cracking at it until she gets there, and to take a break and get her emotions under control when she is getting frustrated. Really, it’s like dog training for kids — the program has “atta girls” built in when she does something good, it forces a break when she is messing up too many in a row, and there are daily incentives both built into the program (a video game they can play after) and at the parental level (they tell us to come up with “treats” for daily/weekly success) — so every day, she gets positive reinforcement just for sticking with it. And the result is that I am now seeing all of that persistence and maturity that I really had never seen in her before. Totally not what I expected (I was about half convinced it was a crock, and half convinced it might help with specific mental gaps, like audio processing). And totally revelatory — I don’t know whether it is working on those mental gaps at all, but I honestly no longer care, because she seems to be learning something I think is far more valuable. Freaking awesome.

    Which comes back to these kids: the only way to “cure” a fear of failure is to actually fail and have it not be the end of the world. For myself, I did it by forcing myself to take (non-academic) classes in things that I *knew* I would be horrible at but that seemed fun, like pottery. For these kids, you’d hope you could nip it in the bud by encouraging them to try different things and applauding the effort and treating the flops as totally beside the point and finding things to laugh together at. But if they’re already in a pressure cooker, I think all you can do is let them know that you will back them no matter what — that it’s ok to change major, or transfer, or drop out and get a job while figuring things out, whatever they need to stay sane and find their way through. Life isn’t supposed to be one big slog of miserable achievement to the grave.

  16. It seems that ssk and I have the same kid. I’ve spoken about my frustration with this issue before. This is the only thing that DS and I butt heads over. I tell him to take it easy, that where he goes to college doesn’t matter. He regularly ignores me and piles on the AP classes. He has a larege group of friends, but only compares himself to the top 2.

    I can’t complain too much because I was the same way when I was his age. However, it seems that the competition and expectations have really increased since I was in school. It’s not sustainable.

  17. I see “perfect” people held up as role models all the time. No – give me someone who is human, does the best they can, doesn’t always have things go well and still perseveres. That’s someone to admire.

    I’m reading a Civil War book focused right around February, 1862 on Grant and his push to capture Forts Henry and Donelson. I really love Grant more than ever. About a decade earlier, he’d chosen to resign from the Army as a captain rather than face some sort of trial for drunkenness. None of his businesses thereafter had gone very well, but he just kept at it, joking that avoiding poverty was a big motivator. Now he was a newly appointed one-star, and he was still battling some alcoholic tendencies (the degree to which is up for debate), his boss thought he was incompetent and was eager to replace him…

  18. WCE, I think some of the pressure might come from the parents that are already successful, OR make enormous sacrifices to make sure their kids will be successful. My parents were so excited that I tested into a free public HS for gifted kids. I don’t remember any additional pressure from them to succeed. The pressure came from me, or my peers. I met plenty of kids that had parents that would punish them if they didn’t receive a 100 on a test. I didn’t grow up with kids like this, but when I met many kids with parents like this in HS. It was a sea of Amy Chua type parents, but they came from first generation immigrant families – Greek, Korean, and Chinese. There were also kids with wealthier parents from the upper east or west side that expected their kids would go to a great college.

    The problem in my current town is that many of the parents live here primarily for the schools. The focus becomes all about how the child is doing in school, and that definitely creates pressure. I drive through two really high pressure school districts to get to CoC/Mooshi town. We chose to buy a home in this district because it is more laid back. It is not as crazy as some other towns, but I learned that this county is filled with people that pay the high taxes for the schools, and they want their kids to be successful in school.

  19. LfB – Glad cogmed is working for your DD. When my DD did it last summer, it took a few weeks into school for me see the changes. DD saw/felt them much sooner. Of all the things we have done to “help” her, cogmed returned the most results. It is pricey, but I’d pay it again in a heart beat for the results.

  20. Rhett – she had been raised with the expectation that she would attend a top school.

    I think it’s important to examine why she was raised to believe that was important.

    If a child is academically gifted, it seems only natural that parents would want her to attend a top school where she could “reach her potential”.  Of course, that attitude is wrong when taken to the extreme.

  21. Yes, this extreme pressure is a concern for many of us, but here’s additional commentary on the point that “the pressure in this article is mostly UMC” and represents only a small subset of the population.

    The Myth of the Overstressed American Teen

    … there is yawning gap between the media meme of the overstressed American teen and the reality. … overscheduling may indeed be a problem among “an ambitious, privileged subset of Americans.” The mischief inevitably comes when the concerns of the worried well-off and privileged influence parenting and educational practice for the less well-off. Most children, particularly those from low-income families, are non-participants in the academic and extracurricular arms race.

    While I have no doubt that for some families, the pressure on kids to achieve and perform are real and a legitimate source of anxiety, the far greater concern is almost certainly the undertaxed American child, who lacks access to rigorous academic coursework, the incentive and opportunities to participate in organized activities, or both….

  22. If a child is academically gifted, it seems only natural that parents would want her to attend a top school where she could “reach her potential”.

    Her potential as a middle school math teacher? I guess I’m hung up on the academic goal being so independent of the intended career goals.

  23. “Mahoney and his colleagues calculated just how much time kids spend at sports games and practices, faith-based activities, doing volunteer work, and meeting the demands of afterschool programs and other obligations. The average was about five hours per week.”

    So that would seem to exclude time doing the actual schoolwork, which IME is the biggest time-suck and stressor of them all.

    Bigger-picture, yeah, it’s definitely a first-world problem. But we’re discussing an article in a first-world publication about first-world kids killing themselves over the pressure to succeed at their first-world colleges. The fact that this is reality for only the UMC doesn’t make it any less real for that demographic. Which, ahem, includes many of us here.

    But, ok, from the perspective of the disadvantaged: the NYT article is about the brass ring. Everything that US News article focuses on is designed to give the non-UMC kids a better chance at getting in to one of these top schools — more parental involvement, more extra-curriculars, more demanding academics. Because that “good education” is supposed to be what gives you the skills and connections to get that good job and pull yourself out of poverty. But what happens after they get that Ivy admission letter? If the best-educated, best-prepared UMC kids in the country are disproportionately cracking under the pressure, what hope do the disadvantaged ones have? And doesn’t that say something about the value of that brass ring, about what it seems to take to succeed in our current society?

  24. I have a cousin who committed suicide in his 20s. In June, a former boss of mine who became a good friend took his life due to career-related pressures. So suicide is not an abstract concept to me that happens to other people. Although both my kids appear to be doing great, due to the history of anxiety in a number of people in the extended family, I talk about mental health a lot, and check in with both kids a lot on stress levels, what they’re doing to manage it, what things they need to change, etc. We discuss how adequate sleep is non-negotiable for managing sleep, how much regular exercise and healthy diet helps. My daughter found not being able to get away from school/dorm life stressful. (She didn’t come home between first week of August and Thanksgiving, and had no car). So for my son, we will encourage him strongly to stay within 1/2 day drive of home so he can get a break when he wants it. For more extroverted kids, that may not be an issue at all. I know suicide is very rare and that my kids are happy and well-adjusted, but every time I read about another one among college students, I’ll admit that it confirms my concerns.

    Anon at the top, I would recommend that you talk, a lot, about your foremost concern that she create a lifestyle that is balanced and sustainable. No amount of prestige from X University can make up for being miserable in your own skin day after unrelenting day. She needs to hear, as often as you can work it in, that her grades and other successes are nice, but don’t define her, and aren’t the reasons you love her or are proud of her. All of our kids need to be able to separate their GPA or their rank in whatever from who they are as a person. And if there are people that undermine that message, you need to limit exposure to your daughter if you think she’s vulnerable.

  25. We have an interesting dynamic in our house. DH follows a laid back parenting style, whereas I am the homework enforcer. Both my kids show no desire for perfectionism of any kind. Good enough and they will be delighted with themselves. Our area is laid back, but I know that varies among individual families and the personality of the kids themselves. Also, the families around us have on average three kids and there is grandparental involvement which puts less of a focus on intense individual success and more of overall family well being.

  26. This is like a lead balloon in this conversation, but apparently there is a one day sale on the 5 qt instapot at Amazon down to $99, if someone was interested. I’ll be back later re the actual topic.

  27. I find it interesting to read the comments here asking “where did she get the pressure to attend a top school?” This is the place where someone made a comment a few years ago that has stuck with me. The poster was talking about her frustration with her daughter not doing well enough in high school and capped it off with “she doesn’t understand what’s at stake.”

    It’s pretty obvious where ghe pressure is coming from for most of these UMC kids.

  28. Louise I see the same dynamic around here. There are 3 or 4 kids in each family and even if the kids are all going to private school, the aim seems to be getting into Georgia or Georgia Tech, not an Ivy.

  29. From the Tiger Parenting perspective, do you see any softening in parental expectations as their kids approach college age and it becomes clear that although their children are above average, that they are not likely to get in to an Ivy? From my sample size of 1, I have seen a return to realism on the part of the parent. In my social circle, people are much more interested in state flagships.

  30. Okay, you all know who I am and I’m not kidding any regular by being anon, but it makes me feel like it’s harder to track me, so indulge me. (After a vacation, it’s nice to be back.)

    This is a timely article for me, and I it has caused me to reconsider my behavior.

    My kid is entering 8th grade. He has been red-shirted for a year already. I insist he graduate from high school, on time. I’ve no hopes for Harvard or indeed any community college. I insist that he finish 8th grade this year because I honestly believe that my kid will discover the allures of sex and life beyond high school and independence long before he graduates on a five or six-year high school plan. Quite simply, my kid is going to graduate high school on time if I have to move to the most lax school district in the country to do it. (Recommendations welcomed.) Otherwise, I fear he won’t do it.

    Well, this article made me think of the pressure that my kid’s school and I are putting on him to perform well this year (first semester only) and do above embarrassing on the high school entrance test that everyone has to take where we live.

    Said succinctly (which is not a quality with which I am associated), I and the school need to back off, big time. Thanks, L for the reminder.

  31. Her potential as a middle school math teacher? I guess I’m hung up on the academic goal being so independent of the intended career goals.

    Going a little off topic, this is a great example of the fundamental issue with our educational system. We don’t value teaching as a career. Someone who wants to be a teacher is considered to be wasting her potential.

  32. Atlanta Mom, I saw Madeline Levine speak about this book earlier this year. She was full of herself, but I got so much useful information in one evening. I already tried to incorporate some of her tips about how I speak to my daughter when I see her at the end of a school day etc.

  33. It’s pretty obvious where ghe pressure is coming from for most of these UMC kids.

    I agree.

  34. DD – I agree with you. My high school math teacher had a PhD in math from Stanford. He was brilliant, and all of us who had him benefitted from the rigor of his education. It wasn’t a waste at all, in the cost benefit of the times. But if a student is paying for the education himself today, and paying back loans on a teacher’s salary, the analysis is different. I do support some measure of debt forgiveness for people in public service careers so that we can have more highly educated teachers.

  35. Someone who wants to be a teacher is considered to be wasting her potential.

    It’s not about wasting one’s potential, it’s about attaining one’s goals without ruinous effort or expense. If you want to be a tenured professor doing groundbreaking research, an elite school is vitally important. If you want to be the world’s best middle school math teacher, an elite school is far less important.

  36. My high school math teacher had a PhD in math from Stanford. He was brilliant, and all of us who had him benefitted from the rigor of his education.

    Is it more rigorous than say UT Austin or UW Madison? Isn’t the curriculum at most schools, even the text books, fairly standard above a certain level?

  37. “It’s pretty obvious where ghe pressure is coming from for most of these UMC kids.

    I agree.”

    Second. Very good point, DD.

  38. ” Isn’t the curriculum at most schools, even the text books, fairly standard above a certain level?”

    I think so, but the grading criteria/spread/curve will vary.

  39. I am compelled to point out that “debt forgiveness in public service careers” is just another example of backdoor increased costs for government. If our teachers are worth paying more, let’s pay them more upfront. Let’s not make future teacher salaries/ROI on teacher education subject to a future bureaucracy and future costs that depend on future tax policy and loan choices. Surely people besides me have noticed the exodus of people from formerly prosperous states with strong government employee unions/pensions to states with lower costs of government.

    Also, many of the people who could be great teachers (or physicians) don’t want to live where great teachers and physicians are most needed, if “reduced inequality” is truly a social goal. How much would it cost to get Westchester-quality teachers (or physicians) to move to South Dakota Indian reservations or Appalachia?

    See data on physicians per capita. (Hint: Massachusetts ranks first.)
    http://www.census.gov/statab/ranks/rank18.html

  40. Rhett, I don’t disagree that he could have been a brilliant teacher out of UT. His curriculum was his own. He did not believe they make textbooks challenging enough anymore (this was early 80s), so we had no books. He taught, we took notes, and he copied problems from books from the late 1800s and early 1900s that we did for homework and quizzes. If he thought you were not challenged, you got different problems or quizzes than the rest of the class. He sprinkled lots of life wisdom in with his lectures, and he had the highest expectations for our personal character. So yes, he would have been his very unique self if he had gone to another rigorous school. But I do think the PhD in math, rather than BS in education from directional state U made a tremendous difference.

  41. But I do think the PhD in math, rather than BS in education from directional state U made a tremendous difference.

    So, for our study, you would expect a direct correlation between terminal degree in relevant field and pedagogical effectiveness? My guess is we would find the correlation very weak.

  42. WCE – I agree completely. I just think across the board pay increases for teachers are unlikely, because there is a not insignificant number of taxpayers who question the quality of those currently in those roles. I think debt forgiveness could attract some to the field who would not currently consider teaching as an option because of the relatively less attractive pay. Higher salaries in the field with no backdoor incentives would be preferable.

  43. Rhett, I think it depends on the subject matter. For all elementary subjects and probably most if not all middle school subjects, I would agree that there’s no correlation. For calculus, physics, chemistry, and some other subjects (debate? CS?), I think you would see a correlation. An in depth knowledge of those subjects doesn’t guarantee you can teach, but having great classroom decoration and management skills doesn’t guarantee you can correctly impart knowledge in technical fields. I say this having seen my older child taught difficult courses by ridiculously under-qualified teachers after having a teacher fired or quit right after the school year started.

  44. “It’s pretty obvious where ghe pressure is coming from for most of these UMC kids.”

    We all agree that excessive pressure is bad, but I wonder if you would encourage your child to aim for a top college if he was academically gifted, he was at least partially interested in a related career path (maybe even teaching), and you could easily afford it?

    Many private schools employ teachers with advanced degrees from elite colleges. Even if there is not a direct correlation between compensation and cost of college degree, many people consider the benefits of an elite degree to be worth it. At the same time, taking on burdensome student debt doesn’t make sense.

  45. “Surely people besides me have noticed the exodus of people from formerly prosperous states with strong government employee unions/pensions to states with lower costs of government.”

    This from WCE, the queen of correlation does not equal causation? :-) And this explains the strong market in NYC and DC, because taxes and the regulatory environment are so reasonable there?

    You will not be surprised that I would posit a different causal path, namely, that people go where the jobs are. And that the existing regulatory superstructure of unions/now-overwhelming pension obligations are a remnant of “where the jobs used to be” — that is, in the cities in the north and rust belt. And that those systems developed partly because there was sufficient abuse 100 years ago that there was a strong demand for government intervention (e.g., Upton Sinclair), and partly because people can be pretty generous with taxes and benefits when there’s plenty to go around, and partly because bureaucracies only ever get bigger, not smaller. In short, the jobs come first, and the giant regulatory superstructure follows; people are not running from high taxes (otherwise, NY and CA would be wastelands) as much as they are running toward job opportunities.

  46. All of my friends who are teachers from college are really smart, but most of them came from wealthy families so no student loans. My sister has a good friend from college who went to Harvard for her Masters in Education, taught for two years and then became a stay at home mom. Her family just wanted her to go to Harvard for grad school even though it was just to teach kindergarten.

  47. I would encourage my child to aim for a top college if (s)he were academically gifted, was interested in a related career path and it were affordable. I wonder if any of the top schools will choose to become more purely merit-based, with State U or below level costs even for UMC parents. Does anyone know if this is how other countries top schools operate?

  48. LfB, I don’t know much about NY, but middle class families have been exiting California at high rates for a long time… I know tons of them, and my relatives in Denver feel overrun by former Californians. I agree that people are moving TOWARD middle class jobs, and I believe that the growth of the federal government and associated regulation has made the DC area boom.

    What I’m not sure of is why the middle class jobs appear where they do and how much the growth in NY and CA reflects immigration from other countries vs. immigration from other states, especially outside the UMC.

    Your points are good ones. Why do you think the Rust Belt can’t recover economically, despite its strong infrastructure?

  49. What guidance I’ve given to DS regarding colleges has been task-based in nature (i.e. time to start college tours–where do you want to visit?, time to take SAT prep class–are these dates good for you?).

    Where he goes to school is his choice, though I dislike his top choice (not because it’s a bad school, but because it has a reputation for being incredibly competitive/cut-throat).

  50. WCE, what strong infrastructure in the rust belt? It seems pretty run down to me.

  51. I think laura is correct. We have a few friends with recent college grads, and they all seemed to have settled in NY, LA, San Fran, Austin and DC. Even though it is expensive, they want to be in these cities for jobs in finance, film, and tech.

    I was in Baltimore for one night (or I would have called!!) last week. I can’t imagine any of these recent college grads trying to re locate to Baltimore unless they already have family, or a job offer.

    We walked a lot in one weekend because our friends wanted us to see as much as possible. I had traveled to Baltimore many times, but it was always to the touristy area right near the inner harbor.
    Baltimore would need lots of 20 somethings. Also, young married couples would have to want to stay in these neighborhoods after they have kids. It is a pattern that has helped to clean up Jersey City, and large parts of NYC. I find it unbelievable to see so many people with baby strollers in Jersey City, but the demand and high prices pushed them out of Hoboken or Brooklyn.

    There are streets and neighborhoods in NYC in several boroughs that used to be completely unsafe. Many families and 20 somethings are now having bidding wars over apartments in what were recently streets filled with drug dealers. I saw the same thing in DC when I was there last year. Places such as U st/14th street etc – neighborhoods that were untouchable for many years.

  52. PTM, there are lots of school buildings. Utility grids already exist, including gas, electricity, water and sewer. Don’t all those things have to be built in new developments in Florida or Texas? This may tie back into the US preference for “new” rather than “redone” in buildings, etc. compared to Europe. I also don’t know how concern about liability for previous industrial pollution makes companies reluctant to build on previously occupied sites.

  53. WCE,

    Isn’t the population of the midwest and great plains declining (relative to the rest of the country) regardless of a states politics?

  54. there are lots of school buildings. Utility grids already exist, including gas, electricity, water and sewer.

    Is upgrading and maintaining cheaper than building new? I bet new is cheaper.

  55. “Define encourage.”

    Only positive encouragement, however you define that. Encourage your kid to do his best without checking grades obsessively, for example. Research colleges sufficiently to alert your kid about some that would be a good fit, as another example.

    NYC population growth is fueled by international immigrants:
    Indeed, while data now show the city at a record of nearly 8.5 million people, with the greater metro area at about 20.1 million, largest in the nation, over the last four years, domestic migration – people relocating within the U.S. – was a net loss of about 529,000 people, while the area gained about 600,000 international immigrants.

  56. Rhett, I don’t know where it’s cheaper to build and with the exception of Illinois (Chicago), I think the Midwest is experiencing relative population decline. (As is New York…) Perhaps settlement patterns are what they are because of climate- the Upper Midwest was settled by northern Europeans (similar climate) and now immigrants (many of them Hispanic) prefer the southwest.

    It’s definitely a long-term water question, though.

  57. @WCE — Honestly, I don’t know — I think there are a lot of people with a lot more knowledge/experience than me trying to figure that out. I think the biggest issue is the mismatch between the existing infrastructure and the current opportunities. Two anecdata:

    Steel plants: who wants a 50-yr-old steel mill, when it’s still cheaper to make steel in Asia? A steel mill won’t help you make wafers, or do biomedical research, or [insert hot area of economy here]. In some ways, that heavy manufacturing investment is just a sunk cost that doesn’t add current value.

    OTOH: there is a TON of growth now in basic chemicals manufacture, which had been almost 100% offshored decades ago. Why? Those industries use natural gas as a feedstock, and natural gas prices have dropped so much that it is now more cost-effective to manufacture it here in the US. But those plants have historically been located where all the sources were and where the pipelines all run to: the Gulf Coast. So that’s where the growth is.

  58. “I do support some measure of debt forgiveness for people in public service careers so that we can have more highly educated teachers.”

    We have that already, but it doesn’t seem to be improving teacher quality. In fact, schools of education are money makers with low standards. Loan forgiveness programs only give mediocre colleges the fuel to grow tuition rates.

  59. Perhaps settlement patterns are what they are because of climate

    I think so. When basically the only climate control technology we had was heat and warm clothes, you lived where it was cold and you could stay warm. Not nearly the same population in Texas, Nevada, AZ or FL, without AC – those people would live back in Rochester, Detroit, etc. But, with AC people prefer to live where it’s warmer.

  60. WCE, I’m not trying to start an argument– really. You know I adore you. As I understand from my child and an adult for sever wonderful years in Fred’s territory, the old school buildings can’t handle the rewiring for internet or have been neglected. The highways can’t be easily widened. The buildings were designed for something else.

    Heck, though. Just look at Rochester, or Cleveland or Buffalo for some wonderfully redeveloped areas. But the loss of their big companies or manufacturing plants is still evident.

  61. The is a problem with transportation infrastructure in some of the states/cities that people want to live in now. We’ve heard from saac and PTM about the terrible traffic in different parts of Florida. I’ve had to travel a few times to Texas and Florida for work/pleasure in the last 18 months. The traffic is terrible, and there are very few (or no)alternates to the car.

  62. LfB, I completely agree about basic chemicals manufacture- the lack of jobs in that area put me where I am after college. But very few people work in basic chemicals manufacture- it’s almost completely automated.

    Software/IT, which employs far more people, has been transferring jobs from the Bay Area to Seattle and Austin. It has been outsourcing to Asia even more. A few places (DC, NY, San Fran, Boston, Seattle, Austin) draw UMC people with prestigious careers, but you can’t infer general immigration patterns from observations of the UMC.

  63. anon for this — I thought your kid’s school was specialized for students with various learning issues, giving them options for alternative paths to graduation.

  64. Software/IT, which employs far more people, has been transferring jobs from the Bay Area to Seattle and Austin.

    That would imply that total Software/IT employment in the Bay Area is falling. Is that the case?

  65. if software/IT employment were falling in the bay area, how would explain the (still) crazy demand for any type of housing in San Fran metro area?

  66. I do not think my kids have been feeling too much pressure to be perfect. Although my daughter over the past year has started to put pressure on herself to shine at school and in some of her activities, so she feels it the most, but at an appropriate level, not a damaging one, imho.

  67. Sigh, not entirely true, CofC. I have to literally run out, so there is no time for an appropriate response, but I think our school’s strategy is to just keep the kids there until they can get into some high school or their parents give up.

    Now that’s a mean thing to say and I apologize.

    I really want my kid to get a degree at an age appropriate time. I’ve compromised on everything else, but I don’t know how you can really start life without a high school diploma when our local McDonald’s is requiring a college degree.

  68. While growth in 2015–16 is expected to slow to a more moderate rate than experienced in the exceptional boom years of 2013 and 2014, San Francisco’s economy is still expected to grow faster than nearly all other large cities in the country. In the three years between 2011 and 2013, the expansion of San Francisco’s economy outpaced the four largest growth years of the dot-com boom. There are now more people employed in San Francisco than at any point before in the city’s history…tech is responsible for two-thirds of San Francisco’s employment growth.

    http://www.spur.org/blog/2015-02-20/top-analysts-predict-another-year-growth-sf-economy

  69. Tech has been growing in the Bay Area, but the lower level IT and software jobs have migrated out. My friends who just moved there (the MIT PhD couple) moved because for a high level, dual career couple, it has great opportunities. (They are more in biotech/business/economics- not software.)

    That doesn’t mean that the guy who maintains your server will live in Melo Park.

  70. Tech has been growing in the Bay Area, but the lower level IT and software jobs have migrated out.

    Why is that a problem? Wouldn’t a city prefer to have more highly skilled people and fewer lower skilled people?

  71. “I would encourage my child to aim for a top college if (s)he were academically gifted, was interested in a related career path and it were affordable. ”

    This is exactly what I’m doing with my kids. I believe that if they are academically fit for top colleges, they will be attractive enough to lower tier schools to attract merit aid.

    This thread is a reminder to me that I need to remind DS that the top schools are still a reach, despite all the kids he sees getting into those schools.

    “I wonder if any of the top schools will choose to become more purely merit-based, with State U or below level costs even for UMC parents.”

    I don’t see that happening any time soon, as they’ve moved more in the other direction. No merit aid, but increasingly generous need-based aid.

  72. Rhett, it seems to me that NYC’s rent control laws exist because highly paid people want services provided by lower income people but don’t want to pay the lower income people enough to live nearby.

    I suppose it also comes down to whether, as a country, we care about inequality. You and I might not care much about inequality, but it appears that it’s going to be a talking point in the next election cycle. Why, exactly, should I care how much money the top 1% have? Bill Gates has had enough money to buy up the homes in my state and a few others for at least a decade, but he has kindly refrained from doing so.

  73. “I do not think my kids have been feeling too much pressure to be perfect. ”

    HM, I’m guessing that decisions on the schools your kids attend were made by you and your DH, not the kids, and those decisions contribute to your kids not feeling that pressure.

  74. I got a chuckle from this, from the OP reference:

    “the progression from helicopter to lawn mower parents, who go beyond hovering to clear obstacles out of their child’s way.”

  75. Rhett, it seems to me that NYC’s rent control laws exist because highly paid people want services provided by lower income people but don’t want to pay the lower income people enough to live nearby.

    You honestly think that’s the reason? It’s not that the poor and middle class (a large majority) voted themselves the right to live at below market rents?

  76. “I don’t know much about NY, but middle class families have been exiting California at high rates for a long time… I know tons of them, and my relatives in Denver feel overrun by former Californians.”

    I know a lot of people who left SV for CO and OR. There was a typical pattern– young people move to SV right after college, live relatively cheaply initially (e.g., lots of shared housing arrangements), have their SOL increase over time, and pair up to become DINKs. When those DINKs start thinking about having kids, many of them choose to move to lower COL areas where they could become 1-income families. CO and OR were popular destinations because many of the large SV companies also have many jobs in CO and OR, so internal transfers could be made without giving up accrued benefits.

  77. Rhett, maybe you’re right, but rent control laws exist in NYC but not in other cities. Like the advantages of living by a land grant university, maybe accidents of history perpetuate inequality? As I sit waiting for my gas to be pumped, I always wonder why the Great People of Oregon don’t want to pump their own gas.

  78. WCE – I thought that no self-service was a way to keep a group of people employed who would otherwise not be.

  79. HM, I’m guessing that decisions on the schools your kids attend were made by you and your DH, not the kids, and those decisions contribute to your kids not feeling that pressure.

    Are you saying that because we kept them in public school rather than sending them to Punahou or Iolani they don’t feel as pressured? I mean, that’s probably true, but I don’t view that as a bad thing. It’s not like the public school experience is void of academic pressure, especially for the honors track kids, but they can shine if they put in the effort.

  80. WCE,

    You’re saying the Bay Area attracts the best and brightest in tech. Those who succeed stay because they can afford it. Those who don’t succeed wash out and end up in CO, NV, etc. How does this impact the overall level of inequality in the U.S.?

  81. Certainly the fact that particular cities draw the best and brightest from the hinterlands contributes to inequality, and your claim that those who succeed stay in the Bay Area because they can afford it is at least partially correct. People who would like a strong role for government in alleviating inequality would claim that the patent law system (provided by the government) is at least part of the reason for tech success, and I would agree.

    The question is how much the successful should pay in taxes. Most of the dollars that make medical breakthroughs profitable come from Medicaid/Medicare, not from poor and working class people’s direct earnings, for example. But the marginal cost of manufacturing a pill is small. The R&D to develop a drug and prove its efficacy is high.

    We are still arguing over who should pay for that R&D, and whether they live in the US. :)

  82. My DH works for a firm that is headquartered in the same area. They built their world headquarters here before tech boomed and created a very crazy housing market. They’ve been able to move some staff to cheaper locations around the US, but they still need lower paid staff to keep the buildings running, work in the cafeteria, provide security, landscaping etc. All of these folks need an affordable place to live, and many need access to public transportation so they can’t live too far away by car. A college friend just sold a three bedroom/three bath/one car townhouse for $1.3 million. cash offer, no inspection. It is not in a gated community, it is built on landfill, and the school district is just ok. This was the type of starter home that young families need to stay in the area. I don’t think the bay area should just be filled with tech types because they are the only ones that can afford to live there.

  83. HM, yes, that’s, what I’m saying, and I agree that it’s not a bad thing. I thought maybe it was part of your rationale.

  84. Certainly the fact that particular cities draw the best and brightest from the hinterlands contributes to inequality

    By what mechanism?

  85. “I don’t think the bay area should just be filled with tech types because they are the only ones that can afford to live there.”

    I agree, but nothing’s going to change unless the government loosens zoning laws and allows some new construction. I don’t think affordability is high on the priority list–too many vested interests in keeping property values high.

  86. Rhett, the best and brightest can earn more and create more value by working together than they could if they were all stuck on their individual farms slopping hogs.

    I don’t agree that money is a good measure of success. At my mom’s funeral, I heard someone talking about two brothers. One (“Eric”) had an unremarkable engineering career in the Midwest and one (“Joel”) made a lot more money in finance. “Eric” has managed the medical issues of his chronically depressed/psychiatrically ill mother, brother with schizophrenia/psychosis who died around 30 and daughter with depression/OCD/who knows what for the past 3-4 decades.”Joel” did none of that.

    The quote was, “Joel has money, but Eric has class.”

  87. “Those who don’t succeed wash out and end up in CO, NV, etc.”

    A lot of those who move to lower COL areas were successful. For many, the move was, at least in part, a cashing in of past success E.g., they might have had enough equity on their SV homes to buy their new COL are homes outright.

  88. Can someone e-mail the real WCE and tell
    her that Bernie Sanders has hijacked her totebag username.

  89. Finn,

    By definition they were far less successful than those making multimillion dollar all cash no contingency offers is SV.

  90. Finn, I think that goes back to the fact that a lot of the stress and depression these elite college kids are experiencing stems from too narrow a view of success: it’s the job title and the money in the bank, while the CO transplants see success in having a paid for house and time with their kids.

    By any objective measure I am a professional failure, but my DH and the kids think I’m a good mom (I hope). There are a lot of dimensions to success, and I know very few people who think that they are getting top scores on all of them simultaneously, particularly after age 25.

  91. Sky, I was thinking about how much more academic pressure the child of my Bay Area friends will have (if they have one) than my kids do.

  92. This past school year, there were awards handed out for the first time for DS’s class. He was not mentioned for anything and he narrowly missed being elected by his peers for the citizenship award (given for a good natured, helpful kid). I confess to being disappointed. I told DH. DH responded that he didn’t get an award until he turned forty. Now he has a spate of awards from work. I will have to lengthen my time horizon when I consider the success of my kids :-).

  93. “check out Ocean Dunes High School in Florence.”

    Okay. They graduated three out of 13 students.

    To what to I owe this flourish of graciousness on your part?

  94. Things are looking up!!

    In 2008, 8% of the school’s seniors received their high school diploma. Of 13 students, 1 graduated, 9 dropped out, and 3 are still in high school.

  95. Tee, hee, Rhett. Don’t push me. My inner Trump is fairly close to the surface.

    I have tried to respect the civility here.

  96. Anon for this, you wanted the most lax high school in America, and WCE thinks she found it at Ocean Dunes!

    The name sounds awfully nice. If you buy a retirement village, definitely rename it Ocean Dunes. I’d move there now….

  97. Anon, if Ocean Dunes isn’t the most lax high school in America, it is the most lax in a safe, scenic, affordable coastal town. Not only did I find you a high school where your child would receive extensive counselor support to graduate if (s)he showed up regularly, your child has a good shot at valedictorian. Check out the coastline at Florence…

  98. I have visited Florence (not the Italian city) and I concur that it is beautiful. I wish we could have spent more time along the Oregon coast. I felt it was what California had been many years ago.
    I haven’t lived in a small town thus far (though some of my old friends think I do :-), so don’t know how living there would feel. You have to like the outdoors – it is a way of life and for most people a way to earn their living.

  99. Anon, Best of luck finding the right school for your DS. I have no advice, but I can understand how hard it must be to walk the line of constructive encouragement and pushing too hard.

  100. Austinmom and LFB, do you think that cogmed would be helpful for adults? My spouse has ADHD with severe working memory deficits. That’s the one thing that my spouse would really like to improve on and the working memory issues certainly play a large role in self esteem, depression and mood issues which would make me happier if resolved. Due to health issues, medication is not really a solution, so cogmed seems like a potential tool.

  101. Aw, man, I missed all day yesterday since I was traveling for work (car trip). It was an interesting trip – I got to fire someone for the first time and walk them through their severance agreement. Not a fun meeting but good to have done!

  102. @Another anon — yeah, I do. They have different iterations that they use for adults vs. kids, so obviously a big part of their business is adults. The one thing I don’t know is whether it will have the same impact for grownups who have already developed some degree of workarounds — with DD, I think the big difference is that it is helping develop the persistence whose absence is driving me crazy, whereas I think most adults have spent years developing their own techniques to manage their issues (in other words, going back to the above, I can’t tell to what extent the training is “fixing” cognitive deficits vs. just improving work habits). But I think if it’s something that has been really bothersome for years and you can afford it, it’s worth giving it a shot.

  103. Late follow up on suicide risks for college students:

    Q. Are there more suicides at elite universities?

    A.There is no data indicating that suicide is more prevalent at elite institutions than at two-year or four-year colleges. In fact, college of any kind seems to be a form of protection against suicide, according to Dr. Victor Schwartz, the medical director of The Jed Foundation, an advocacy group devoted to preventing suicide among college and university students. Several analyses have found that rates of completed suicide among noncollege students aged 18-24 are higher than those of college students. One study by Allan J. Schwartz, an associate professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of Rochester, which was published in The Journal of College Student Psychotherapy in 2013 found that being a student did not meaningfully affect the relative risk of suicide among females aged 18-24, and it significantly lessened the risk for 18–24 year-old males.

    http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/08/04/answers-about-campus-depression-and-suicide-risk-among-college-students/?smid=pl-share

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