324. Toxic Achievement Culture with Jennifer Wallace

Students in high-achieving schools across America are facing increased rates of anxiety, depression, and self-harm due to intense pressure to succeed. This leads educators, parents, and community leaders to grapple with a difficult question: how can we encourage excellence while avoiding overwhelming our children? In this episode, co-host Emily Edlynn interviews award-winning reporter Jennifer B. Wallace about her book ‘Never Enough: When Achievement Culture Becomes Toxic-And What We Can Do About It‘. Jennifer draws importance to the framework of “mattering” as a healthy way to motivate success and shares key findings from her three-year investigation into the root of anxieties and fears parents have regarding their children’s success in today’s world. Additionally, she sheds light on the impact of economic scarcity and intensive parenting and offers practical strategies to combat a toxic achievement culture at home. This is a conversation not to be missed! 

Listen and Learn: 

  • Why The Varsity Blues scandal inspired Jennifer to write about toxic achievement culture 
  • What is toxic achievement culture?
  • What Jennifer learned from spending three years with families struggling with achievement culture while researching for her book and how it affected her on a personal level
  • The risks that toxic achievement cultures pose for children and teenagers 
  • How to buffer against achievement culture at home by using the Puppy Dog Principle to minimize criticism and prioritize affection
  • The ways in which economic scarcity contributes to achievement pressures
  • The impact and experience of achievement pressure on families of color versus white families
  • How to lead with mattering in your parenting to give your kids healthy, sustaining motivation
  • The consequences of sacrificing your own mattering for the sake of your children’s needs
  • How Jennifer sees intensive parenting contributing to toxic achievement culture and what we can do about it
  • Understanding grind culture and how it intersects with what Jennifer calls an ‘increasingly narrow definition of success’
  • What you can do to prioritize rest and moderation over productivity and achievement


About Jennifer Wallace 

Jennifer Wallace is an award-winning journalist and author of the New York Times bestselling book Never Enough: When Achievement Pressure Becomes Toxic – and What We Can Do About It.  She is a frequent contributor to The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post and appears on national television to discuss her articles and relevant topics in the news. After graduating from Harvard College, Wallace began her journalism career at CBS “60 Minutes,” where she was part of a team that won The Robert F. Kennedy Awards for Excellence in Journalism. She is a Journalism Fellow at The Center for Parent and Teen Communication at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Jennifer serves on the board of the Coalition for the Homeless in New York City, where she lives with her husband and their three children.

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Episode 324