Felicia Wilks In Conversation with Jennifer Wallace P’26, Author of Never Enough
Head of School Felicia Wilks hosted a morning conversation with acclaimed author, journalist and Spence parent Jennifer Wallace P’26 focusing on her book, Never Enough: When Achievement Pressure Becomes Toxic—and What We Can Do About It
. Spence parents packed the 91st Street Theater to learn about Wallace’s pathbreaking research and her perspective on mitigating the adverse effects of achievement pressures on children’s mental health. In her discussion with Wilks and later responding to questions from the audience, Wallace presented the compelling findings of her research and thought provoking ideas for parents to consider.
Wallace shared that her book offers a greater context and understanding of the forces and pressures on parents: how they are hardwired for status safeguarding, and the strains of weaving safety nets for each child. In responding to a prompt from Wilks, she highlighted that parents and caregivers must prioritize their own well-being and resilience so they can be the sources of support when needed. “A child’s resilience rests fundamentally on the resilience of the adults in their life, and adult resilience rests fundamentally on the depth and strength of our relationships,” she noted.
When interviewing students across the country as a part of her research, Wallace was interested in finding the commonalities among “healthy strivers,” students who were managing well despite high pressures. Her findings indicated a high level of “mattering,” where they are valued for who they were by family and were depended on to add value back. She noted that while under similar pressures, for these students, “mattering acted like a protective shield, like a buoy that lifted them up.” She suggests mattering as an antidote to the potentially harmful message of a child’s value being contingent on their performance.
“The self becomes stronger less by being praised than by being known,” Wallace responded when asked to suggest practical things that parents can do to give children ways to matter. She shared how she reframed chores as “pitching in” to make sure that her children contributed to the family. “The family is the first introduction to society for a child, and chores teach our kids how to be important, significant people. Find pockets in your life for kids to really contribute to the family.”
Wallace wrapped up her remarks by emphasizing the importance of support systems for parents, highlighting the profound lesson in the “power of interdependence and relying on others and having others rely on us in healthy ways.”