Never Enough: When Achievement Culture Becomes Toxic-and What We Can Do About It
AN INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
The definitive book on the rise of “toxic achievement culture” overtaking our kids' and parents' lives, and a new framework for fighting back
In the ever more competitive race to secure the best possible future, today’s students face unprecedented pressure to succeed. They jam-pack their schedules with AP classes, fill every waking hour with resume-padding activities, and even sabotage relationships with friends to “get ahead.” Family incomes and schedules are stretched to the breaking point by tutoring fees and athletic schedules. Yet this drive to optimize performance has only resulted in skyrocketing rates of anxiety, depression, and even self-harm in America’s highest achieving schools. Parents, educators, and community leaders are facing the same quandary: how can we teach our kids to strive towards excellence without crushing them?
In Never Enough, award-winning reporter Jennifer Breheny Wallace investigates the deep roots of toxic achievement culture, and finds out what we must do to fight back. Drawing on interviews with families, educators, and an original survey of nearly 6,000 parents, she exposes how the pressure to perform is not a matter of parental choice but baked in to our larger society and spurred by increasing income inequality and dwindling opportunities. As a result, children are increasingly absorbing the message that they have no value outside of their accomplishments, a message that is reinforced by the media and greater culture at large.
Through deep research and interviews with today’s leading child psychologists, Wallace shows what kids need from the adults in the room is not more pressure, but to feel like they matter, and have intrinsic self-worth not contingent upon external achievements. Parents and educators who adopt the language and values of mattering help children see themselves as a valuable contributor to a larger community. And in an ironic twist, kids who receive consistent feedback that they matter no matter what are more likely to have the resilience, self-confidence, and psychological security to thrive.
Packed with memorable stories and offering a powerful toolkit for positive change, Never Enough offers an urgent, humane view of the crisis plaguing today’s teens and a practical framework for how to help.
Praise for Never Enough: When Achievement Culture Becomes Toxic-and What We Can Do About It
“This deeply reported book is a wake up call for all of us. Skyrocketing expectations and the unrelenting grind to achieve are doing immeasurable damage to an entire generation -- but as Jennifer Wallace persuasively argues, it doesn't have to be this way.” –Katie Couric
“Recently a sixteen-year old high school student asked me, “Is achievement the same as success?” I wish I could have handed her this book. Because if achievement is all you’re chasing, it will never be enough—but if you matter to your friends, family, and community, you’ll always feel like a success. Jennifer Breheny Wallace offers a much-needed perspective on why mattering matters most.” –Angela Duckworth, New York Times bestselling author of Grit
“In Never Enough Jennifer Wallace takes up one of the toughest questions in all of parenting - How do we give kids every opportunity without asking too much of them? - and delivers clear, compassionate, actionable answers. Never Enough is more than a wise and practical parenting book - it’s a pathbreaking introduction to one of the most powerful ways to protect our children’s mental health: mattering.” –Lisa Damour, New York Times bestselling author of Untangled and Under Pressure
“Written with a reporter's eye, a parent's heart, and insights gleaned from leading experts in psychology and neuroscience, as well as heart-breaking and heart-warming wisdom from the parenting trenches, Never Enough is the book for our times. Journalist Jennifer Wallace offers a fresh and refreshing framework (with loads of practical advice) to help parents raise children in ways where healthy, happy and successful aren't tradeoffs. Buy this book: Help your kids get what really matters.” –Ned Johnson, bestselling co-author of The Self-Driven Child
“This book will be eye opening - and, honestly, maybe scary - for a lot of parents. It is also importantly full of solutions. A necessary read.” –Emily Oster, New York Times bestselling author of Cribsheet
“Something is deeply wrong when, in a wealthy society, a third of high school students report persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness. An incisive and eye-opening book every parent should read.” –Scott Galloway, New York Times bestselling author of The Algebra of Happiness
"Never Enough helps parents of all ages make sense of the increasingly competitive landscape of today's childhood. Wallace offers practical, evidence-based solutions for protecting our children from harmful messages, and guides us in how to preserve what we really value. What Wallace proposes here is nothing short of a revolution -- a workable one -- in how we handle achievement pressure in our homes, our schools and our communities -- that is to lead with mattering.” –Tina Payne Bryson, LCSW, Ph.D., New York Times bestselling co-author of The Whole-Brain Child & No-Drama Discipline
“I love this book! Thoughtfully, expertly and, without judgment, Wallace guides readers through the stressful terrain of our achievement culture and offers a more emotionally intelligent route forward. Like a wise, trusted friend who offers the best advice, you will find yourself turning to this book time and again to better understand the world children are growing up in and how each of us can make it better. Never Enough is a book for parents, schools and communities, but it’s more than that: it's a primer for living a rich, meaningful life. What an achievement.” –Robin Stern, Ph.D, Co-founder and Associate Director for the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence
“You know what matters? THIS POWERFUL BOOK. With impressive research, compassion, and clarity, Jennifer Wallace shows us how our current equation of raising kids to take our love and return it as achievement is a recipe for sorrow on both sides and shows us to readjust that equation, so that joy and growth can begin.” –Lenore Skenazy, founder of the Free-Range Kids movement
“A smart take on how parents can help their children thrive without putting undue pressure on them...Wallace’s sharp analysis illuminates the social and evolutionary pressures that drive achievement culture, and her advice is well observed. This more than makes the grade." —Publishers Weekly
“A timely exploration of adolescent achievement culture…One of the most appealing and encouraging aspects of Never Enough is the author’s warm-hearted enthusiasm for rewriting pernicious norms.” —The Wall Street Journal
"Children today need to see a purpose in their lives beyond their achievements and need to feel they are important to others...Perhaps the thoughtful proposals for action in Never Enough will enable families to take meaningful steps toward that end." —New York Journal of Books