I copped this post’s title from Julie Scelfo’s front-page Sunday NY Times article “Campus Suicide and the Pressure of Perfection.” Interestingly enough, on the same Sunday the Washington Post also ran a front-page article on the plight of over-stressed students, which is much more lurid than Ms Scelfo’s piece, and features, not only self-inflicted razor blade cuts, but forged transcripts and hit men. The Post copped their article from a piece in Toronto Life magazine entitled “Jennifer Pan’s Revenge: the inside story of a golden child, the killers she hired, and the parents she wanted dead.”
Less sensational but more typical, the Times story chronicles the psychic collapse of a Penn freshman named Kathryn DeWitt who “has understood since kindergarten that she was expected to attend an elite college” and whose mother checked “[e]very day at 5 p.m. test scores and updated grades” to monitor Kathryn’s progress.
Long article short, Kathryn gets into Penn, discovers her relative mediocrity, makes a 60 on a midterm calculus exam, and whips out razor blades and begins “cutting herself to ‘prepare’ for the pain” of suicide.
In fact, in a thirteen month stretch, six Penn students killed themselves, presumably like Kathryn, the victims of overweening parents and “carefully curated depictions” from social media, — you know, those Facebook pix of propped feet in Acapulco and those Gourmet Magazine cover shots of the meals your “friends” are devouring while you slowly turn the key of the metal container that houses the Spam you’re frying for supper.
Back to Kathryn: thanks to the intervention of her roommate, who found “pink rose-adorned” suicide notes stacked neatly on Kathryn’s desk, she ended up in a hospital, is now on the road to recovery, and has made it through her first year at Penn (with an A- in Calculus to boot). The revenge she’s exacting on her parents, portraying them as helicopter parents, is certainly less severe than Ms Pan’s of the Post story, but it can’t be fun to read about your daughter’s wearing a “lime green watch” that “covers up where she had cut herself.”
Cut (I know, I know) to this morning’s Post and Courier. We have another helicopter parent, Melanie MacDonald, who with her daughter downloaded one of West Ashley’s freshman summer reading choices Some Girls Are “in hopes of tackling the summer reading assignment together.”
Although she assures us she’s “no prude,” Mrs. MacDonald considers the novel “smut” and has had it successfully yanked on August Eve from the summer reading list, which is not good enough for her because “she’s still waiting for ‘an explanation’ and “an apology.'”
Although I haven’t read the book, I can offer an explanation. The West Ashley English Department no doubt chose the book because they believe that it vivifies negative high school culture, especially the so-called mean-girl syndrome, which means its characters say “fuck” and give “blow jobs” but that the novel also demonstrates how hurtful bullying can be.
Here’s Jaime, the author of a blog called The Perpetual Page-Turner’s take:
It was such an interesting experience to watch [the protagonist] Regina fall from grace because you feel so conflicted. On the one hand, you can tell she is a mega biotch who has been a HUGE bully and so you kind of hate her from the start. But early on you have sympathy pangs for her because something terrible happens to her and it all gets twisted into an AWFUL rumor by someone in her group. But then you think, (about the rumor aspect… NOT about what happened to her), “pshh girl got what is coming to her with all HER nasty rumors she’s started.” But then as the bullying gets worse from everyone in school you feel for the girl. Having a heart…it’s a bitch sometimes! I can’t stand to see anyone get bullied and what happens to her is TERRIBLE and nobody deserves it. I felt really emotional and sick about it because it felt so real. I’ve never been bullied before but I’ve heard about terrible things and seen stories about kids being bullied to the point of suicide and it angers me. Courtney Summer made sure your heart would flip flop over whether to like/dislike Regina but you could agree she didn’t deserve THAT.
In other words, the novel fosters empathy.
Anyway, parents, back off. There are a slew of books coming out about the damage you’re causing. What I find with helicopter parents is that they destroy the joy of learning, that Hamlet is reduced to “data’ to be mastered for “the test.”
School is reduced to a job and with it childhood is tossed.