Korea: High scores, unhappy kids

South Korean students are among the best in the world, according to PISA. They’re also the world’s least happy school children reports Quartz.

Economic growth rates are high in South Korea. So are suicide rates. Some blame the intense academic pressure.

High math scores correlate –somewhat — with unhappiness, notes Derek Thompson in The Atlantic. Those happy Indonesians score near the bottom in math. (Qataris are depressed and bad in math, however.)

Gallup: Teachers are happy, but stressed

U.S. teachers are happy with their lives but stressed on the job, concludes a Gallup survey. Compared to other occupation groups, teachers rank very high in emotional and physical wellbeing.

Teachers get more joy from life than people in other professions. They’re more likely to say they smiled or laughed a lot yesterday. But teachers also report high levels of stress, second only to physicians. Teachers rank sixth in saying their “supervisor treats me more like a partner than a boss.” And they are last –14th — in saying their “supervisor always creates an environment that is trusting and open.”

Who ruined childhood?

Schools Are Ruining Our Kids, writes A.A. Gill in Vanity Fair. Gill has raised one set of children and has a second set just starting school.

In the 100 years since we really got serious about education as a universally good idea, we’ve managed to take the 15 years of children’s lives that should be the most carefree, inquisitive, and memorable and fill them with a motley collection of stress and a neurotic fear of failure. Education is a dress-up box of good intentions, swivel-eyed utopianism, cruel competition, guilt, snobbery, wish fulfillment, special pleading, government intervention, bu­reauc­racy, and social engineering.

Gill blames “the byzantine demands of the education-industrial complex,” but it’s really competitive parents who demand preschool put their kiddies on track for the Ivy League.

Over-achieving Hillary Clinton smugly told us that it took a village to bring up a child. Oh my God. If only. If all it took were some happy, thatched, smocked village, we’d all have bought villages, have bought 10 villages—we’d have adopted a village. But no dusty, higgledy-piggledy, clucking, mooing, sleepy-town hamlet is going to get you into the only pre-school that is the feeder for that other school that is the fast track to the only school that is going to give your child half a chance of getting into that university that will lead to a life worth living.

Oh no, we need far more than the village. We need au pairs who speak three languages and musical nannies and special tutors and counselors and professional athletes with knee problems to coach hand-eye coordination.

Outside of the wealthier parts of Manhattan, how many parents can afford to buy villages worth of nannies, tutors, coaches and counselors? Are parents really so obsessed with their children’s “success” that they forget about happiness?

Trophy kids in therapy

Parents who protect their children from frustration and disappointment, who turn every failure into “good try!” and every routine task into “great job!,” who devote themselves to making their children happy all the time are raising empty, confused, anxious, unhappy young adults who can’t deal with the normal frustrations of life, writes therapist Lori Gottlieb in The Atlantic.

Patients in their 20s or early 30s  report depression, anxiety,  difficulty choosing or committing to a satisfying career path, poor relationships, a sense of emptiness or lack of purpose — and loving, caring, endlessly supportive parents who are “my best friends in the whole world” and “always there for me.”

Since the 1980s, self-esteem has risen in tandem with rates of anxiety and depression, says Jean Twenge, co-author of The Narcissism Epidemic and professor of psychology at San Diego State University.

“Narcissists are happy when they’re younger, because they’re the center of the universe,” Twenge explains. “Their parents act like their servants, shuttling them to any activity they choose and catering to their every desire. Parents are constantly telling their children how special and talented they are.”

. . . In early adulthood, this becomes a big problem. “People who feel like they’re unusually special end up alienating those around them,” Twenge says. “They don’t know how to work on teams as well or deal with limits. They get into the workplace and expect to be stimulated all the time, because their worlds were so structured with activities. They don’t like being told by a boss that their work might need improvement, and they feel insecure if they don’t get a constant stream of praise. . . . They grew up in a bubble, so they get out into the real world and they start to feel lost and helpless. Kids who always have problems solved for them believe that they don’t know how to solve problems. And they’re right—they don’t.”

Instead of learning to face frustration at the age if six, when a better soccer team wins the game, overprotected kids face it for the first time in college, says Wendy Mogel, a clinical psychologist and author of The Blessing of a Skinned Knee. And that’s only if Mom and Dad don’t swoop in to save the day.

Parents refuse to believe their children might be average, Mogel says. “Every child is either learning-disabled, gifted, or both.” Parents prefer a learning-disability diagnosis to the possibility their child just isn’t all that smart. “They believe that ‘average’ is bad for self-esteem.” (A friend who was a school psychologist in an affluent suburb told me the exact same thing.)

Self-esteem doesn’t predict happiness, writes Gottlieb, “especially if the self-esteem comes from constant accommodation and praise rather than earned accomplishment.” Perseverance, resiliency, and reality-testing are better predictors of fulfillment and success.

It makes me feel thankful I wasn’t that nice to my kid. Her father and I made a habit of singing “You can’t always get what you want” to her when she confused her desires with reality.