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Are You Powerless?

By Joelle Mancuso

“So, what am I supposed to do now? My child has to do AP courses, play an instrument, perform community service, and play after-school sports so that they can get into a good college. It’s what they are supposed to do!”

These were common statements by parents of school-aged children after watching the documentary “Race to Nowhere” screened at a local public school in southern California.

The movie documented true stories of school-aged children, from third grade to high school, that were experiencing stress symptoms-from headaches to stomachaches; as well as more severe conditions of anorexia, stimulant drug-use, and cutting in order to deal with the stresses of obtaining their version of academic excellence.

According to the movie, students are burned out, teachers are no longer inspired to teach and parents, who are trying to do what’s best for their children, are pushing them beyond their limits.

Children are growing into young adults, who are not properly educated to enter college (even after AP classes) and worse, disengaged and uninspired to function as balanced human beings.

More than ever, parents are demanding “shoulds” from their kids: you should be playing a sport, you should be speaking a second language, you should be playing an instrument, you should be excelling at everything.

All of the “shoulds” are defining our children as good students instead of good human beings. More disturbing, for me, was watching parents jeopardize their relationships with their children in order to complete homework. Parents were shown nagging, bribing, doing their child’s homework for them, and finally, throwing their hands up in the air and walking away.

When the parent/child relationship suffers we are left with broken, lost children that are no longer self-motivated or inspired to explore their inherent greatness.

Families need to hit the pause button on this present fallacy of “shoulds” and redefine what success looks like. A parent may know that their child is a good student, but do they know if their child is a good kid?

Look at each one of your children as individuals. Are they happy, motivated human beings who meet each day with vigor and passion? What kind of adults do you want to inspire your children to be? How is your relationship? Do you know their dreams, their fears, and their hopes?

Until parents know the answers to these questions, they are sending their children out of the home, without the armor to protect themselves against the conflicting messages that define success.

There is a profound difference between a child that can ace an exam and the child who is a happy, motivated human being.

After the screening of the film, parents were invited to make statements or ask questions. Permeating the discussion were parents who stood up and stated that they felt powerless within the educational school system.

I realized how immobilized these parents felt when one mother said, “My daughter threw up tonight because she was stressed that she wouldn’t get her five hours of homework finished.”

The majority of the parents at this venue seemed so spellbound by “expert” advice that they forgot who should ultimately have control over their children’s welfare. This group of parents seemed to be under the impression that they didn’t have a “voice” when it came to their children’s education.

Our parent’s generation and our current generation have “drank the proverbial Kool-Aid” of the current educational system. It would appear that the society of parents believe that “the experts” hold all of the answers for their children’s path to success. They’ve rendered themselves powerless without even noticing.

To reclaim our power we need to nurture our relationships with your children. We cannot advocate for their education if we are not committed to know them, really know them.

More time needs to be spent eating meals together, having conversations, sharing ideas, and discussing deep thoughts. Only then, can parents and children be prepared to face the multitude of incoming messages coming from popular culture.

Perhaps some children are ready for intense study; most need something different. If our children come from homes where the familial relationship is weak, society’s opinion will continue to steer the ship.

We need a paradigm shift…Who is steering your ship? Are you powerless?


Joelle Mancuso is an internationally-recognized fitness educator and author. She is the former Director of Education for Mad Dogg Athletics and the Spinning indoor cycling program. She has showcased and presented new concepts, ideas and programs at the fitness industry’s leading events such as IDEA, ECA, IHRSA and FIBO.
She currently serves as a continuing educational provider for the American Council on Exercise and the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America.

Joelle holds a Certificate in Exercise Physiology from U.C.L.A and Associate’s Degree in Communications from Golden West College in Huntington Beach.

She is currently residing in Simi Valley with her husband Joe, where she practices the principles of a Thomas Jefferson Education with her three children.

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