The Tipping Point: Why Good Students Suddenly Struggle and How Parents Can Help

Jannot, Dr. Jeannine.Headshot

Written by: Lianne Castelino

Published: Apr 15, 2022

The intersection of her personal and professional worlds during a particular period in her life provided Dr. Jeannine Jannot with unique insight.

“I started teaching college when my youngest was in elementary school, my middle child was in middle school and my oldest was in high school,” Jannot recounts. “I had just come off teaching preschool and I started teaching college. So, at that time, I had this incredible bird’s eye view of the entire trajectory of what’s happening to our kids in education.”

These keen observations were further processed through her lens as a PhD in childhood developmental psychology.

“I was just blown away by what I was seeing,” Jannot told Lianne Castelino during an interview for Where Parents Talk. “Because in my college classrooms I had these students who were so overwhelmed, really lacking in so many skills, and I would start to help them and give them information, and they’d be like, oh, my gosh, I wish somebody would have told me this,” she says.


Click for video transcription

Welcome to where parents talk. My name is Lianne Castelino. Our guest today is a school psychologist, educator and academic coach. Dr. Jeannine Jannot is also a mother of three. Her first book called The Disintegrating Student, struggling but smart, falling apart and how to turn it around, was published in 2021. She joins us today from Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. Jannot, thank you so much for being here.

Thanks so much for having me. Lianne.

I’d like to start by asking you if you could tell us what you believe are the key contributing factors to the performance culture in the achievement culture that we find ourselves in today?

Well, the achievement culture has been on the rise for the last 30,40 years. So we are I think we’re just all feeling the pain of what’s been happening over that amount of time. And you know, a lot of factors came together again, kind of know, early 80s, mid 80s, things started to happen with parenting, there was a shift in parenting, a lot more women went back to work. And we had more latchkey kids, playdates became more common in childhood than just free play. And a lot of things started happening around parenting during the, you know, the 80s and 90s, that made school become sort of the thing to win. So across childhood, that was a thing, and all parents became very focused on their kids being successful. And, you know, in early 2000s, we had no child left behind. And that’s when the testing culture came on scene and has grown exponentially since. So you have these two factors of school becoming sort of the central focus around raising our kids and kind of winning at school, along with an achievement, test-centric culture, saying, it’s all about the data. So to be successful, you need to have good test scores, you need to, you know, check all the boxes, do all the things, and that has put us in a place where we are all responding to a definition of success that revolves around data.

It’s so interesting to hear you describe the evolution of this question, right? I mean, if you have kids of a certain age, you’re going to have seen more of that evolution and may have, you know, better strategies to deal with it than if your kids are younger. And that’s all you know. So let me ask you, how would you describe that this is impacting teens youth and young adults today? And and when I say this, I mean, the achievement culture that you describe?

Well, it’s directly responsible, at probably the greatest extent to the level of mental well being, being as low as it is for our children or young adults. I mean, never in history, have we seen mental health issues at this rate in our youngest population. So I think that is, by and large, the biggest impact, and that’s impacting families. And this is coming off our students feeling like data points. So they’re operating as students, even in elementary school, I just need to check the box, I know I need to turn the homework in to get the check, I need to get the A, I need to get my GPA up to a certain point, I need to get this on the si t or AC T. And that’s, you know, out of that cheating has become a strategy for students. So when I was a student, you know, I graduate in the early 80s, cheating on people cheated, but it was kind of a big deal. And you really didn’t cheat on big things. And it just wasn’t commonplace. And today, it is really a strategy to survive, because they have so many things to do. They have so many stressors that sometimes they cheat to help friends, because their friends are under a lot of pressure. So it’s a whole different learning culture than you know, it was decades ago.

You’ve got a multi layered perspective on this issue and all the various, you know, areas of expertise that you have. So let me ask you what concerns you the most in terms of the trends that you’re seeing?

Well, what concerns me the most is our students, particularly right now this year, are incredibly unmotivated, very apathetic towards school and towards learning. There’s not the focus is not on actual learning, which is really the purpose of education. The the focus is on again getting check the box, get the data points, to get into the college to make the money And that concerns me because we’re, you know, I work with students from middle school, high school, you know, young adults and even into adulthood I’ll work with, with people. And I’m seeing people being very unfulfilled, you know that these young adults in college who are doing a major they, they, they don’t want to be doing their parents want them to do or they think they’re going to make the most money there. We’re just kind of really losing our way. And again, I think all of that contributes to the mental health crisis we’re having.

Could you describe for us the impetus of your book, The Disintegrating Student?

So well, it’s a really strange way that I came about it, it came mostly from being a parent myself, I started teaching college, when my youngest was in elementary school, my middle child was in middle school, my oldest was in high school, I was, I could just come off teaching preschool and I started teaching college. So at that time, I had this incredible bird’s eye view of the entire trajectory of what’s happening to our kids in education. And my background, my PhD is in childhood developmental psychology, and I have a master’s in School Psychology. So I’ve always had this interest in both education and child development. So I was just blown away by what I was seeing. Because in my college classrooms, I had these students who were so overwhelmed, really lacking in so many skills, and I would start to help them and give them information. They’d be like, Oh, my gosh, I wish somebody would have told me this. You know, when I was in high school, I was like me, too. So that led me to start an academic coaching business, the balance student where I do help students in that way. And when I started doing that, I was really surprised by the types of students who were showing up as clients, they were really bright, high achieving, oftentimes gifted kids who hit the wall hit what I call a rigger tipping point, where because they’ve been so bright, they really didn’t need a lot of skills to support them being very successful in schools. So when they hit so much rigor, which is starting to tick downward into, you know, middle school, a lot of middle schoolers are taking high school level courses, when that ticks down like that, they don’t have the skills in place, the strategies, time management. You know, some good study habits, any study habits at all, sometimes. And so they actually just kind of fall apart because they don’t know what to do. And that’s what led me to try to figure it out. And when I started putting all the pieces together, that’s what led me to write the disintegrating students. So in the, you know,

In what you just described, what would you say are the common pitfalls that parents might find themselves in, contributing directly or indirectly, to their high achieving students? Suddenly, as you describe it falling apart? What are parents contributing to that if anything?

Well, first, let me say, as parents, we are very well intentioned in what we do, because obviously, we just want our kids to be successful, we love our children. So that’s, it’s always coming from a place of love, the pitfall and I write it, there’s a whole chapter on this in the book, but the biggest contributor is this well intentioned helping that we do. And what I realized over the years is, again, we love our kids, and we’re trying to be helpful. But we actually because of the influences that we’re not even supposed recognizing, that are coming from the achievement culture, and what the expectations are for our children to be successful. That puts us in a state of fear. And we start parenting from a place of fear, which is a huge Pitfall, because that leads us down micromanaging, you know, quote, unquote, helicopter parenting, checking those those school portals. You may be doing helping our kids when they don’t want our help, they haven’t asked for help. And and when we do things like that, what we’re doing is, over time, we’re communicating to them, you can’t handle it. And this is, you know, this is kind of influencing this sort of more fragile generation of kids a little bit more immature, less responsible, because they have relied on their parents, you know, kind of allowed them to take over all these things. So I think that’s probably the biggest, again, very well intentioned, but it is the thing that is getting in the way of our kids motivation, because in order to be motivated, as human beings, we need three things. We need to feel like we’re in control. We need to feel like we’re competent, and we need to feel connected. If you think about our students, they’re real low on all those things, they don’t have a lot of control, they don’t feel competent, then they’re backing away from challenges. And you know that the stuff they’re trying to do around school isn’t very meaningful to them. So, you know, as parents, we are contributing to that by getting in there and trying to help them avoid the negative consequences we see on the horizon. That’s why we’re doing it, we don’t want them to get the bad grade, we don’t want them to miss the deadline. But in doing so, we’re raising kids who aren’t prepared to go out, you know, go to college and make sure that they can be responsible, and psychologically, from a mental health standpoint, handle, you know, the stressors that come in the real world if they’ve been so protected in middle school in high school.

So it’s interesting to hear your describes are the well intentioned support that parents innately want to provide their kids? Is it something that you did yourself with your three kids?

Yes, ma’am. And, you know, I live and breathe this stuff. And to this day, I find myself, you know, falling into that trap, it’s very hard, because, again, you know, I’m still I feel the influence of the achievement culture, my youngest, has just started college this year. And I would say, of my three kids, she has benefited the most from me kind of figuring this stuff out. So and it’s a good thing, because it would when she started high school, five years ago, we sort of made an agreement that I would pull back that I would not micromanage that, she would come to me for help. And I would let her handle I went check the portal, you know, and I can’t tell you how many times I was in my closet, kind of screaming into a pillow or crying because it was so stressful, not to know, or to know, and not be able to really do anything, because she didn’t want me to. But ultimately, our relationship is incredibly strong. Because that is the key, the key is controlling what we can control as parents. And that is how we communicate with our kids listening more than lecturing, trying not to be judgmental, or defensive when we listen to them. And that helps us help in an appropriate way. Because they’ll tell us, you know, sometimes they tell us stuff and we’re problem solvers. I’m a professional problem solver. So my inflammation is, Oh, you got this problem? Oh, you’re really upset? Did you do this? How about this, can I do this, and we want to get in there and and solve the problems for them. But that’s denying them the opportunity to kind of develop their competence and solve problems. And it’s really just alleviating our fear. And it’s very frustrating, I think, to our children when we do that. So get back to your question with my youngest, I was doing that to her all the time drove her crazy. And she finally worked out, she would just tell me, you’re doing it again, Mom, just listen. And that’s all I needed. And I could bring back okay, she just needs me to listen, not intervene.

That is such an important point. And certainly listening to you describe it. Kudos to your daughter for for flagging that to your to your her mom, who’s you know, this expert, and has all this experience in the subject area? For parents who don’t bring that to the table who don’t have that background and expertise? It is a struggle, right? How do you dial it back? So are there any actionable strategies that you can provide in terms of, of helping these parents or supporting them with advice that could say, you know, your well intentioned actions are actually doing more harm than good. You might not see it in the short term, but potentially in the long term, that will, in fact, happen.

So the last chapter of my book has 77 tips. And I put them at the end of the book, and I say at the beginning book, you know, they’re at the end for a reason. There’s a lot of strategies. And I think as parents, we know, a lot of these things that would help our kids around time management and, you know, around sleep and screens and all that stuff. But for our kids to listen to us for that to be helpful. We have to, we have to prioritize our relationship with them, our connection with them over there academics first. And I think, you know, even though we feel like we’re doing that, what kids tell me all the time is my parents care more about my grades and they do me, which is never true. I think it’s never true. Hopefully, it’s never true. What is really going on there is as parents we think about it, the percentage of time we talk to our kids about school stuff in academics, is a lot and if it’s kind of Over 50%, which that doesn’t seem unlikely, in a lot of cases, then their brains are just calculating, yeah, they talk about this a lot. This is what they value this is what’s important to them. So we have to make conscious effort as parents to make sure we are listening to our kids. We’re having conversations, and one of the best ways we can start is to say, look, here, you are being educated in this achievement culture. Let’s talk about that. And success, you know, in this AP class, is this and success in high school is this. But for us, how are we going to define success? Because it’s very hard to push back against the culture. But if we can talk to our kids about it, and then say, how are we going to find success for you? What is reasonable for you? Do you need to take nine APs in high school? Should you take one should you take no way PS, I mean, it is very reasonable to have that conversation with your child. And what we’re doing is we’re meeting them where they are, not where we think they should be, or where they should be, you know, where they should be. We are we are meeting them and seeing them and understanding them where they are. And that, right there is the thing that will be most protective to our kids around their mental well being, it will protect our relationship with them. And it’s, it’s really on its face, quite simple. But in practice, it’s quite difficult because we have to constantly be pushing back against those pressures that achievement culture.

Absolutely. And, you know, there are so many parents who’d be listening and watching this, myself included, who say, Yep, I’ve done it. I’ve tried to stop myself, you know, when you talk about prioritizing academics, oftentimes over over that child, it’s such an easy trap to fall into, but the idea of really being conscious and mindful that you’re doing that, and and, you know, dialing it back, I think is such an important point that you make, what would you like readers of the disintegrating student to leave with after reading the book?

Well, I wrote it so that all the pieces that I understood to fit into this puzzle of what was happening to our kids are kind of in one place, that’s very, I write it very conversationally, it’s a pretty quick read. Because I know parents don’t have time to read the big books, I read all the big books, and try to put as much information in a simple way in that book. So I want, I want them to be able to see how they can best help their child have reasonable expectations for their own parenting, understand, they are not alone in this journey. I feel like a lot of parents feel like it’s, you know, it’s my family, it’s my kid, you know, falling apart, we’re doing something wrong. And there’s, it’s not it’s it’s the majority of families are experiencing these struggles. So I think that’s really helpful to know. And to know, you know, who the bad guy is here. And it’s not schools, it’s not teachers, or it’s not the parents, it’s not the kid, it’s really the culture we’ve created. And to start, you know, if my book starts this conversation kind of going between, you know, one parent talks to another parent or talks to a teacher, we have to kind of switch this top down mentality around education, and flip it. So it’s bottom up so that the parents, teachers and students are the ones driving the conversation about how we’re educating our kids.

We always like to end with a positive and a hopeful note for our viewers and listeners, what would you say Dr. Jannot gives you hope, on this subject matter, notwithstanding what you’ve described, the evolution of the last 30 years, the pandemic, the impacts of all of these things, the confluence of events that that have happened in society, what would you say gives you hope, at this point?

Well, I I’m a firm believer that when we know better, we do better. So I feel like as parents, you know, there’s there has been a shift. Since the pandemic, to understand a little bit more about what’s going on with our students. You know, when we were home, I think we as parents, we got a peek into, oh, this is why you’re so stressed out all the time. So, you know, I feel like we’re starting to have more and better conversations around what’s going on with our kids. I feel like there’s more of an understanding and acceptance of, you know, helping our kids who might be experiencing mental health issues around anxiety or depression or eating disorders or substance use disorders. And I’ve and I am incredibly hopeful for our young generation, even though they’ve they’ve experienced unprecedented stress uncertainty in their young lives, I’ve seen a lot of resilience. I’ve seen a lot of innovation come from them. So I am very hopeful that, you know, we will take this very bad situation and turn out some wonderful, productive changes out of it.

Lots of wonderful advice. Certainly your own personal lived experience, adds another dimension to it. How are your kids doing today?

They’re really good, especially the one who didn’t like school and was falling apart and I had to really back off of she’s actually an education major, an English education major and she wants to be a teacher. So you just never know. And if you can just breathe through it. It’s almost like having a baby. Parenting those kids. Just breathing through those moments of oh, this is so hard. They they know they’re built to do this. They’ll make it through.

Dr. Jeannine Jannot, we really thank you for your time today for your perspective. Author of the disintegrating student and mother of three. Thank you again for your perspective.

Thanks so much for having me.

Determined to further support student learning, Jannot would add another role to her resume —- running an academic coaching service.

“I was really surprised by the types of students who were showing up as clients,” Jannot shared from her home in Atlanta, Georgia. “They were really bright, high-achieving, oftentimes gifted kids who hit the wall, hit what I call a rigour tipping point, where because they’ve been so bright, they really didn’t need a lot of skills to support them being very successful in school.”

And so the seeds of her first book were sown. The Disintegrating Student: Struggling but Smart, Falling Apart and How to Turn it Around was borne from Jannot’s lived experience coupled with an escalating societal phenomenon.

“The achievement culture has been on the rise for the last 30, 40 years,” she says. “I think we’re just all feeling the pain of what’s been happening over that amount of time.”

She traces the roots of the achievement or performance culture to a series of societal swings including increasing numbers of latchkey kids, a shift from free play to organized playdates and changing views on school.

“A lot of things started happening around parenting during the 80s and 90s, that made school become sort of the thing to win,” says the mother of three. “Across childhood, that was a thing, and all parents became very focused on their kids being successful. In the early 2000s, we had no child left behind. And that’s when the testing culture came on scene and has grown exponentially since. So you have these two factors of school becoming sort of the central focus around raising our kids and kind of winning at school, along with an achievement, test-centric culture, saying, it’s all about the data. So to be successful, you need to have good test scores, you need to check all the boxes, and that has put us in a place where we are all responding to a definition of success that revolves around data.”

During her interview with Where Parent Talk, Dr. Jeannine Jannot discusses: The Disintegrating Student book cover

  • How the achievement culture is impacting kids today
  • The most concerning trends for smart kids who suddenly stumble academically
  • Why she wrote The Disintegrating Student
  • Addressed challenges with her own children
  • Adapting her own parenting style
  • Tips and strategies for parents

Related links:

JeannineJannot.com

The Disintegrating Student

 

 

 

 

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