Should You Raise an Overachiever?

Maria is a 16 year old, born in Mexico, raised in Texas, and hoping to travel via pen and pencil where no one else has gone before. Her hobbies include soccer, video games, writing, and she hopes to become a published author.

 advice, humor, funny, academics, anecdotes, overachiever, parenting advice, raising a child, success

NOTE: Some of this is intended for comedic purposes.

I bite the inside of my mouth determined to memorize 300 lines of Ancient Latin Poetry before the exam. While outside my kitchen window the sounds of kids on Spring Break rejoice in unrestrained free time. Their continuous shrieks persist in bothering me, forcing me to finally wave away the chance of making progress on my studies.

I slide my progressively expanding notebook towards the other end of my table and pick up the scholarship application I have been postponing on filling out. Once my pen reaches the extracurricular section it remains still, zealous to fill out more activities, more recommendations. But the page has already reached its end. The creators of the scholarship negligently assumed the applier actually had a life. Then I ask myself in a scowl, “Did they seriously not consider The Overachiever?” I answer my own “witty” question with an “of course not” and a “maker-must-surely-of only-made-it-to-Community-College”.

Then I continue studying Vergil, ignoring the radiantly gorgeous day outside.

I have met and conversed with several parents who would give anything to have raised teens like my friends and I. These parents tell me that simply having their teens log off Facebook to do work produces enough frustration. (Meanwhile, my mother tells me to stop drudging over my assignments or to stop reading. *Gasp!*)

Even teachers, are enthralled that their multiple degrees have not been consummated in vain when they see students actually going beyond the expectations of a set rubric. These instructors gloat, flaunt if they find a class saturated by a good amount of overachievers.

But what constitutes an Overachiever? What categorizes them as the future rulers of the world? And is it worth the time spurring the child into going beyond expectations? But let’s not go too fast – yet.

Symptoms of an Overachiever:

1. Your teen has more college credit hours as a high schooler than you had as sophomore in college.

2. You receive emails from your teen’s teacher that he/she has actually been doing abnormally well. The email also mentions that he suspects that either the student is cheating, or your teen must be placed in an advanced program. (Trust me, no news is good news.)

3. You ask other parents as to how/why their teens got rid of the black bags under their eyes. Then, you soon realize that this, in fact, is not natural.

4. Your teen is in his/her 4th year of Advanced Latin…

5. He/She has more academic awards than you have acquaintances.

6. He/She complains to you regularly about only being number 12 in a class of 800.

There are of course a various groupings that link down from the general overachiever. Some are the community high-flyers who spend most of their weekends volunteering at a local homeless shelter or organizing food cans whose heights rival Mt. Olympus. These teens eventually work more at an organization than the directors themselves.

Usually, we most commonly refer to overachievers as “Academic Try-Hards”. These specimens are found usually in Advanced Calculus, or in the roster of top 5% of the class. They find regular classes tediously mundane and would rather have to study for 3 hours a night for an AP class, than be teased as the highest scoring person in a normal class.

Unfortunately, some are stereotyped as such and grow up to need the high grades as a positive reflection of themselves. These teens, by their own achievements, grow to be perfectionists. Of course, they are never satisfied. Nothing could or will ever reach their expectations. These highflyers continually harm themselves mentally if they do not make the highest score. Some take a toll on their self-esteem.

A lot of parents may not want to admit it but they take part in this meltdown. They spend a substantial amount of energy and time encouraging their teen from a very young age to stand out amongst the average. Parents consider if they were successful, then their children should too. Granted, this comes a lot from their background or cultural circumstances.

(For example, certain expectations come from specific cultures. Asian students have a valedictorian speech to look forward. Indian students have MIT waiting for them. Meanwhile, Hispanic students have to relax by school and expect to be married by 20.)

On the contrary, some overachievers have an internal spur in them that education inflames and leaves them wanting more. Their internal curiosity conquers their self-logic.  They learn for the sake of learning.  A self-fulfillment induces them to complete assignments or volunteer hours beyond belief.

I have to admit I am one of those students. I push myself just to see how far I can travel without getting tired. When I fall short of my own expectations I know and repeat to myself I could do better. I find a value in studying in advanced classes. There you are expected to go above and beyond. I can explore my own mind, and think. If I don’t think the right way then I accept criticism. I find it insulting when teachers do not mark up my paper in blood and express what I did wrong. Because if they don’t, then how do I know what I am actually doing right?

I was never encouraged nor forced by my parents to take part in the huge amount work I have placed myself in. They would be simply content and proud of me even if I easily graduated high school. (Probably because they couldn’t, but more on that at another time.) I was never expected anything of me. I had no brother or sister I needed living up to. And even if I did, my parents wouldn’t care. It is mostly my self-expectations that drive me to work harder and longer than most people.

And, I enjoy being in a classroom in which my peers’ success pushes me. I could breeze by a regular class with the highest score. But, I could end up learning nothing.

If I don’t finish something properly then it sticks with me, forcing me to conjure up a better plan. So, probably what makes some overachievers successful is their willingness to go above and beyond. They are naturally accustomed to a steady readiness to complete any goal—even ones that they have not encountered yet. These successful people exist not only in the business world—as we all assume—but in arts, fashion, and probably any aspect of life that includes the human element. They base achievements on the fact they are satisfied and set examples, not on the capacity to inundate a page with facts and numbers.

Raising an Overachiever:

1. Before you require a student to take part in any activity make sure they are comfortable and have something to learn from it, not just because it strengthens a college application.

2. Keep in mind that we can’t be all overachievers. (Now that would be a sad world).

3. Try and figure out your child’s weaknesses and strengths. You can’t force a teen to study math and science when they have a passion for the arts. It will only put a strain in your relationship with him/her.

4. Just because a child is ahead that does not mean you should automatically skip them a grade. Different grades have different maturity levels, so your child might be uncomfortable around different people.

5. BE SUPPORTIVE! So what if your kid is not in the top 100 of the class? As long as you are there and present AND listening to your teen then they probably are going to do just fine. Remember you are the first person that shapes a child’s life. Don’t blow it just because you are busy yourself. Trust me, teens may not realize it, but we do want you there.


In the end it probably won’t be scores that your teens remember when they raise their family, rather the simple organics of the relationships with their peers and family. So make it something worth remembering.


Photo Credit: permanently scatterbrained from Flickr








BOOK REVIEW: Trauma Queen by Barbara Dee

Gema is a 20-year old from Miami, FL. Reads like a maniac. Writes for sanity. It’s a fine line and she loves erasing it.

Trauma Queen by Barbara Dee

$6.99, Simon and Schuster, Ages 9-13, April 19, 2011

“And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about middle school by now, it’s this: Attention is bad.”

Don’t say your parents are embarrassing until you read about Marigold’s in Barbara Dee’s new middle grade novel, Trauma Queen. As the title suggests, the protagonist, Marigold, is the Trauma Queen. This poor girl knows humiliation like a gun victim knows a bullet. “Mom is what is known in the biz as a performance artist. That’s another way of saying she does embarrassing things in public.” And embarrassing they are – wrapping herself in saran wrap, inviting people in the dead of night to record her sleeping, wearing a scuba diving outfit to Marigold’s second grade class and pouring olive oil all over her body.

And yet, believe it or not, Marigold’s mom has done worse than embarrass her with a consistency that borderlines supernatural. Her antics and bluntness has cost Marigold her best friend. Now Marigold is miles away from her and is starting over in a new town and in a new school. Some of her new classmates are in a war against each other and  she lands in the heat of a battle. She has to pick a side without really knowing what happened or the people involved. All she wants now is a friend to help her through it all.

Marigold is a hilarious protagonist, especially when she’s frustrated. Her story rings true for anyone currently in middle school and brings forth body-cringing memories for those of us who have tried to forget we were ever there. Trauma Queen is a story about what it is to need a friend, to need someone to complain about your mom to over a manicure. It’s a story about acting on the impulse of rage and the consequences it can have on an entire family. “Words hurt…words are powerful, powerful weapons, Marigold.” That isn’t a lesson that Marigold just learns, but lives. Trauma Queen is about the good, bad and the ugly of being different and the center of attention. And, the best part, Trauma Queen is about love and forgiveness, something that even adults need to be reminded of. I highly recommend this heart-warming read for middle graders and their parents. I promise you’ll cringe, smile and “aww,” sometimes at the same time so beware of funny faces in public. Buy now.

Modern Family: From a Teen’s Lens

Neyat is an Eritrean-American girl who is an aspiring writer. She enjoys reading teen fiction, looking up obscure music artists and celebrities on Wikipedia, and traveling. She hopes that one day when you teens are tired and middle-aged, you will walk into your
local bookstore (to get away from your spouse and kids) and you will notice a book on the front display with her name on it as the bestselling author.

Modern Family has become the show to watch on television. This half-hour series, brilliantly created by Christopher Lloyd and Steven Levitan, allows viewers to sit back, and watch common family and societal issues be addressed with a hilarious twist. The show utilizes a sort of mocumentary style as it follows the families of Jay Pritchett (Ed O’Neill), his daughter Claire Dunphy (Julie Bowen), and his son Mitchell Pritchett (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) who all reside in Los Angeles, California. Claire is a homemaker, micromanaging mom married to Phil Dunphy (Ty Burrell) who is a carefree, cheesy joke-cracking real estate agent; they have three children together. Jay is married to a Colombian woman named, Gloria (Sofía Vergara), and is helping her raise her quirky, pre-teen son, Manny, who she had from a previous man. Jay is many years Gloria’s senior, but, their age difference never appears to be a problem. Mitchell and his life partner Cameron Tucker (Eric Stonestreet) spend most of their time trying to gracefully raise their adopted, Vietnamese daughter, Lily. Though, they often fail and in turn, provide side-splitting plots.

Christopher Lloyd and Steven Levitan have outdone themselves with this show, and have quite possibly brought back that joy viewers once had from watching quality television, rather than trying to fill that void with more reality TV. This show, while fictional, is the epitome of reality because every single episode has a situation that we can all relate to. Modern Family is the perfect show to watch with family. It often triggers personal memories, allowing viewers to bond with their own families. It also creates room for discussion, due to the fact that it addresses several unique family lifestyles.

When Wednesday rolls around, everyone knows where I am promptly at 9:00pm. I’m parked on the couch with my sisters, and occasionally, my mom, watching Modern Family. As a teen, I’ve found that this show is the perfect cure for the sickening troubles and stresses of life. For thirty minutes, I can escape from college apps, homework, and studying, and submerge myself into the lives of the Pritchetts and the Dunpheys. The creators and cast of this show have collectively re-invented the family sitcom as we know it, and for the first time in a long time, I’ve found a family-oriented show that’s laugh- out-loud funny. I’m a tough critic, but this show deserves five stars. Now, I don’t say TGIF, but instead, I shout TGIW-Thank God it’s Wednesday!

My Mom Joined JDate: When Parents Date

My mom is hot.

Yes, my friends have told me so, guys behind the airline counter have told me so, and you can tell by looking at her slim figure, blonde hair and pearly whites that she is a man magnet… a-big-giant-awkward-situation-with-creepy-waiters magnet.

My mom is now on JDate. Over the past ten days I have gotten frantic emails, calls, texts, yells from downstairs and IMs (actually my mom can’t IM, but she would if she could I am sure) on how to maneuver the seemingly impossible website that is JDate.

I mean, I love my mom, but she often gets her word documents confused with her email application, so you can only imagine last Sunday afternoon when we tried to get her set-up on this site. You would have thought I was teaching her to program the fifth algorithm into the 3rd version of fractals (I don’t even know what that is, that’s how hard this was).

Well, I am being a little harsh, but knowing the difference between a ‘flirt’ a ‘click’ and a ‘message’ couldn’t be that hard could it?

“no, no, mom you just ignore the IM, don’t talk to him he looks creepy…no, no hit ‘I do not accept’…an IM is an instant message…no, not an email…yes like a short email message?…come on mom you are embarrassing me, I am a pro-blogger here and you do not know what an IM is?”

Can I also just mention the horrendous process of trying to take pictures for this damn thing. They had to be cute, but not cutesy, hot, but not over the top, sensual but not sexual, pretty but not fake. My boyfriend and I served as her crew: me with make up, hair, lighting, moral support and pose consulting and my boyfriend as the suckered in photographer.

It only took 135 photos…then 90…then 20….then 4 (you would think picking 4 profile pictures is truly an art). I must say though, the final product is stupendous.  And Jdate is very easy to work and my mom is actually…gasp…having a good time!

So, we look through 35 emails within the first 24 hours and narrow down 6 Matzah Ballahs (nice Jewish guys), with some cute potential. Great, we narrow it down, I show her where the “Deny” button is, how to look at profiles and let her surf for some ‘matches.’ I leave the house with the parting words…”no one short, no one creepy, and no one younger than me” ok, she knew I was kidding on the last part.

Give my mom 1 hour. 1 HOUR!
And, my mom becomes majorly offended by what the JDate (computerized, non-personal, not-a-big-deal) formula would suggest as a good match for her.

Mom: “How Could They!?…This guy is so not my type, ughh, why doesn’t JDate know that? He is not even in my age range, he is in your age range, gross!”
Vanessa: “mom it’s not personal, its like a formula they are just giving you as many matches as they can within the LA area.”

I now know the single worst job in the world is the JDate webmaster.

Can you imagine a bunch of horny, desperate, single, kvetching Jewish people (I have been on JDate before so I’ll include myself because I actually loved every minute of being on the site) trying to complain to the webmaster that something is not working on the site?

Not only has my mom managed to find the “contact us” button (shocker!), but she has also managed to lodge a complaint. Of course, my mom’s problem did not fit into any of the 6 normal categories. She does not have a technical problem like other normal horny Jewish singles—you know, forgot a password, can’t log-in, wants to change a payment method.

No, my mom emailed the JDate webmaster (a true Matzah Ballah) to tell him that she did not like the matches JDate was giving her, and specifically they need to all be taller and not the age of her 22 year-old daughter, ‘I do not like sharing men with someone I birthed’.

Leave. It. To. My. Mom. To lodge a complaint with the webmaster that she cannot find a possible match that lives up to her expectations (never mind that she is going to have to find one of the four Jewish men in the world who are taller than her required 6’2).

Latke points to the webmaster who wrote her back a nice note explaining that she should try to set her preferences to be more direct. Oy, this post now has no point other than to rant about my poor mama. She is fairing well and has finally figured out how to maneuver the site without me having to log-in remotely to show her where the preference bar is. (Latke points to me for always being willing to do it)

I guess I can write another part II about the ridiculous…I seriously mean ridiculous responses and ‘flirts’ my mom has gotten. I made some rules for my mom to put on her profile (which I helped her write and she let me describe her as persnickety…which she argued with, then she emailed the webmaster about JDate’s algorithm and I won that argument).

Latke points give you an extra umph and might even qualify you to be on my mom’s Matzah Ballah category.

1. If you have a comb over, do not contact my mom.

(Latke points for hair)

2. If you cannot spell opportunity (not oppartunitey), do not contact my mom.

(Latke points if you finished school)

3. If your eye level is at her belly button, do not contact my mom.

(Latke points for above 6’0)

4. If you see psychics, do not contact my mom.

(No latke points, just don’t see a psychic)

5. If you reference your mom’s compliments to yourself in your profile, do not contact my mom.

(true story)

6. If you do not like involved 22 year-old daughters, do not contact my mom.

(Latke points if you read my blog)

7. If you have a blurry picture, that is also half in the dark, looked like it was put through the wash three times before you scanned it in and is the sorriest excuse for a picture I have ever seen, do not contact my mom.

(Latke points for not sending in your College Graduation picture)

8. If your job description is ‘free spirit,’ do not contact my mom.

(True story)

9. If you use the word ‘sugar baby’ in any of your messages, do not contact my mom (I just vomited in my mouth).

10. If you say that you are ‘sexual’ in your profile, do not tell me you contacted my mom (I really just vomited in my mouth just then).

11. And lastly, if you look like Santa Claus, do not contact my mom

I am sure she would comment on this post if she could and tell everyone I am lying, but she probably does not know how…mom I challenge you? (she reads my blog). I love you mom! For real, my mom better find a nice guy, and I better like him, or all of you will be hearing about it…

Part II? (if my mom even lets me after this post)

Happy Easter! Fun Post Today

So…I am flying out tomorrow (yes Easter) to be on the Today Show in Miami!  Woohoo, be sure to tune in if you are in the area.  I was trying to think of some interesting gifts for some birthdays coming up and came across this t-shirt making site.  Boy, oh, boy…never give me a bunch of free tools to create clothing.

I had a little fun and designed a bunch of funny t-shirts for whoever wants them in my ‘virtual store‘ how cool is that! I had more fun designing the color scheme than actually figuring out how much money I could charge per shirt.  I am not really doing this to sell a bunch of stuff, but if you are so inclined to buy them as a gift or for yourself, you’d be buying me a cup of coffee and a donut! (well I don’t drink coffee and am allergic to wheat, so maybe a few pieces of expensive fruit)

I’m Desperate

This one is not in my store, but I constantly find I am in a coffee shop and wish I could tell people what I do and that I want to network with them.  So I made a shirt and, you can bet, I am going to sit in Starbucks and wear it all day long until someone comes up to me.  Even if it’s one more parent to my site…its worth it!

1-my-network-with-me-shirt.pngIt says “Network With Me!  If you are a parent or if you want to give  someone a lot of start-up money”

On the back it has my website.  I am hoping people will laugh…and then actually network with me (or offer to invest in my company/find me a publisher/make my dreams come true).

Would you come up to me if I was wearing this t-shirt? I mean, I figure why not be really open and honest about what I need and trying to meet people.  I like meeting new people, most of the time, when they are not creepy.

From the Vanessa Van Petten Online Store25-love-my-ipod-back.png

(ok I personally think these are funny)2-love-my-ipod.png

 1. For teens:

Front: “I love iPod”

Back: “…thats why I am not listening to you right now”

heheeeeheeeehehe, still makes me laugh…my mom said it makes her sad–because it’s true.

2. For Parents:3-i-have-teenagers.png

Front: “Yes, I have teenager. That is why I look this way”

This came from one of my client mothers who said that sometimes she wishes she could just use her teens as an excuse for why she didn’t have time to brush her hair this morning.  She wanted me to put “that is why I look so old” but I thought that was too mean.


3. For Kids/Teens:

Front: “I love my parents”

Back: “…even though sometimes they can be really annoying.”

I have actually had three of my teen boy clients buy these.  (Shocker, they helped me come up with the idea–shout out Daniel, Max and Dylan.)

4. For Parents:

I mean I had to do the same for parents right? Teens are more annoying just as annoying parents. = )


Front: “I love My Teenager”

Back: “…even though sometimes they can be really annoying.”

Send me any suggestions or things you want on shirts and I can go design a pretty one, they also have tote bags and all other kind of (cuter than a plain white t-shirt) stuff.

Maybe I will give some away in some contest or another later.

Wish me luck in Miami!


PS- Please do take note of my beautious color design and titles which I designed to match in my store.

PPS- I know that beautious isn’t word, but I like it.   Oh I just looked it up it is a word, ha! Spelled Beauteous. Coolio.

Tween Writes letter to Britney: Why You Are Not Like Buddha

I had to post this just because I think this is hilarious. One of my 12 year-old clients had to write, as a history assignment, a letter to a celebrity they thought was acting against Buddha’s laws. She chose Britney Spears and outlined the laws for her and why she was breaking them. Including “screaming outside of K-fed’s house and hitting paparazzi is selfish and harmful….” She also demands a reply on how Britney will fix her ways. You get the idea.

*Note that she actually sent it to the Rehab center Britney was staying at (it came back to sender). Sorry for the poor quality I had to scan and take a snapshot of the tiff.