WHY GRADE 'A' EXECS GET AN 'F' AS PARENTS The qualities that make for corporate success are often not what are needed to be an effective mom or dad. Some parents show how to avoid the worst mistakes.
By Brian O'Reilly REPORTER ASSOCIATE Sara Hammes

(FORTUNE Magazine) – YOU CAN SOLVE that thorny problem in Jakarta with a few crisp commands to your underlings, but ask your teenage son why he got in late last night and you're reduced to impotent fury in seconds. For all their brains and competence, powerful, successful executives and professionals often have more trouble raising kids than all but the very poor. Alas, the intensity and single- mindedness that make for corporate achievement are often the opposite of the qualities needed to be an effective parent. Six years ago when AT&T was in the throes of divesting its operating companies, Ma Bell conducted a survey of its managers and top executives and discovered that their kids caused these employees more stress and worry than anything else, including their careers. Says attorney Robert Weinbaum, head of antitrust and marketing law at General Motors: ''I think it's real tough for kids growing up in families where the parents are highly successful.'' Weinbaum went through years of turmoil with his own son before they resolved their difficulties. Many parenting problems are common to everyone: paralyzing uncertainties about how strict or lenient to be, a sense of powerlessness in the face of peer pressure, preoccupation with professional problems, or just plain forgetting what a kid needs from mom or dad. But raising happy, successful children is not a hopeless task or just dumb luck. Interviews with scores of educators, psychologists, drug experts, executives, and troubled teens reveal some consistent differences between kids who turn out ''good'' and those who go ''bad,'' and provide some suggestions on how to avoid the most colossal blunders. The most important thing a parent can do for a child is to encourage a high sense of self-esteem. Easier said than done, of course. The tricky part is helping children set appropriate, satisfying goals and then providing an environment that lets them reach the goals on their own. Building your child's self-esteem is an inconvenient, time-consuming, and maddeningly imprecise occupation, and don't be amazed if you mess up. Intuition and good intentions often don't seem to be much help, and you need skills that rival a pilot's ability to land a jet at night on an aircraft carrier. But kids who have a sense of self-worth flourish. Kids who don't are vulnerable to drug and alcohol abuse, unwanted pregnancy, anxiety, depression, and suicide. Even worse, they may not get into Harvard. In case your long-range plans include working triple time at the office until the brats turn 17, then deftly steering them into the Ivy League, listen up. Serious emotional problems usually start when children are in sixth to eighth grade, and hit crisis proportions by the sophomore year of high school. Says Sheila Ribordy, a clinical psychologist at De Paul University: ''By junior year they're on track or in serious trouble.'' DON'T THINK your brains, money, or success will pave the way to parenting glory. In a survey of large corporations providing extensive insurance coverage, Medstat Systems, an Ann Arbor, Michigan, health care information firm, discovered that some 36% of the children of executives undergo outpatient treatment for psychiatric or drug abuse problems every year, vs. 15% of the children of nonexecutives in the same companies. Top executives have special problems as parents. Many are highly educated, driven personalities who routinely put in 12 to 15 hours a day on the job -- workaholics, in other words. Says Susan Davies-Bloom, a Connecticut family therapist who treats senior managers: ''They are so accustomed to functioning at a high level of control at the office that when they get home, they try to exert the same kind of control.'' The milieu that executives attempt to establish at home can be highly stressful for children. The attributes a manager must develop to succeed include perfectionism, impatience, and efficiency. Says Andree Brooks, author of Children of Fast Track Parents: ''Contrast those traits with what it takes to meet the needs of a growing child -- tolerance, patience, and acceptance of chaos.'' During their teens, kids assert their own individuality, rebelling against whatever their parents value most. Unfortunately for the kids of driven executives, what mom and dad often value most is achievement. Says Davies- Bloom: ''I find many workaholic executives felt they were mediocre in popularity, grades, and athletics.'' Frequently the parent tries to create a child who was everything he was not, or thinks he can steer the kid around every pitfall. Sparks fly, and the youngster refuses to perform. Worse, some parents are so absorbed with their own careers that they scarcely notice their children, who respond by behaving in increasingly bizarre and dangerous ways to attract attention. ''My father worried about me from his desk,'' says the son of an IBM executive. The kid started stealing from his parents -- trinkets, at first. But when he took his father's gun and began disappearing at night, family therapy finally began. GIVEN 70-HOUR workweeks, divorce, or a spouse with a career or demanding social schedule, and complications set in fast. You thought buying a big home in a wealthy suburb would bestow bliss on your offspring? Too often it has the opposite effect. Thousands of business people who were No. 1 somewhere else move to towns where everyone else is successful too. All the other kids in school are very bright and also under pressure to achieve. Soon the parents wonder why their kid isn't at the top of the class. Says Constance McCreery, formerly a public school guidance counselor in Darien, Connecticut: ''In wealthy towns you get what I call the Big Apple syndrome. It's the problem of keeping all the children full of enough confidence that they can succeed.'' MOM and a tightknit community used to be able to keep child rearing running smoothly even if dad was putting in overtime. But most younger mothers work nowadays, and wives of senior executives often have commitments that keep them out of the home, even if they don't have paying jobs. Suzanne Gelber, a benefits consultant, was on the board of a day care center in Chappaqua, New York, where most of the mothers who dropped off their kids did not work. ''They have so many philanthropic and social responsibilities that they are very busy women,'' she says. ''They are not home baking brownies.'' Nobody can prove that children with nannies wind up in reform school more often than those who don't, but some kid watchers are concerned. Says Tom Collins, executive director of Fairview Deaconess Hospital, an adolescent drug treatment center in Minneapolis: ''Every move you make away from kids in pursuit of your own happiness and career increases their chance of getting into trouble. Lending kids out to babysitters and day care makes it a crap shoot.'' Ask a bunch of educators how life for well-to-do kids has changed over the years and you get a surprising answer: The children are under far greater strain than their parents ever were to perform well academically and win acceptance to high-prestige colleges. At New Trier Township High School near Chicago, principal Dianna M. Lindsay says, ''The pressure to get into a name- brand college is monumental. I see kids buckle under it.'' Part of the stress is classic pushy-parent stuff. Says Carol Perry, director of counseling at the exclusive Trinity School in Manhattan: ''This is an era of designer children. No parent wants an average child.'' Adds Lindsay: ''Parents want their kids to go to a school whose name is recognized at the country club.'' Much of the mounting anxiety springs not from overt parental pressure, however, but from the students themselves, whose values have been not so subtly affected by mom and dad's affluence. Many well-off kids have grown up using a financial yardstick to evaluate themselves and others. But the prospects for these wealthy kids to improve on or at least maintain their current lifestyles are frighteningly slim. ''Successful moms and dads come here because the environment breeds success,'' New Trier's Lindsay observes, ''but the kids say, 'I can never match this. This is the best my life will ever be.' '' Students at New Trier are encouraged to do social service, such as working in soup kitchens, and once a year they are asked to fast for a day in recognition of world hunger and donate lunch money to the poor. Says Lindsay: ''We have to teach the kids there are other standards besides material possessions. It's a real, serious problem.'' The predictable consequences of all the stress on kids: alcohol, drugs, and suicide, the ultimate parental nightmare. Teenage suicide rates doubled between 1968 and 1987, to 16.2 per 100,000 boys and 4.2 per 100,000 girls. Suicide now ranks as the second cause of death, after accidents, among 15- to 19-year-olds. Some factors that prompt suicide, such as depression caused by the death of a loved one, are not the result of demanding parents. But pressure to do well in school and athletics is a contributor to suicide, and children in a close-knit family are less likely to kill themselves than kids without strong family ties. Though drug use appears to have peaked in the early 1980s, it is still very high. According to the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, more than half of all high school seniors have reported using an illicit drug at some time in their lives -- usually marijuana -- and a third have tried something stronger. Virtually all seniors -- 92% -- have experimented with beer or hard liquor, and in the two weeks before the institute's survey was taken, 35% had been drunk at least once although every state now bans drinking under age 21. RARE IS THE PARENT who cannot recall sneaking more than a few beers in his or her youth, but the prevalence of teenage drinking has many people worried. Donald R. Geddis, the principal at Summit High School in New Jersey, is more concerned about the use of alcohol among his students than he is about any other substance. ''Its use is so widespread it outstrips all others,'' he says. Drinking is starting early -- the average age for that first surreptitious sip is 13 -- before many children have developed better methods of coping with stress. Youngsters are aping the attitude of adults: ''I've had a tough week and I'm entitled to blow off a little steam.'' Worse, drunk kids are also more likely to experiment with other drugs they would shun while sober. Since practically every kid drinks and most experiment with drugs, what distinguishes those who tinker with the stuff from those who develop a serious dependency is ''the degree of anxiety for which they are seeking surcease,'' says Virginia Kramer Stein, a clinical psychologist in New Jersey. Although no kid is as supremely self-confident as many try to appear, youngsters who think of themselves as losers or unwanted by their busy parents, or who have trouble making friends, are at a higher risk of abusing alcohol and drugs than other kids. When they drink or take drugs, many kids feel transformed for the first time from awkward geeks into cool and appealing characters. ''Addiction has a lot to do with self-esteem,'' says Jeri, 16, the daughter of a Minneapolis-area businesswoman. Jeri started drinking at 11; then her sister introduced her to marijuana, which she smoked every day through much of her first year of high school. By the time she was in tenth grade, she was caught selling grass, and sent to a rehabilitation program at Fairview Deaconess. HOW DO PARENTS reduce the stress on their kids, boost their self-esteem, and keep them off drugs? Says Summit High's Geddis: ''If I've learned one thing, it is that the main priority for parents is to help their kids find something that makes them feel good about themselves. That's the greatest deterrent to drugs and alcohol.'' An important first step is to ease up on relentless pressure to make the youngster perform well in school. Focus only on grades and you're handing the kid a weapon to punish you with. If the child appears ''only average'' but is attending one of the toughest high schools in the country, find out where he or she ranks among peers on standardized achievement tests. That will help you know whether a B or C average is reasonable. Do not greet your children every evening with an ostensibly cheery ''How'd you do in school today?'' It is a very threatening question and often elicits no more than a mumbled ''Okay.'' Good grades help get you into a top college but don't predict a happy, successful life, says Robert Klitgaard, former faculty head of admissions at Harvard's Kennedy school. In case you forgot, success in high school is not achieved the same way as success in a corporation. You get ahead in a company by climbing the ladder and paying your dues, concentrating on things you're good at, and delegating or avoiding areas where you are not competent. You may be a whiz at corporate finance in part because the job does not require you to decline French verbs or find the area of an isosceles triangle. But your sophomore does not have the luxury of hiring a Harvard MBA to do her homework. Don't ignore the possibility that the apple of your eye simply is not as smart as you are. Children have roughly the same IQ as the average of their parents', but there are plenty of deviations. About 7% of the time, a child will be 15 points higher or lower than the parents' average, and one time in a thousand, a 30-point difference will pop up. THE AVERAGE college graduate has an IQ of 115 and Ph.D.s typically score 130, according to John E. Hunter, a professor of psychology at Michigan State University. ''It doesn't take much of a slip, and the child of parents who struggled to get through college will not be able to make it,'' he adds. (Of course, there's an equal chance your daughter is justified when she calls you stupid.) Though you may be a genius yourself, if you married a good-looking but dim bulb, you can't expect your progeny to send rockets to Mars. If your kid has been a whiz all along, however, and his grades collapse in high school, emotional or drug problems are the likely culprits -- not his IQ. Spend time with the family. Ordering your secretary to book 50 minutes of ''quality time'' into your schedule is better than nothing, but quality time has a habit of fitting your routine, not the kids'. Del Yocam, 45, former chief operating officer at Apple, religiously went home for dinner at 7 P.M. at least twice during the week, and avoided business commitments on weekends. ''The children have come to expect it,'' says Yocam. In November he retired from Apple. His devotion to his family didn't hurt his career there, Yocam says, but ''it's time to move on to other things.'' Hugh McColl, chairman of NCNB, the big Southern regional bank, cut out weekend golf and reduced entertaining at night years ago to have more time with his three children. But he still has some regrets about the time he spent away from home. He was coaching his son's YMCA basketball team in the early 1970s, and a league championship game was looming. Instead McColl went to a banking convention, and the team lost by two points. ''My son still blames me,'' says McColl with a laugh. ''He figures if I'd been at the game he would have won.'' Robert Butler, a senior engineer at Chevron in San Francisco, is also determined not to let his job overwhelm his family. He schedules time for his children, leaving for the office at dawn on days he has to depart early to coach his son's soccer team. Says he: ''You can always put things off for the future, but you can't get back the years with your kids.'' Use the time you spend with the children to listen sympathetically to them. That skill is particularly difficult for men to acquire, according to Ronald Levant, a Rutgers University psychologist and author of Between Father and Child. ''Men are not trained to be empathetic listeners,'' he says. ''We're taught to listen to our opponents to discover their weaknesses.'' Men see themselves as problem solvers, not as shoulders to cry on. Thus, the father who comes home and sees that his 15-year-old daughter has just eaten a whole box of Oreos will probably want to warn her about pimples and weight. Resist the urge. Just let her pour her heart out. Don't be hurt or angry if she doesn't respond the first dozen times you try to be understanding. If you've been a clod for the past 15 years, she may be confused or think you're trying to trick her. You may learn from all that listening that your son really doesn't want to go to Stanford, is the laughingstock of Kenilworth when you force him to practice drop-kicking at the country club, and dreads following your footsteps into the brake shoe business because he can't figure out what a brake shoe is. Fight the desire to disown him, and he may confess that he is fabulous at lawn bowling and likely to get a scholarship from East Cowflop University to study French cooking. Go lawn bowling with him and let him whip up some frog legs Provencale for you. You won't enhance your bragging rights with the board of directors, but you will do wonders for his self-esteem. And you could be pleasantly surprised: You may find that a newly energized youngster has replaced the sullen adolescent of just a few weeks before. ''There are no lazy teenagers,'' says Carol Perry. ''More likely they're turned off or depressed.'' SOME PARENTS conclude that boarding schools can do a better job of teaching and raising their children than mom or dad will. For example, a single parent who has to travel on the job might want the youngster in a stable environment that provides a sense of security for both child and parent. Such places range from exclusive prep schools such as Groton, Exeter, and Lawrenceville, which rival Ivy League colleges in admission requirements and costs; to less well- known but highly regarded private institutions such as the Webb Schools in Claremont, California, St. Stephen's Episcopal School in Austin, Texas, and Wayland Academy in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin; to military academies like Valley Forge in Pennsylvania that boast of instilling ''conservative Christian values'' in their charges. Then there are boarding schools where many of the kids have serious behavioral and emotional problems, among them drug abuse, petty theft, truancy, or depression. Among these academies are Cedu in Running Springs, California, Franklin Academy in Sabbatus, Maine, and the Brown Schools in Texas. Bob Weinbaum, the GM attorney, sent his son John to the DeSisto School, a prep school in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. With the Broadway producer Joseph Papp among the first board members, Mike DeSisto, a rumpled Catholic ex- seminarian who once ran a private school on Long Island, started the school in 1978. The annual tuition of $19,000 is more than the cost of a year at Yale. In addition to a rigorous academic schedule, DeSisto students undergo multiple private and group therapy sessions each week. But an important part of their development occurs as the kids learn to be accepting of each other and affectionate. Most conversations seem to begin and end with vigorous bear hugs. DeSisto himself is both warm and demanding. He lets kids pile onto his living room sofa and fall asleep on his lap until the 10 P.M. curfew. But kids don't ''graduate'' until they complete the course requirements, perform well at increasingly difficult and responsible campus jobs from washing dishes to assigning dorm rooms, and demonstrate they can be effective ''parents'' for newer arrivals. If you're committed to winning the Dad or Mom of the Year Award, one of the biggest and most common mistakes you can make awaits you: being a wimpy and overprotective parent. Says Gary McKay, co-author of The Parent's Handbook (see box): ''One of the greatest handicaps a child can suffer is to be raised by a 'good' parent.'' These well-meaning types try to do everything for the kids, rushing upstairs five times to wake them for school, exhorting them to eat breakfast faster, and driving them to school when they miss the bus. All this service winds up depriving the kid of self-confidence and independence, says McKay. Far better to be a ''responsible'' parent. Buy the youngster an alarm clock, explain that breakfast ends at 7:30, and if he misses the bus let him walk to school. Don't scold, don't say, ''I told you so,'' don't debate, don't give in. Bob Weinbaum fell into a good-parent trap, trying so hard to be a ''fair and reasonable'' father that he was coming across as overprotective, vague, and indecisive to his son John. ''In retrospect, I wish I had remembered that I was the father -- that I was the one in charge,'' says Weinbaum, whose credits include winning federal approval for the GM-Toyota deal in Fremont, California, and managing his son's baseball team. John grew up with a lot of love and attention, but Weinbaum now admits he tried to do too much for his son, even his homework. ''John told me once I was so involved, I made him feel incompetent.'' By the time John was a sophomore in high school, their relationship was in tatters, and both parents were worried. ''I remember his violent outrages and kicking the door apart,'' says Weinbaum. ''He was in a lot of pain.'' Schoolwork deteriorated, and the parents began finding marijuana butts on the floor. When the son started going to parties and not coming home at night, Weinbaum was frazzled. An adolescent treatment center in Detroit determined John's problems were not drug-related, so Weinbaum wound up sending John to the DeSisto School. He graduated in three years and is now at a college near Baltimore. For all three years Weinbaum and his wife attended monthly group support meetings with other DeSisto parents in the Detroit area and gradually learned how to improve relations with John. ''He is a spectacular, wonderful son,'' says Weinbaum today. If you plan to run out and start putting your foot down, do not mistake harshness or violence for firmness. Says one tall 17-year-old student at DeSisto: ''My father used to throw me up against a wall, demanding that I get better grades. But there was never any follow-through.'' The boy wanted his parents to talk to him about why he was having trouble in school and offer some help, but they did not. Says he: ''Parents often think if they've yelled and sent you to your room that their job is done.'' Since so much experimentation with drugs and alcohol begins in the preteen years, start long before they're in sixth or seventh grade to communicate with your children, and practice being assertive. Says Bruce Thompson, superintendent of the middle school in Woodside, a San Francisco suburb: ''This is the best time to catch them. They're still little kids, on the way to adults.'' How strict is strict enough when dealing with kids on the verge of becoming teenagers? ''You ask kids where they're going when they go out,'' says Thompson. ''They do their homework and you check their homework. They show up for dinner, they don't go out on school nights, and when they say they're sleeping over at Johnny's, you call up Johnny's parents and ask if they will be home that evening. Will the child complain? Yes.'' When kids in middle school and high school do go out at night, parents should be up and awake to greet them when they return. Says Tom Collins, head of Fairview Deaconess, the drug rehab center in Minneapolis: ''Sit down and talk with your kids when they come in. You should be able to say to them, 'You look weird. Have you been doing drugs?' '' If you take time to observe a teen, you can soon tell whether he's drunk or stoned. Do kids want to be stopped? Absolutely. ''If you don't see it soon enough,'' Collins warns, ''your child will go through lying, stealing, cheating. It gets rolling and you can't stop it until the kid is in so much pain he wants treatment.'' Many parents don't even suspect a problem until they find drugs or get a call from police or school officials. Warning signs that a kid is becoming an abuser include suddenly erratic grades, skipping school, dropping out of extracurricular activities, avoiding the family, swings in mood, violence, depression, no savings from a part-time job, and a crop of unfamiliar and unimpressive new friends.

MOST PARENTS will never have to deal with anything more serious than their - own chronic sense of clumsiness and frustration. In case you think you are hopelessly inept and suspect your kids secretly fired you a long time ago, be assured that you are far more influential than you suspect. ''The best manipulation parents have is their attention. It is an extraordinary power that most of them neglect to use,'' says David, 17, the troubled son of a high-ranking Ford executive. ''Parents are very important to kids -- more than they will ever let on.''