A week ago, I attended a very informative yet disconcerting presentation about the present culture of secondary education, particularly the highly competitive climate the most ambitious high school students are continually encountering. Vicki Abeles’ award-winning documentary: Race to Nowhere: The Dark Side of America’s Achievement Culture, screened last year by our Parent-Teacher-Student Association, provided the impetus for creating a group intended to afford an avenue for discussion, support and understanding of this tragic phenomenon. As a culminating event, students, parents and administrators spoke genuinely about their respective experiences with our culture of excessive academics, sports and extracurricular activities.
I left the meeting feeling anxious, angry and aggravated.
- I felt anxious because when parents were describing the massive amounts of activity in their children’s lives I actually questioned my own belief that as a parent, it is my job to protect my teens from overextending themselves. Perhaps, my junior is not doing enough, plugging away at his advanced placement and community college courses, music and community service activities. He has some free time in his life. Horrors!
- I felt angry because I can’t believe that our culture has allowed our unique, amazing, terrific teens to suffer in a culture where no matter what they are doing, it is NEVER enough.
- I felt aggravated because this film was produced in 2009 and as far as I can ascertain, the road to college is more pressure-packed than ever for teens who desire admittance to selective universities.
Race to Nowhere, Vicki Abeles’ award winning documentary film, chronicles the pressures our kids experience in our present over-achieving focused culture. The most successful students are expected to fit a profile as the best student, athlete, artist and community-service oriented adolescent possible. As part of the race, parents can be guilty of pushing their offspring to the precipice of psychological devastation, as students experience anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide.
Research demonstrates that approximately 10 to 15% percent of children/teens “are depressed at any given time.” Furthermore, 25% of all students will experience a major depression during high school. On the average, these symptoms begin to occur when kids are only 14 years-old. Tragically, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2010, among 12 to 17 year-old students, suicide was the second leading cause of death.
High school depression simply exacerbates the propensity of college student to experience depression. Almost 50% of all college students state that at times depression prevents their normal functioning. If depression is ignored, suicide may ensue. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in college students.
If the emotional ramifications aren’t enough, educators and business leaders lament that students leave school lacking the essential qualities for career success: intrinsic motivation, a passion for learning and problem solving, and the creative drive to make a positive contribution to the adult world in which they enter.
This is the “nowhere” to which many of our college-bound students are racing.
All this leads me to a call to action for parents. Before it’s too late, let us:
- help our kids to develop reasonable schedules allowing time for family dinners, leisure time, and free spaces in their week allowing for catching up or slowing down. They need our parenting to help them prioritize their activities.
- stop expecting our kids to be the top in academics, sports, and their amount of extra-curricular and community service activities. Help them to find their passion. If kids are told for too long what to do, I guarantee you they won’t have a clue about what their true desire may be. Remember, they have their whole lives to discover their interests.
- stop bragging to other parents about our kids. I have written before about “When Parents Compete, Children Lose.” The reality is that as parents, when we make trophies out of our children, we are stoking the fires of competition
- join the Race to Nowhere” Community. More than 6,000 communities that have screened the film. Share teen’s stories of walking, rather than racing to a goal. Talk to other parents about the issues their teens are facing. Open dialogues about how communities can support positive learning environments rather than cutthroat competition.
- Let’s work with our kids to schedule healthy amounts of activity.
- Let’s help our teens to walk (not race) to prepare to meet the challenges of their future.
- Let’s communicate emphatically that most importantly, we love and accept them unconditionally.
I plan to be part of the solution and hope that you will join me.
Any comments on this subject are more than welcome!
Have a lovely weekend and Happy Passover and Easter to those who celebrate,