Sunday, September 27, 2009

"Challenge Success"

Yesterday, I attended a seminar at Stanford called Challenge Success. Success is spelled backwards urging us as parents, students, teachers, administrators to challenge our definition of success. The purpose of the seminar was to both shed light on and learn from the effects of stress on our adolescents. It was amazing to hear the staggering stories and compelling statistics of the adolescents sitting around me. I couldn't believe that most of kids who attended the seminar, kids from schools we know in the Bay Area, get less than 6 hours sleep per night. These are both middle school kids and high school students.

As parents, we were asked to try to imagine what a day in the life of our adolescent might feel like. The weight of one day seemed unmanageable. And the kid panelists assured us that most of the high achieving kids were abusing drugs. I was surprised to hear that down any school hallway before any exam kids could easily buy an 'adi' or Adderall, a drug prescribed for ADD or ADHD. The kids need the drug to help focus during exams, due to lack of sleep. Kids who are prescribed the drug for their ADD sell them for cash. Medical experts are seeing sports injuries at much earlier ages. Tendinitis is seen in kids as early as 8 years of age. Eating disorders and disordered eating is on the rise. So is cutting, scratching and suicidal thoughts.

When I was growing up, it was clear that in our middle and high school days, our 'stresses' came from social issues, family problems, and our search for identity. In our children, overwhelmingly, the stress comes from where they are going to go to college. Kids today associate a good college with a good job. CEOs who attended the conference uniformly suggested that the kids in the work force today are not as creative as they have been in the past. To them, it was clear. Overbooking, over-scheduling our kids gives them less time to find out who they are, less time to play, less time to be creative.

The Challenge Success team assured us there is a college for everyone. But my question is this, is there really a college for everyone? We have been filled with fear since our children where in pre-school. There are so many kids vying for so few schools, from pre-school, to independent schools, to colleges. And I am not just talking about top tier schools. We have all heard horror stories about kids with solid GPAs and test scores who could not get into schools we attended. Our kids have heard these same stories and have probably picked up on our stress. So what is the truth in respect to the admissions process for college?

Will attended the seminar with me. He sat in a group of kids from 6th to 12th grade. He said that every kid said the overwhelming stress in their life was where they were going to college.
I find this amazing. Middle school and high school is meant to be a time of exploration and learning. It is a time to fail and learn from our mistakes. It seems that the stakes are too high to allow our kids to fail. Failure is probably more important than success. Through failure we learn resilience. In life, we all know we need to be resilient.

I'm not sure, that as parents or as kids we can rid ourselves of the fears until we fully understand the realities of the college situation. I intend to find out. I am not sure how quite yet, but I feel that we are grappling with issues that are affecting the well being of an entire generation of kids. We are committed to buying organic to keep our kid's bodies healthy, but what are we doing for their souls?

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