My son Evan, a 7th grader, is currently enrolled in a combined 7th/8th grade Math class. At the school’s recent Back to School Night, his math teacher welcomed us parents and advised that she was not going to talk about the course curriculum or her grading policy. She instead spent her 10 minutes of allotted time expressing her concern with the emotional state of her students.
She mentioned the growing rate of suicide and depression among middle school students. And she is right. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate among 10 to 14 year-olds doubled between 2007 and 2014. This statistic alone should sound the alarm bells in all the halls of America. A two-fold increase in a mere 7 years!! A myriad of contributing factors has been posited by the experts for this disturbing trend. But my son’s 7th grade math teacher wasted no time in putting forth her lead cause, the pressure to excel. She shared a story from last school year of a student who, upon learning he or she was receiving a 95% overall grade in the class, broke down sobbing. She exclaimed that this should never happen, and I would agree.
The pressure comes from many corners of society. From the media extolling the high achieving athletes, entrepreneurs, corporate titans, and entertainers. From the government’s focus on achievement in our schools. From the education sector’s priority of early academic curriculum over play-based learning. From the universities reaching out to our kids before they even enter high school. From the test administrators offering the PSAT to 7th and 8th graders (I am completely dumb-founded by this one!). From the adults who feel the need to ask our children what college they want to go to and what do they want to be before they even finish middle school.
Now whether we are brave and humble enough to acknowledge it or not, parents contribute the largest share of the pressure placed on our youth to exceed. I can easily see the prevalence in my community. The kids in SAT boot camp 2-3 years before they even take the test. The kids taking college level courses as juniors in high school. The kids who are pigeon-holed into a competitive sport at a young age targeting a college scholarship. The kids whose schedules are ridiculously overloaded with activities. The kids whose parents incessantly talk about getting ahead and scoring the highest.
The good thing is that us parents can have an immediate positive impact on the emotional well-being of our children if we can just take the foot of the gas, help guide our children to discover their true gifts and calling, and let children be children. They only have one childhood – let’s stop depriving them of this wonderful adventure. So I stand on a chair and applaud my son’s teacher, hopefully one among many, who understands how best to form young minds and hearts, and who recognizes that every child is special and that there are many different paths to greatness.