A few nights ago, just as I realized I had an unforeseen free evening ahead of me, my neighbor popped over to spontaneously invite me to a panel on teen stress at a nearby high school. I said yes.
An hour later I fought back tears as a well-dressed dad pointed to a picture of his teenage son on the big screen, a good-looking kid who committed suicide three years ago. That tragedy spurred the dad and other parents to begin a Wellness Committee aimed at addressing stress among adolescents. Ultimately, they want to change culture – students, parents, schools, teachers, systems, and society – the perfect storm as we all play a role in the overwhelming stress our students experience.
For the Committee’s first public event, they began with stress, which may lead to depression, which may lead to dangerous behaviors and, worst case, suicide. The Committee will do important work, but it won’t matter a whit if the rest of us don’t jump on board.
Teen’s pediatrician happened to be one of the speakers. A wise, well-grounded man, he received several rounds of interruptive applause for speaking truth. Things like, why do final exams come after winter break? In other words, why can’t “break” be a true break, with no finals, no homework hanging over kids’ heads? How about reduced homework, or a later start time since older teens need more sleep?
Other good exhortations:
Just because our kids are older, we are NOT life consultants but more like President of the Board to our kids; they get more responsibility, yes, but we don’t take a hands-off advisory role. We still have levers to pull, and it’s our responsibility to pull them as necessary.
Eat dinner together as a family – friends, we can spare fifteen minutes to be face-to-face with one another!
According to a recent survey, high school students in our district get less than 7 hours of sleep per night. They need more (they should average 9.5 hours/night), so parents and kids can work together to make that change.
Though teens act a convincing part that they do not want to spend time with family, family fun time is important, one of the levers we employ to keep kids healthy. Take a vacation or even a day trip to do something together.
Help kids focus on who they are becoming more than what they are doing. Just like adults, their identity is not wrapped up in performance, in their GPA or home runs; their identity is Who They Are, at their core, when all their accomplishments have been stripped away – as they will be once they have to “start over” in college or the work force.
Technology addiction has become a huge issue, and it’s not healthy that our young people are “on stage” through social media 24/7. Most of us give in to the positive stimulus response, parents may be equally addicted, and we all need to unplug more regularly. Tough love, perhaps, but Teen’s pediatrician thinks cell phones should be off by 8pm, internet by 9pm, and kids in bed by 10pm (my Teen said, “Uh, yah…No Way.” Not sure I’ll pull that particular lever, but we are going to have another conversation about a healthy bedtime routine).
That recent survey revealed that as many as 46% of local high school kids have had or currently have depression, feeling unrelenting sadness for two weeks or more such that it interferes with their ability to perform daily tasks. Staggering! Maintaining the status quo may be easier, but it’s killing our kids. How can we ignore the truth that our kids are drowning while we stand by, cheering them on?
As adults, we have to model better behavior. We can’t mentor kids in stress-free living if we’re workaholics who don’t stop to enjoy life, if we don’t make time to listen to them. We have to talk about stress. We have to put our phones away and sit face-to-face with our kids and admit our own struggles, our own mistakes.
Life is hard. Parenting is hard, and parenting adolescents can be downright crazy-making. What’s the point in pretense when talking about it helps? Every family, geez, every human!, struggles in some way or other. Talk to your spouse, your kids, teachers and coaches, friends, and neighbors. Talk to anyone who will listen compassionately. Find your safe people if you don’t already know who they are. We’re in this thing together whether we like it or not, so we might as well get on the same team and admit our weaknesses so we can build on our strengths.
Glennon Melton of Momastery wrote, “I’ve never made a friend by bragging about my strengths, but I’ve made countless by sharing my weakness, my emptiness.” Fear and shame keep us from vulnerability, but vulnerability is exactly what we need to combat loneliness. We need one another. Tragedy strikes the one who feels unnecessary and can’t talk about it. Let’s all tell the truth so we can offer one another hope.
If you need someone to talk to and don’t know where to turn, the National Lifeline has trained counselors ready to listen anytime, day or night. It’s free and confidential. Please call: 800-273-TALK.
7 thoughts on “Tell the Truth”
You don’t criticize the education system enough. We need to spend more time together, yes. Whoops! Kid got 10 upcoming tests and lots of homework!
Parents need to make a choice. It’s either your kids’ well-being or the education system. Parents need to learn to love their kids more than they love standardized testing and grades.
Yes, grades are a great way to assign value to your kids but they’re also a lazy and harmful way.
Kids will unplug when they won’t be so stressed and will have time.
Also, suicide prevention is a failure and an infringement of people’s right to die. Suicide prevention organizations are hostile and send the message that a person’s life doesn’t belong to him. You cannot reach out to suicidal people unless you respect their choices.
You’re right, I don’t criticize the system. My point was not to lay blame but to address the things I, we, can do right now. Changing systems takes substantial time and good folks like those on the Wellness Committee have dedicated themselves to that end. I, however, can parent my Teen today. I can help him focus on becoming rather than doing. I can help him do “good enough” without breaking his neck for the A, which I agree does not assign any true value to my son as a human being. I can set realistic boundaries and require that we all unplug for a time to make family fun a priority. I can meet with teachers when my son feels he hasn’t been heard. I can make choices to live less stressed and with more margin in order to model that for my kids. Blaming others shifts my own responsibility. I need to tell the truth about what I can do. As for suicide prevention, people need to talk, and not everyone who needs to talk is suicidal. The local Crisis Hotline receives over 1,000 calls a month and far less than that carry through on suicide. Some just need a safe listener on the other end. Thanks for reading and engaging. As I wrote, society and all its components create a perfect stressful storm and it will take everyone involved to create solutions.
I think an important thing as a parent is to let your children know you don’t side with the education system.
Not all systems are bad and many have things we can benefit from (the military is harsh but teaches valueable lessons). The education system is a big waste of time that is only harmful to children. Good parenting is, first of all, helping your child recognize the world beyond that jail
My problem with suicide prevention is that it isn’t safe. Unless you respect someone’s desire to die, you’re not a safe listener for them.
I would like to Thank You for attending the Acalanes Parent Education Event, we appreciate your feedback. Please do not hesitate to contact us should anyone have any further questions about APC Wellness Committee, the Parent Education event and the future initiatives.
You can follow us at https://www.facebook.com/AcalanesHub to keep up to date with events.
Acalanes Parents Club
Thank you Siv for your insightful take aways from the parent Ed event. I think you strike just the right balance in your blog – simply blaming the schools and the local education system is unhelpful – it does not foster collaboration and that is what we need to help our children. There are many things the school district is looking at but making changes such as moving to block scheduling and earlier start date so finals can be before the holidays are not able to happen overnight. There are many logistical and human factors that impact that process – many of which those of us not in the education system are unaware of. I liken it to moving a huge container ship – it has to be done carefully, be guided and is a much slower process than quickly reversing a speedboat out of the harbor. Factors such as the last swim meet in August are what are causing problems for example, at least that is my understanding. Along with having to align with all the four different K-8 school districts. Additionally, some teachers work as several of our school sites so figuring out how to make that work with block scheduling is going to take some working through. So many factors feed into these things. But to their credit I believe the school district is investigating how they might manage this.
In the meantime, we as parents have our own role to play in both making changes in our own homes and encouraging change where necessary in our community, community expectations, pressure, demands – we don’t have to buy into the sports program that requires our children to regularly miss school and adds another 3 hours a day to their already hectic schedule. As you say – help kids focus more on who they are becoming rather than what they are doing. Love them unconditionally. Talk about stress and help them learn how to help themselves by developing their resilience and coping skills. Spend more time together as a family
I’m so glad to see that this has been shared many times of Facebook. You are helping to spread the word and that is a marvelous thing.
I’m currently reading Brene Brown’s Gifts of Imperfection and your final comment about vulnerability struck a chord with a lot of my thinking just now. I also have a Teen and a Tween, both transitioning to their next school this summer and I am constantly reflecting on the messages we give them. The challenge is to pick apart the messages WE received as kids and not to dump them on our kids just because those messages were dumped on us, and the messages that come from schools that can only use a flawed system to measure people (although even the need to constantly is questionable), but to communicate to them the real truth: that we love them, whatever.
On suicide, this “I love you, whatever” is a message at least two of my friends would dearly love to say to their kids who died too young. In times of desperation and panic that lead someone to taking their own life, it is an act for which the full consequences aren’t fully considered. Suicide prevention, if done well, is necessary because it communicates to people that they are worthy, and the world will be a desperately sad and sorry place without them. I think that is why parents who have lost their own children, like the gentleman presenting at the panel, will give tirelessly if only to save another child and their family of the sorrow that they face very day. Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus because the separation of death is massive, no matter what you believe lies beyond the grave.
Thank you for this blog, I will be following with interest.
Thanks for reading! Brene’s books are on my To Read list as soon as I can get my hands on them. And I’m big on vulnerability, one of the reasons for this post. We do ourselves and others no favors by hiding behind pretense.