Last night several moms and dads from my “Parent with Purpose” Meetup group gathered, along with other Dallas parents, at the Studio Movie Grill for a screening of “Race to Nowhere: The Dark Side of America’s Achievement Culture”, a film by Vicki Abeles that the NY Times calls a “Must-See Movie”. Mom Vicki was moved to do her research and make the film in search of answers after a 7th grade girl committed suicide in her community (Devon got a B minus in algebra). Vicki’s own children (in 5th and 7th grade) had started complaining of headaches and stomach-aches due to school-related stress and anxiety. She noticed that they simply could not keep up with their work loads. She felt that their childhoods were being robbed from them, and her children being robbed from her. She is speaking up and out for all of us, and the message is clear: “Enough is Enough.” It is time to put the health and happiness of America’s children and families first. It is time to check our priorities.
The stories and statistics are staggering: TOO much homework for kids, TOO much pressure to get into the “right” schools and colleges, TOO many AP classes, TOO much anxiety about grades and test scores, TOO much over-scheduling, TOO many teen suicides (2/ week here in Dallas), TOO many eating disorders as a result, TOO many good teachers quitting out of frustration with “the system” (including my own father), TOO much use of stimulant drugs to cope, TOO much cheating to cope, TOO much depression…TOO much, TOO much, just…TOO…much!
TOO much of the bad stuff, and NOT ENOUGH of the good stuff. The stuff that research shows over and over again is BEST for our children:
- NOT ENOUGH time to SLEEP!
- NOT ENOUGH time to PLAY!
- NOT ENOUGH time to RELAX!
- NOT ENOUGH time to be bored.
- NOT ENOUGH authentic connections with friends.
- NOT ENOUGH time to be with FAMILY.
- NOT ENOUGH time to just BE!
Maybe it’s time we set new standards for “success”. Maybe success doesn’t have to look like a big house and a fancy car. Maybe it looks like a happy, healthy person doing something that they love to do: doing hair, doing woodwork, fixing cars, making cakes, writing plays, writing blog posts, spending time having fun with the people that they love.
One high school girl reflected on her life of work and no play, “Sometimes I wonder, why am I doing all of this? I know…It’s to get into college and get a good job, so that I can be happy someday.” She paused, “But what if I’m not happy now?”
Another high school girl said that she is so tired of adults asking her “And?” When she tells them what classes she’s taking, teachers/ counselors/ parents ask, “And?” When she lists what clubs and extracurriculars she’s involved in, they ask, “And?” What about community service? What about sports? “And?” on and on….Since when is it NOT okay to focus on one favorite subject, one special talent, one passionate pursuit. Steve Jobs did, “and” he only attended one semester of college.
If you’re like me, you’re thinking, “but what can I do!” Start with your own family, your own parenting:
- Consider your family’s rituals, the special ways you have of connecting on a daily, weekly, seasonal basis. “Loving, healthy RITUALS foster the development of loving, emotionally healthy children…. RITUALS are the GLUE that holds the MOSAIC OF LOVE together.” (Becky Bailey) Check out these ideas for fall, and stay tuned for ways to connects over the holidays: http://mommymanders.com/2011/09/23/celebrate-fall-and-family-10-rituals-for-connecting-with-your-kids/
- Share “good things” at the end of the day – to end on a positive note, to teach gratitude. I couldn’t help but think that this ritual surely would have helped some of these overwhelmed teens to stay grounded, some of these busy families to stay connected.
- Share a meal together. There’s lots of research on the benefits of this simple act. You may not be able to do it every day, but do it when you can.
- Live and Label your values: you have to be explicit with children, and repetition is key. From “In our family, we take care of our bodies” to “In our family, we help others“, my goal is that these values are being written on my kids’ hearts and minds for life. We have a family “song” that labels our main values, and my hope is that this labeling will help my children recognize what truly matters and what doesn’t when they face pressures from the outside. Specific ideas to get you thinking: http://mommymanders.com/2011/08/16/live-and-label-the-values/
- Focus on Effort, not results. Focus on the “process”, not the product or performance. There is lots of new research on the dangers of too much praise for children, and what makes for effective praise. The idea is to instill intrinsic motivation in our children, not a sense that their worth/ that our love depends on the grades they make, the goals they score, the college they get into…Here’s the latest scoop on praise, and some great “usable” phrases for you: http://mommymanders.com/2011/10/04/nurtureshock-lessons-the-inverse-power-of-praise/
- Don’t ask about homework or test grades, ask about FUN and LEARNING. The parents who’ve had “enough” of the “TOO Much” in this film, the parents who’ve lost a child or friend to suicide, have simply STOPPED the nagging and berating after school. They play, they have a family dinner. They are there to help and guide when asked. They let their child experience consequences – success and failure, but they refuse to let homework stand in the way of their child’s health.
- Reflect on your family’s schedule: Does it include enough down-time, play-time, sleep, time outside, and time TOGETHER?
- Reflect on your own schedule. What are you modeling for your child? (Are you constantly stressed – skipping fun? skipping sleep? skipping meals?)
- Stay tuned to my blog for a series on “Slow Family Living” and join my Meetup group to be notified of upcoming discussions/ seminars on the subject: http://www.meetup.com/Mommy-Manders-Parent-with-Purpose-Dallas-Meetup-Group/
- Sign the “homework pledge” at racetonowhere.com.
- Vote for your school board members, know where they stand on the issues, tell them what you think.
- Pass this on to your friends and family. It is not just a problem for parents. It is society’s issue.
Please let me know. How does your family intentionally work against the rat race? How do you handle the homework problem?