The Huffington Post recently ran a feature by US Principal Michael K. Mulligan, outlining his concerns on success focused 'pushy-parenting,' and the effects he sees it having on America's teens.
Quoting parenting author and former Yale Professor William Deresiewicz, Mulligan observes while today's teens may be more affluent and well-educated than previous generations, they're also significantly more likely to have depression and suffer from stress and isolation issues too.
Deresiewicz notes in his recent book, Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life, "A large-scale survey found self-reports of emotional well being have fallen to the lowest levels in 25 year study... fifty percent of college students report feelings of hopelessness; one-third reported feeling so depressed that it was difficult to function in the last twelve months ... They are stressed-out, over-pressured; [they exhibit] toxic levels of fear, anxiety, depression, emptiness, aimlessness, and isolation."
Mulligan believes parental focus on achievement and success has created a generation of teens devoid of genuine substance. Raised in an environment where childhood is seen as an opportunity to resume-build, at the expense of genuine experiences, he believes teens pay for their loss of traditional childhood with their health and self-worth.
These days, good grades, playing sports, art and even music have little to do with the joy and interest of learning, being part of a team or self expression, instead they're undertaken solely to stand out against the child's peers. Volunteerism and community service are done not through motivation to help the less fortunate or a drive for social change, but for mandatory school assignments and to develop resumes and university applications.
Mulligan believes that ultimately these children discover there is little intrinsic value in anything they do. Having never explored what they're passionate about or what motivates them, they have no sense of 'who they are,' what drives them or even what's truly important to them. In reality they've spent the majority of their time preparing to look the best they can 'on paper', and neglected what genuinely makes them happy.
While the process may create the perfect resume, it's often at the expense of nurturing: resilience, motivation, self-worth, and grit. In the end, children are unhappy and left wide open to potentially destructive behaviours.
Deresiewicz notes in his book, "All the values that once informed the way we raise our children - the cultivation of character, the development of the capacity for democratic citizenship, let alone any emphasis on the pleasure of freedom of play, the part of childhood where you actually get to be a child - all of these are gone."
In essence, we are teaching children that appearance is more important than substance and outcomes are more important than the processes.
But we know that lasting happiness comes from strong values, enjoyable and worthwhile work, good health, strong invested relationships and selfless service, so why do we continue to pressure and push? We need to stop asking, "what marks did you get in the test?" and start asking:
1 Who tells us who we are? Finding substance. Like David taking on Goliath, today's parents battle some formidably financed and influential foes, these include: the internet, billions of dollars worth of advertising, social media and more. Each one is telling our children they are defined by what they wear, consume and how they look. As Mulligan points out, "When we focus on the wrong things, we create these conditions for monumental cynicism in our kids. Our children need to learn that they are important not for reasons of appearance but for reasons of substance."
2 Where do we want to go with our lives? Finding passion. If we drive children to focus entirely on university and future career/wage potential in all likelihood they will fall into unfulfilling careers driven primarily by status. If we don't want children to become frustrated, angry and lonely adults, it's essential we help them find their passion. Discovering what they're good at, what they enjoy and what motivates them is knowledge which will help them find what they ultimately love to do."The truth is that we are all going to have to work hard to succeed in life, and if that is the case, let's us at least try to work hard on things that matter and that we care about," says Mulligan.
3 How do we want to get there? The journey. As adults we all know the journey, is equally as important, if not more so, than the destination, but do we all develop this belief in our children?. Those who are taught to place focus on results end up feeling pressurised to cheat, be unkind to others, and view their peers not as fellow 'travellers' on the journey- but as competition. This results in a no win situation where the child loses self-respect, which in turn, creates a lack of respect for others.
Mulligan concludes by saying, "Let's go back to the basics. Let's help them understand that learning is valuable in and of itself; that hard work, genuine curiosity, and heartfelt passion pave the way to a life well lived; and that real success comes when you can look at your life and say, "I have done my best to make a positive difference in the lives of others and the world we live in."