In my previous blog, If You Want To Know About Stress, Ask the Kids, I indicated that it was the first of a 3-part series on what children in a focus group told me about stress. As I started to write this second part today, I realized that there is so much vitally important information from this focus group that I still want to share with you and so I am extending this into a 4-part series.
The Focus Group
So there I am with the TV crew, in a school auditorium, sitting in a semi-circle with bright-eyed, excited children between seven and 12 years of age. After they had answered several questions and about 45 minutes after we started, I say, ‘Okay, you have given me such important information about how stress feels in your body. Now let’s talk about the 3 things that cause you the most stress.’ The first hand pops up and answers with great conviction, ‘getting the best grades.’ All are in full agreement. A fervent discussion ensues about the expectations of the teachers and the parents for them to achieve high grades, about their desire to be smart and their fear and anxiety of ‘not being good enough.’ One 9 year old says, ‘my mom and dad tell me that as long as I try my best, whatever grades I get are okay. But’, he adds, ‘this does not make me feel good about myself, because my teacher tells me I am an under-achiever.’ All the kids agree that they place enormous pressure on themselves to excel. The term ‘over-achiever’ was used again and again – ‘my mom says I am an over-achiever and that’s why I am so stressed.’
Think about it! They are so young and yet they already think of themselves in terms of being ‘an under-achiever or an over-achiever!’ And each of these labels causes them stress! What will they be like by the time they become adults?! And what will this achievement stress have done to their health, their hormonal balance, their neurochemistry, their organs, and their immune system? What stress-related physical and emotional disorders will they have created for themselves because they are anxious about being an over- or under-achiever?
Already parent and teacher expectations to achieve the best grades have created a generation of pre-teens and teens on medications that are designed to increase their ability to attend and focus and improve their grades. A significant percentage of college kids are feigning ADHD symptoms in order to obtain scripts from doctors and using these drugs themselves, and selling them to each other, because they believe they will do better on tests. See this shocking expose – http://www.bestsyndication.com/?q=20110517_college_students_abusing_adderall_add_adhd_prescription_drugs.htm
You’re probably thinking …So what’s the solution?
It’s starts with the parents. If you are a parent who places huge priority on the achievement of the best grades, who sees your child as an under-achiever, or who is secretly glad that your child is a stressed over-achiever, then ask yourself, ‘Am I prepared to handle the consequences of this in terms of what it is doing to my child?’ Because there will be consequences!
Sure it is scary not to push your child – ‘look at your grades, look at your grades!’ But has it ever occurred to you that this achievement stress is having the opposite effect of what you are hoping for? Has it ever occurred to you that by your being stressed about this, and by showing your stress about this to your child, the child will become stressed? And stressed children cannot learn and achieve their highest potential.
So I would highly recommend that you start to speak differently to your children about grades. Put it all into a less stress-oriented perspective and trust that, without the physical and emotional strain of stress, the child will be free to find his/her way of becoming all they are capable of being.