At What Cost? Defending Child Development in Fiercely Competitive Schools
Anxiety, disillusionment and depression emerge, sometimes with devastating outcomes, as conflicts between ever-increasing school expectations and students’ developmental capacities persist. Tellingly, many high achieving schools have been termed “epicenters of overachievement” where students “hear the overriding message that only the best will do in grades, test scores, sports, art, college…in everything.” Consequently, too many students in these schools feel stressed and pressured, conditions that lead not only to anxiety and depression, but also, to a host of dangerous manifestations of those conditions: substance abuse, eating disorders, sleep deprivation, cutting and other forms of self-injury, and too often, suicide.
Why is this happening? With the help of a structured but open-ended interview, Dr. Gleason has investigated these issues in many schools in the United States and in hundreds of international schools throughout the world over the past four years. With this extensive research, he has found almost complete unanimity in how educators and parents associated with these schools have responded to my inquiries. To an alarming degree, that unanimity is this: these caring and dedicated adults admit – albeit unintentionally – to overscheduling, overworking and, at times, overwhelming their students and teenage children.
Over the past decade, unprecedented insights from human brain research have revealed that environment not only affects adolescent identity, but it shapes the brain itself. In light of the intensifying pressures on adolescents that we admit to imposing on them, what must we do now? For all our students, finding the right balance between an appropriate level of academic rigour and educating them in healthy, safe and balanced ways has crucial lifelong implications.