This week has been thematic for me and it started with an On Point/NPR show Monday morning while I was working in my studio. The show was dedicated to depression, anxiety and suicide clusters among teens in America. It highlighted the unbelievable pressure put on our teens now. We’ve created a culture of expectation that we don’t even come close to as the standard for ourselves. We’re also living in a time when we are medicating kids at an alarming rate just to get them through all of these crazy demands. It’s unsustainable and time for a major paradigm shift.
The show highlighted both the pressure of affluent areas with a highly educated population and it discussed the suicide rate on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota (I’m a South Dakota native). I found it quite interesting that these two populations on either side of the spectrum share something quite alarming. Extreme pressure on one end and lack of academic pressure, rigor and opportunity on the other. The suicide rate on the reservation among teens is 4 times the national statistic. Devastating.
Here’s the link to the show:
This got me thinking about my three teenagers (ages 19 and 15 year-old-twins) and my expectations of them. If I was held to the standard that is out there culturally for them I don’t think I would get out of bed. I want to create an environment that allows a lot of time for discussion about character…there will be resistance but they just might thank me later…maybe in their late 20s. This photo was the day my girls said goodbye to their college bound big brother.
Here’s what we’re expecting of our teens:
• Have perfect grades in every subject (not just the classes that really interest them or what courses they possess natural ability). I basically majored in English in High School.
• Be good athletes (often whether they enjoy the sport or not).
• Be fit and attractive (to take gorgeous selfies).
• Be so passionate about something and develop expertise—distinguishing themselves among their peers. (This is rare and why we hear these stores on 60 minutes.)
• Play an instrument, a talented vocalist or an actor.
• Volunteer and be dedicated community servants (looks great on college applications).
• Know what career they want (this is crazy to be asking kids—they don’t know about all possibilities out there, let alone should they be expected to share with the world their intentions).
In sixth grade we were suppose to draw a picture of the profession we desired and cut the face out inserting one of our wallet-sized school photos. I thought it was crazy then and much to my mother and teacher’s chagrin I drew a Skid Row sort of bum. Sorry, Mrs. Tolstedt and Mom. My drawing did, however exhibit my artistic ability and smart-ass inclinations (which have mostly served me quite well in my adult life). My drawing was my image in fingerless gloves, a black bowler hat and a bottle in a brown paper bag. I wish I had it to show you.
I am oddly proud of that drawing because I didn’t know then and still don’t entirely know now what I want to “BE”…and it’s OK.
This morning the other information that popped onto my radar is New York columnist/author, David Brooks’ new book, “The Road to Character”. His book is about development of our inner lives in a era of heightened competition, sound bites & selfies.
What if our expectations & conversations with our teens focused on their inner lives, manners, kindness, generosity, purpose & empathy?
You can subscribe to David Brooks’ website and become a part of the discussion.
Here is an excerpt from the book.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Please leave comments.