In the San Ramon-Danville area, the academic pressure has been building and children and teens are feeling this weight. They feel like they need to be the best, get straight As, and always be the top of the class. Being average at anything is considered failure and passing a class with a B is a fear that pushes teens to work harder and later each night. Unfortunately, this increase in pressure is causing there to be an increased incidence of mental health issues among youth in this area.
With increased academic pressure, we are seeing a large increase in depressive and anxious symptoms as well as higher suicidality among teens. While academics cannot be the entire cause, it has been pointed out as the largest cause of stress and focus of identity in many teens that we have seen. To an extent, this dedication to school is beneficial for their grades and future, but it can go to the extreme of pushing kids to not want to be alive. Sometimes this extreme pressure is from parents, but more frequently it is from the students themselves or a mix of external and internal pressure.
Given that the overarching environment won’t change, it may seem hopeless when we look at this epidemic. However, we can help set the pace for our teens in the way we discuss school and in the way we work. If we discuss school in a high-pressure way, or model that working to the extreme is the correct way to succeed, we are showing them that their life is only valuable based on their achievements. If we find value in life outside of work, we can show them that they can do the same with school.
Our teens need a new conversation that emphasizes their importance as human beings, not as grades, and highlights all of the non-academic ways that they succeed. Perhaps your child is a great soccer player, kind friend, brave adventurer, or has an amazing voice. Pointing out and adding value to these other aspects of life, instead of only the biology final, can help them see that their value is multifaceted. Giving them boundaries around self-care, which may be as basic as going to bed before midnight and not skipping lunch, as well as mental breaks to go on a walk to spend time with a friend can do wonders on their ability to emotionally regulate. These self-care routines can also help them focus better, giving them more stamina for when they do need to study. Our teens are wonderful human beings, who have bright futures, but in order to get there we need to make sure they have the ability to step back and breathe sometimes.