To what extent does the competition and pressure heaped on todays kids help or hurt them?
In 2007, an attorney and first-time filmmaker, Vicki Abeles, based in San Francisco, crafted a documentary, Race to Nowhere, in response to concern at seeing her 12-year-old daughter suffer panic attacks and a stress-induced illness in the face of nonstop academic pressure.
In a 2010 article for Psychology Today, Dr. Peter Gray, professor emeritus at Boston College and author of the widely used Psychology textbook, suggested a connection between the dramatic rise of anxiety and depression in children and adolescents with the decline in play and rise in schooling.
Last year, Dr. Deborah Stipek, dean of the school of education at Stanford, wrote an editorial in Science describing the cheating and lack of joy in learning she sees in high school students, a problem she blames on the pressures they face.
To help navigate these challenges, The Dallas Morning News convened a panel of five experts who work with children and young adults.
These experts emphasized the role that parents can play in helping their children become more resilient.
Panelist Kathleen Fischer, a family and parenting coach and self-published author of Simple But NOT Easy: Regaining Balance in Our Family Life, said theres one key question for a child to answer: Is it for others sake or because it satisfies something in me?
If children measure their worth in how much they please others, when they fail to please by flunking a test, by losing a game, by a rejection for a coveted program or school they may feel worthless, Fischer said.
Too often, kids have trouble distinguishing their ambitions from those their parents set for them, said panelist Dr. Sarah Feuerbacher, clinic director of the family counseling center at Southern Methodist University. Parents may think they are being supportive by cheering their kids at every game, but thats not always what their child wants.
I had a teenager coming in, and every week he talked about how he had to go to another football tryout even though he didnt know if thats what he wanted to do, she said. He said, My mom doesnt see who I am.
Communication is vital, and parents need to encourage kids to speak up.
We need to teach our children to say, I love you, but I dont love this sport. Its very important for me to allow my children to have their own voice, to be safe and to be loved no matter what, Feuerbacher said.
When a child struggles
Children also need to be shown respect when they struggle, said panelist Beth Van Duyne. One of the worst things a parent can say to a child who struggles with a particular subject in school or an activity is try harder, because that suggests that they are not already trying their best, she said.
Consequently, when her daughter, Katie, 13, usually an A student, struggled with algebra, Van Duyne tried to figure out why she was having difficulty. Ultimately, the problem was solved by a tutor who was able to explain the concepts in a way that her daughter could understand.
There will always be some issues parents and kids cant fix.
Attorney Ava Greene Bedden said that her son, Daniel Davenport, now 17, was frustrated because he couldnt wrest the first-chair seat away from an even better saxophone player at his school. The Beddens invested in a better instrument and private instruction from a top teacher at Daniels request, but nothing bridged the gap.
Daniel eventually learned to accept this without losing his love of music and now hes minoring in music at UNC Chapel Hill this fall.
Dr. Thomas Sanders, who has a doctorate in childhood education, is a program director in Christian education at Dallas Baptist University. He talked about how communication cannot occur in a vacuum. Thats why he set aside every Thursday morning for breakfast with his son when he was growing up.
It wasnt important what they talked about or even if they talked at all; they both looked forward to that time together, he said.