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How to deal with the stress of school

February 18th, 2012 | Posted by Brian Pearson in Children | Education | Stress

The film Race to Nowhere was screened at our very own Saline High School last night (October 13th). As a parent and as a psychologist who practices in Saline I felt this was a very significant event in the Saline Community. The film talks about the experiences of (primarily) school age children across the country and the stress they experience as they get into higher grades, and especially into high school. University educators, high school teachers, students, parents, psychologists all provide unique perspectives.

We have known about student stress for a long time. None of this is really new information. The power of the screening, however, is in bringing communities together to start this discussion, and this is what started to happen last night at Saline High School.

In a powerful exchange, one student in the film talks about how parents should not use the word “and” when a student is describing their accomplishments. For instance, “I’m getting straight A’s,” “and?” “I’m on the soccer team,” “and?” “I’m in National Honor Society,” “and?” “I’m in the marching band,” “and?”… The word “and” added on to the end of each accomplishment, basically diminishes the sense of accomplishment, and makes the student feel that they need to do more and more to “win the race.”

I would like to add that the words “but” and “should” also need to be avoided in a conversation with a school age child. When a child reaches out to a parent (or anyone else), all too often we start to minimize their feelings and offer solutions, saying things like “but think about it this way…” or “you should just….”

As some of the astute students pointed out last night, many are reluctant to talk about their stress and some don’t engage in this conversation at all, hiding it even from themselves. When our child does muster up the courage to come and talk with us, are we truly listening? If you find yourself using words like “but” and “should,” the answer is, probably not. Being listened to and heard is what many students really need. And, if you child or student is not speaking with you about the stress they are experiencing, don’t be afraid to initiate this conversation yourself.

As a parent, I know it is difficult. Our family has not been without struggles and we have, many a time, found ourselves being caught up in the race. As pointed out by a doctor from Philadelphia’s Children’s Hospital in the film, despite being an expert and even having written books about it, he struggles not to pressure his child constantly to achieve more and more. Even when we know the right thing to do, often it is hard to do the right thing. That is why I feel it essential that the discussion on student stress not end with last night’s screening of Race to Nowhere.

If you are a student, parent, educator, or simply a concerned community member, there are many ways you can become part of this conversation and keep it going. You can join a group like STRIVE (Students Re-investing in a Valuable Education) that brought this film to Saline High. You can join a group like Saline Alive (the Saline Area Schools Community Mental Health Committee) that highlights issues of stress, anxiety, and depression. You can also come to School Board meetings and speak about this issue. You can write to the local media and ask them to highlight this issue. You can organize another screening of Race to Nowhere in the community and invite others to come. If you live in a community other than Saline, you can talk with your school administrators about screening this film. The issue is complex and no one group or individual can come up with the answers. Action steps need to be thought out and implemented cohesively in order to have a real impact. Please do our students a favor and do not allow this discussion to end with last night’s screening. In the words of Styx, “don’t let it end this way”….

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