What Are We Doing to Our Children?

  BLOG- WINDOW2My 13 year-old nephew told me that his classroom is in a basement. No windows.

He doesn’t have gym, music or art.

He gets to school at 7am and returns home after 5pm.

As a teacher, I find this heartbreaking.

As a person, I find it inhuman.

This past weekend a piece in the New York Times, Best, Brightest and Saddest, reported that between May 2009 and January 2010, five teenagers in Palo Alto committed suicide by stepping in front of a train.

The article discusses the stresses (advanced placement classes, perfect SAT scores and exceptional grade point averages) that push teenagers to overachieve.

Teenagers often don’t get enough sleep and depression is on the rise.

Two weeks ago, on a Saturday night, my daughter, a junior in high school, came to me in tears. She was scheduled to take a practice SAT the following morning. She’d already taken countless tests.

My daughter wakes up at 6:45 every school day and commutes for over an hour in traffic. She comes home from school around 8pm after she’s completed soccer practice, or worked with her SAT tutor or gone to a friend’s house to study. She goes to sleep around midnight, which she claims is early in comparison to her friends. Over the weekend, she has hours of homework.

It made sense that she was stressed out.

“I’m so tired,” my daughter said, clearly upset. “And I have to wake up at 6:30 tomorrow morning to take the SAT again.”

Parenting requires we use our best judgment and the terrifying truth is that we’re not always going to be right.

But in recognizing that my daughter had reached her limit, that she needed empathy and support, I said, “Don’t take it.”

But I was unsure.

Was I teaching my daughter to expect less of herself?

Was I teaching her bad values?

I went with my gut.

Education has always been important to me and my children are aware of that. In fact, my older children like to tease me that I wouldn’t let them miss a day of school when they were young unless they were bleeding from their eyeballs and had 104 degree fever.

The thing is that even though education is an important value to me, teaching my daughter to value her well being, more than a test score, felt right.

Even still, I was relieved to see that in the NY Times article mentioned above a psychiatrist, Adam Strassberg, agreed that limiting the number of times a student takes the SAT is one way to reduce student stress.

The article points to a new awareness, “Want the best for your child, not for your child to be the best.”