robertogreco + suniyaluthar   4

Students and the Pressure to Perform — To the Point — KCRW
"Silicon Valley's Palo Alto school district is in crisis. The suicide rate for teenagers there is four to five times the national average. This tragic statistic has made the city a symbol of the pressure kids live under in affluent communities to get into elite colleges, to excel at everything, to succeed at all costs. This week, as high school seniors and their families gather around computers racing to finish their college applications, we ask whether the obsession with getting into the best colleges is hurting kids more than helping them, and what schools, parents and students can do lessen the stress."
education  stress  class  barbarabogarev  suniyaluthar  julielythcott-haims  gwyethsmighjr  carolynwalworth  paloalto  siliconvalley  colleges  universities  admissions  homework  schools  parenting  anxiety  success  suicide 
december 2015 by robertogreco
Why Affluent Parents Put So Much Pressure on Their Kids - The Atlantic
"With financial success ought to come some measure of relief—a chance to take in a deep breath, exhale, and survey the world from the top.

But, as Hanna Rosin’s recent Atlantic cover story on the high rate of suicide among high-school students in Palo Alto, California, captures, that’s not how things work. To the contrary, kids living in one of the wealthiest zip codes in the country are stressed and miserable. As Rosin writes:
On the surface, the rich kids seem to be thriving. They have cars, nice clothes, good grades, easy access to health care, and, on paper, excellent prospects. But many of them are not navigating adolescence successfully.

The rich middle- and high-school kids [Arizona State professor Suniya] Luthar and her collaborators have studied show higher rates of alcohol and drug abuse on average than poor kids, and much higher rates than the national norm.* They report clinically significant depression or anxiety or delinquent behaviors at a rate two to three times the national average. Starting in seventh grade, the rich cohort includes just as many kids who display troubling levels of delinquency as the poor cohort, although the rule-breaking takes different forms. The poor kids, for example, fight and carry weapons more frequently, which Luthar explains as possibly self-protective. The rich kids, meanwhile, report higher levels of lying, cheating, and theft.

Why is this? As Rosin reports, a major factor is “pressure”—from parents, teachers, themselves, whoever—to excel not just in school but in a host of other activities as well. All of that pressure and the resulting hyper-activity seem to leave kids feeling very tired, very inadequate, and very alone. No wonder they are miserable.

But that does little to answer the question of why there is so much pressure in the first place. It turns out that there is a pretty straightforward—and ultimately very troubling—answer: It’s because the competition for a place among the country’s well-off is so vicious. To secure one of those spots, kids must gain admission to a relatively small number of elite colleges and universities, which “essentially did not grow but rather became increasingly selective” since the 1970s. (By contrast, in Canada, where higher education “lacks a steep prestige hierarchy,” the admissions competition is less dire.)

In part, this is because of what sort of people make up America's elite today: not the owners of family businesses but professionals with impressive educations. Family businesses are heritable; education, by contrast, is not. No matter how successful parents are, their kids have to earn their own way in (albeit, of course, with the incredible advantages that come from having highly educated, well-off parents). As sociologist Hilary Levey Friedman put it in an interview with Jessica Grose at Slate, “If you’re a doctor, lawyer, or MBA—you can’t pass those on to your kids.”

All of this results in what the economists Garey and Valerie Ramey of the University of California, San Diego, brilliantly termed “the rug rat race.” As they wrote in a 2010 paper, “The increased scarcity of college slots appears to have heightened rivalry among parents, which takes the form of more hours spent on college preparatory activities.” In their findings, the rug rat race takes place primarily among the most educated parents, because there simply aren’t enough spots at elite schools for less-educated parents to even really have a shot, especially as the competition accelerates. It’s for this reason that the most educated parents spend the most hours parenting, even though they are giving up the most in wages by doing so.

This intense competition does more than serve as a giant sieve for college admissions; it is also a intensive training process for the actual skills that it takes to succeed at the upper echelons of the American economy. As one soccer parent told Friedman during her research on parenting in such a competitive culture, “I think it’s important for [my son] to understand that [being competitive] is not going to just apply here, it’s going to apply for the rest of his life. It’s going to apply when he keeps growing up and he’s playing sports, when he’s competing for school admissions, for a job, for the next whatever.” Friedman concludes, “Such an attitude prepares children for winner-take-all settings like the school system and lucrative labor markets.”

This leaves affluent parents with little choice. Even for those who fear the consequences of the pressure on their kids, they may figure it’s worth getting through a few tough years for a lifetime of economic security. One thing that bolsters this rationale: the steep dropoff in incomes and wealth from the very, very rich to America’s struggling middle class. There is a lot to be gained by being among the very elite. If that's something you have a reasonable shot at, there’s a good argument for taking it.

The conversation about the intense pressure on kids is normally focused on parenting culture, on what parents are doing wrong. But this all needs to be considered in the broader context of the American economy. The pressure on kids may come from parents, but it’s the result of systemic forces so much bigger and so much more powerful than anything any household has control over.

In a sense, what wealthy parents are doing is working. There is very little social mobility in America, up or down, and most of those born into the richest and best-educated households will someday run their own high-earning, highly educated households.

Then again, it’s not working at all. There is very little social mobility in America, up or down, and most of those born into the poorest and least-educated households will someday run their own low-earning, poorly educated households. How is it that a country so prosperous shines its munificence on so few? And, for those who do find success, why does getting there leave them feeling so hopeless?"
education  affluence  precarity  economics  inequality  society  socialmobility  us  incomeinequality  fear  parenting  schools  learning  competition  fragility  hannahrosin  pressure  anxiety  stress  selectivity  colleges  universities  rebeccarosen  gareyramey  valerieramey  admissions  scarcity  jessicagross  suniyaluthar  paloalto  siliconvalley 
november 2015 by robertogreco
The Suicide Clusters at Palo Alto High Schools - The Atlantic
"In the late 1990s, when she was an assistant professor in Yale’s psychiatry department, Suniya Luthar was doing research at an inner-city school in Connecticut. She wanted to know whether misbehavior correlated more with poverty or with a stage of adolescence. She needed a second school to use as a comparison. An undergraduate student she worked with had connections at a school in a Connecticut suburb that was more upscale, and Luthar got permission to distribute her surveys there. The results were not what she expected. In the inner-city school, 86 percent of students received free or reduced-price lunches; in the suburban school, 1 percent did. Yet in the richer school, the proportion of kids who smoked, drank, or used hard drugs was significantly higher—as was the rate of serious anxiety and depression. This anomaly started Luthar down a career-long track studying the vulnerabilities of students within what she calls “a culture of affluence.” I called Luthar, now a professor at Arizona State University, in March to find out whether the anxiety she was recording amounted to familiar teenage angst or something more serious. As it happened, she was about to fly to Palo Alto. A meeting on adolescents and suicide, hosted by Stanford’s psychiatry department, had been organized in a hurry. Earlier that month a fifth kid had killed himself, Byron Zhu, a 15-year-old sophomore at Palo Alto High. He had walked in front of an early-morning northbound train. The police were still at the scene when kids were biking to school that morning; the principal, who had rushed over, asked the police to put up a special barrier so they wouldn’t see.

Luthar had been invited to give a presentation on affluent youth as a largely unrecognized at-risk group. Convincing people that rich kids are at high risk isn’t easy, she said. But she has amassed the most thorough data set we have on that group, from schools scattered across the country. Luthar’s data come from school districts where families have median incomes of more than $200,000, and private schools where tuition is close to $30,000 a year. Her research suggests a U‑shaped curve in pathologies among children, by class. At each extreme—poor and rich—kids are showing unusually high rates of dysfunction. On the surface, the rich kids seem to be thriving. They have cars, nice clothes, good grades, easy access to health care, and, on paper, excellent prospects. But many of them are not navigating adolescence successfully.

The rich middle- and high-school kids Luthar and her collaborators have studied show higher rates of alcohol and drug abuse on average than poor kids, and much higher rates than the national norm. They report clinically significant depression or anxiety or delinquent behaviors at a rate two to three times the national average. Starting in seventh grade, the rich cohort includes just as many kids who display troubling levels of delinquency as the poor cohort, although the rule-breaking takes different forms. The poor kids, for example, fight and carry weapons more frequently, which Luthar explains as possibly self-protective. The rich kids, meanwhile, report higher levels of lying, cheating, and theft.

“We assume that because [these kids] have money and a good education, everything is fine,” Luthar says. And in the long run, money and education will protect them. But in adolescence, the dangers posed by the culture of affluence can be “quite potent.” That doesn’t mean rich kids are more likely to kill themselves. Studies on youth suicide have generally turned up few differences among social classes. But it does mean many are deeply suffering.

One of the two major causes of distress, Luthar found, was the “pressure to excel at multiple academic and extracurricular pursuits.” In one study, for example, kids were asked to choose and rank their parents’ top five values, from a list of 10. Half of the values were related to achievement (“attend a good college,” “make a lot of money,” “excel academically”), and the other half to well-being and personal character (“are honest,” “are kind to others,” “are generally happy with yourself and your life”). When the kids chose a greater number of achievement-related goals, that usually correlated with personal troubles, Luthar said.

The kids were also asked how much they identified with sentences such as “The fewer mistakes I make, the more people will like me” and “If someone does a task at work/school better than I, then I feel like I failed the whole task.” From their answers, Luthar constructed a profile of elite American adolescents whose self-worth is tied to their achievements and who see themselves as catastrophically flawed if they don’t meet the highest standards of success. Because a certain kind of success seems well within reach, they feel they have to attain it at all costs—a phenomenon she refers to as “I can, therefore I must.” Middle-class kids, she told me, generally do not live with the expectation that they should go to Stanford or earn $200,000 a year. “If I’ve never been to the moon,” she said of middle-class families, “why would I expect my kids to go there?” The yardstick for the children of the meritocratic elite is different, and it can intimidate as much as it can empower.

The second major cause of distress that Luthar identified was perhaps more surprising: Affluent kids felt remarkably isolated from their parents. When I wrote “The Overprotected Kid” for this magazine last year, I assumed that the brand of helicopter parenting I described as typical of my cohort involved a trade-off. Parents might be sheltering their kids, but at least they were more emotionally in tune with them than, say, the parents of the ’70s divorce generation were with their children. Luthar disabused me of this comforting narrative. The kids in the affluent communities she studied felt their parents to be no more available to them, either emotionally or physically, than the kids in severe poverty did.

Some of the measures Luthar used were objective: Did the family eat dinner together, or hang out in the evenings? Here, she discovered that some busy parents would leave adolescents alone in the afternoon and evening and often weren’t home at all during those hours. She also measured the kids’ feelings of closeness—“My father understands me,” or “My mother knows when I am upset.” Here again Luthar saw a fissure: Children had the sense that their parents monitored their activities and cared deeply about how they were spending their time, but that didn’t translate into feeling close. Many children felt they were being prodded toward very specific goals and behaviors by parental cues, some subtle, some less so. Their parents glowed warmly when they did well in school or sports but seemed let down when they didn’t. Often the kids learned to hide their failures—real or imagined—for fear of disappointing their parents. Other research has shown that a feeling of closeness to parents was inversely linked to household income, meaning that the most-affluent kids felt the most alienated. “It’s mind-boggling,” Luthar says. “We are comparing them to a group of parents we think of as being in dire straits—largely single mothers on welfare whose circumstances are assumed to affect the quality of their parenting. And yet kids from these affluent families, mostly Caucasian, say they feel no closer to their parents than the poor kids do.”

Luthar’s research was incorporated into the 2006 best seller The Price of Privilege, by Madeline Levine, a child psychologist who practices in the Bay Area. She reported that the adolescents she was encountering would “complain bitterly of being too pressured, misunderstood, anxious, angry, sad, and empty.” In the past couple of years, other best sellers have sounded a similar note. William Deresiewicz, a former Yale professor who contributes to this magazine, argues in Excellent Sheep that elite education “manufactures students who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid, and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose.” The New York Times columnist Frank Bruni’s Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania warns of the dangers of insisting that admission to an elite college is necessary for a successful life.

After leaving Stanford, Julie Lythcott-Haims wrote a book, published in June, called How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success. In it, she confesses that as a dean, she had interacted with students who relied on their parents “in ways that felt, simply, off” and who seemed “existentially impotent.” She detailed the growing mental-health crisis at colleges, and described the brilliant, accomplished students who “would sit on my couch holding their fragile, brittle parts together, resigned to the fact that this outwardly successful situation was their miserable life.”

I’ve read all these books, and so have many of my friends. We have kids this age, or about to be this age, and yet somehow we can’t absorb the message. I didn’t, really, until I spent some time in Palo Alto.

Since Levine wrote The Price of Privilege, she’s watched the stress in the Bay Area and in affluent communities all over the country become more pervasive and more acute. What disturbs her most is that the teenagers she sees no longer rebel. A decade ago, she used to referee family fights in her office, she told me, where the teens would tell their parents, “This is bad for me! I’m not doing this.” Now, she reports, the teenagers have no sense of agency. They still complain bitterly about all the same things, but they feel they have no choice. Many have also fallen prey to what Levine calls a “mass delusion” that there is but one path to a successful life, and that it is very narrow. Adolescents no longer typically identify… [more]
hannahrosin  suicide  siliconvalley  affluence  parenting  schools  education  2015  hannarosin  paloalto  gunnhighschool  anxiety  mentalhealth  children  youth  adolescence  psychology  depression  academics  suniyaluthar 
november 2015 by robertogreco
Welcome to the Age of Overparenting - Boston Magazine - bostonmagazine.com
"…pushing kids can be just as bad for them as attending to their every desire…children of upper-class, highly educated parents…are increasingly anxious & depressed. Children with “high perfectionist strivings” were likely to see achievement failures as personal failures…being constantly shuttled between activities…ends up leaving suburban adolescents feeling more isolated from parents.

…while today’s middle- & upper-middle-class children have an unprecedented array of opportunities, their experiences are often manufactured by us…Nearly everything they do is orchestrated, if not by their parents, then by some other adult…But their experiences aren’t very rich in the messier way — in those moments of unfettered abandon when part of the thrill is the risk of harm, hurt feelings, or struggle. In our attempt to manage & support every moment of our children’s lives, they become something that belongs to us, not them.

[ http://www.bostonmagazine.com/articles/the_age_of_overparenting/ ]
parenting  children  stress  anxiety  anxiousparenting  helicopterparenting  helicopterparents  2011  caroldweck  petergray  suniyaluthar  behavior  messiness  play  unstructuredtime  learning  life  overparenting  unschooling  deschooling  freedom  independence  education  from delicious
december 2011 by robertogreco

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