“Race to Nowhere” is a documentary about the stresses that American children and families face on a daily basis regarding education and being the best. It begs the questions is American education helping our children to be better learners or helping them be better memorizers? The documentary challenges current assumptions on how best to prepare our kids for a better, brighter future.
As a parent of a teen and a tween, I find that I often struggle balancing my child’s needs and the needs that I feel society is placing on them to succeed. As parents, we want what we think is best for our children. So I have often asked my-self are we doing a better job than our parents generation? Yes, we are more educated, but are we more knowledgeable?
There is so much focus on getting “A,s” in school and being the “best” in their sport that there is almost no room to make mistakes, let alone discover who they truly are. I am often met with blank stares from other parents when I tell them that I am okay with my children getting “c,s.” This doesn’t mean I am advocating “laziness,” It just means I want them to know their own self worth. And getting a “c” versus an “A” doesn’t mean they are “stupid or lazy.” Teens not only feel the pressure to be the “best” from their parents but they have also have an inner drive within them-selves to be the “best.”
It is a fact, teens are more stressed out today than they were 50 years ago. Psychologists, counselors, psychiatrists, physicians are seeing an increase in teens and their parents for depression and anxiety disorder. In fact an article “Freedom to Learn,” in the psychology today website stated that “five to eight times as many high school and college students meet the criteria for diagnosis of major depression and or an anxiety disorder as was true half a century or more ago”
What I have learned from my work and my research is that teens who are constantly focused on extrinsic goals such as grades, being the best of the best in their sport, being popular, having the best house, car or hoping to be discovered by a talent scout etc; are more prone to being estranged from their inner selves. Even teens who are driven to achieve feel lost from their inner self. Because these teens are so often focused on living up to everyone’s expectations, that they either don’t develop or relinquish their own goals, which is why we have seen teens lose motivation, become bored and empty and a rise in anxiety and depression.
However, if a teen is allowed to be given the chance to relax and discover their own interests, and get to know them selves, as well as have some control over their fate, then these teens are usually more resilient, confident and have better coping skills. But the truth is; Teens today feel like they have less control over their lives and destiny thanks to the generation of helicopter parents.
As a parent I have had to fight the urge of wanting my children to be perfect. But what is perfect? And what are these kids really learning.? Are they learning that anything below an “A” means that they are a failure.? If they don’t win every time in their sport, then they are no good? If they don’t make it into a top university, then there world will fall apart because they can’t think past the rejection letter. If they are not constantly busy, then they are lazy? If they get anything lower than an “A” in a subject, a tutor will be hired to reinforce that the teen is not smart enough. With these kind of messages, how can we expect our children to live up to their potential?
Graduating from a top college and being employed in an elite company is not going to matter in the long run if a teen feel stressed out, insecure or resentful. So as parents we still have a chance to teach our kids about the important things in life, like better coping skills, failure, perseverance, self awareness and setting goals for themselves.
The “race to nowhere” could be the “race to somewhere” if we will just allow our kids to discover their true goals in life.