#How To Raise A Human

On Monday, NPR’s “Morning Edition” aired a sobering story about the “pressure cooker” environment faced by so many teenagers today.

Allison Aubrey could have focused on any high-achieving, high-expectations community like Westport.

She chose our next door neighbor, Wilton.

The piece — titled “Back Off: How to Get Out of the High-Pressure Parenting Trap,” with the hashtag #HowToRaiseAHuman” — described the “anxiety and despair” of Savannah Eason when she grew up there.

The pressure to take Advanced Placement and honors courses, play varsity or club sports and do many extracurricular activities was overwhelming.

The results — elevated risks of anxiety, depression, and drug and alcohol use — can be seen in many youngsters raised in privileged communities.

(Francesco Zorzi for NPR)

“People choose communities like this to give their children opportunities, but it comes at a cost,” Savannah’s mother Genevieve says.

For Savannah, a crisis forced a change. Her mother said, “I know I was talking to her by 8th grade about how she needed to find out what her passions were, so she could get involved in the right activities … so that would look good on her college applications.”

After Savannah’s problems began, her mom backed off. She helped Savannah drop some tough courses. And, Aubrey reported, the family started to focus on well-being.

Her mom noted: “Up to that point, I totally bought into the idea we’re supposed to push our kids to achieve. When they encounter obstacles, we push them to overcome those.” But pushing too hard can backfire.

The NPR story said that 30 percent of Wilton High students showed sadness, anxiety, depression, and internalized symptoms like headaches and stomach aches. The national average is 7 percent.

Drug and alcohol use was higher than national norms too.

Aubrey quoted Suniya Luthar, professor emerita at Columbia University’s Teachers College, who surveyed Wilton. Several years ago, she was involved in a longitudinal study in Westport.

Genevieve Eason has a solution: “We have to broaden our definitions of success, and celebrate more kinds of success.”

That means understanding when her daughter says, “I don’t want to work on Wall Street; that sounds miserable to me.”

Instead, Savannah enrolled in culinary school. She is training to be a pastry chef.

She has a new set of priorities. “It’s not about how big your house is and what kind of car you drive,” Savannah says. “It’s about happiness and peace.”

(Click here for the full NPR story.)

6 responses to “#How To Raise A Human

  1. Music to my ears. It takes courage to figure out who you really are, more so when the expectations of the adults you trust and depend on overshadow your own voice. In my middle school classroom I post this quote by e.e. cummings – ““To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight.” I’ve learned that actively nurturing peace and joy in my own life invites my students to find a fulfilling path for themselves, too.

    • Jocelyn Barandiaran

      And that (among many other reasons), Kerstin Rao, is why you are one of Westport’s best educators, and a compassionate human(e) being. You lead by beautiful example. Thank you for all that you do, for our kids and our community.

      • Both Kerstin and Jocelyn said it perfectly. Kerstin – you remain, years later, one of my girls’ favorite people from their years at BMS. Thank you for helping to expand students’ minds and hearts as well as their definition of success (something sorely lacking in our community). And Jocelyn – SPOT ON.

  2. Of course, that’s the answer! Living in Westport is predicated on “being at the top of your game” …so find your game and be #1. Not everyone can “find” their passion as a child or adult but they can bring their passion to whatever they doing. Sucess is only defined by our happiness. Happiness is qualitative, not quantitative. We need to examine our material culture and focus on our own state of happiness not on our quality of life based on paying for the what we “believe” makes us happy….temporarily at best. This is not Pollyannaish thinking, everyone needs to “earn” a living but who “needs” a Ferrari? Let me leave you with two thoughts; the only thing money can’t buy is your time because it is finite, and lastly your own ability to achieve happiness is ultimately dependant on how you perceive and treat the people you encounter in your own life. Be Happy, practice makes perfect.

  3. Such an important reminder!! Life is a long race and goes in many directions!!
    We need to kids figure it out. Some educational basic standards are important for all kids but, beyond that, everyone doesn’t need to be the same or work towards the same goals. Everything now has been taken to a new level of competitiveness. Too much!

  4. Wonderful article, with insightful comments . When today’s success is measured by the size of the house, the perceived financial success, the children’s’ accomplishments in and out of school, etc.., it is a pretty daunting journey. How many parents will be able to internalize this info and help their children be themselves without putting pressure on them, and all family members? Who can really help everyone in the family find the balance?

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