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.
“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.)