This academic year the cost of putting kids on treadmills from Pre-K onward is slapping me in the face through the students I mentor. I’ve seen students’ stress, anxiety and depression increasing over the past few years but not with the exponential leap I’ve seen this year. The current revelation of college admissions scandals and the plethora of recent articles on student’s anxiety and pressure over academic & social success reinforce what so many of us know and see every day.
You can and should hold me personally accountable. I was raised with earlier incarnations of this pressure and despite deliberately trying not to inflict this on my own children, I know I have and whatever I tried not to do or to reverse, the world, schooling and society all around them has reinforced par excellence!
The toll on our next generation is horrific. I spend most of my mentoring helping students figure out how to at least slow down the treadmill. Since they have no idea of life without being on it, they don’t know how to slow it down, reduce the incline or even dare ponder getting off.
For many of my students, it’s not chasing the prestigious, expected Investment Banking, Consulting or Entrepreneurial grail to make your first millions before you’re 30, it’s about making the maximum possible positive impact on the world by the age of 25! They’ve been taught to define success and worth by performance, by WHAT they do instead of WHO they are, because that’s all they’ve known. We know that extrinsic rewards are never fulfilling – there’s always someone else doing more/better, there’s always more to get, attain, have … there is never ‘enough.’ We’re telling them a lie.
So, what can we do? Especially if our kids are at the later end of the academic treadmill heading into or already in the real-world treadmill? We can talk to them – be honest about our own treadmills, the why & how we got on them, stayed on them and the struggles we’ve had (trying to) get off (if we have). We can be honest about the anxiety and struggles we’ve worked so hard to hide over the years and we can try to change our own lives, slow down our own treadmills, reduce the incline, find our own balance and share how we’re finding our have found our own meaning and purpose. Are you willing to try this with your own kids? With other people’s kids? Would you be willing to try this with and for yourself?