CDS Publications

The Link - Fall 2019

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10 | FALL 2019 THE LINK THE GROWING MIND BY DR. KAREN SUMNER a freelance writer and editor based in King City FINDING THE RIGHT PATH Recognizing that our children are unique individuals means keeping an open mind about their post-secondary options. P ARENTS WHO EXPECT their children to achieve an A-average and become future leaders. Students who believe they have to study law, medicine, business or engineering at the best universities in order to be suc- cessful. Private schools that sell themselves primarily on the number of Ivy League spots their graduates fi ll. A pervasive sense within young people of not achieving enough or being as good as their peers. Newly emerging research tells us that these are fairly typical scenarios within families that choose an independent school educa- tion. Of course, there are many reasons to make this choice: small class sizes, exceptional teachers, an engaging learning environment, a warm community, lifelong friendships, and a range of extra-cur- ricular activities for growth and fun. But running parallel to these benefi ts are expectations among some families that their children should excel in school and then eventually compete for the most lu- crative or infl uential positions in life. And that if they don't, parents and children alike have failed. A 2019 study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has found that students who attend high-achieving schools and feel pressure to excel academically show rates of depression, anxiety, rule-breaking and substance use much higher than national norms. While "high-risk" environments have traditionally been associated with poverty, trauma and discrimina- tion, high pressure to achieve has recently been added to the list. Sometimes that pressure exists more at home than in the school, but schools that foster a particularly competitive rather than bal- anced and individualized environment also play a role. A second recent study on adolescent wellness released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation showed similar results: an environment characterized by pressure to excel affects young people in signifi cant ways. In particular, they are more likely to experience higher than normal levels of stress, anxiety, and alcohol and drug use. In the words of Yale University professor Robert Stern, "It is really important to take another look at what it means to achieve. Particularly for parents' relationships to their kids' achievements and what it means to be successful, both as a student and as a hu- man being." Stern adds that we owe it to our kids to recognize the undue stress and pressure that we can put on them. High expectations come with psychological costs. The solution isn't to throw out the whole idea of achievement – it's to redefi ne what it means. It's also to relieve the pressures of having to be exceptional and fi t into a narrow defi nition of success. RELIEVING UNHEALTHY PRESSURES ON YOUNG PEOPLE W HAT DO HOMES and schools without undue pressure to excel look like? What kinds of environments offer oppor- tunities for personal and academic growth without taking a toll on young people's social and emotional development? Parents and teachers who recognize effort more than outcomes set children up for a healthy attitude toward success. This is known as promoting a growth mindset. When adults emphasize learning over grades and effort over innate ability, children come to believe that they can grow their intelligence and that a greater effort leads

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