photo: Race to Nowhere
Last week, I finally saw an amazing film called Race to Nowhere at my son’s high school and I was so affected by it, I wanted to share these thoughts.
What is the Race to Nowhere?
First, have you heard about this film? It’s a powerful documentary that every parent should watch, but especially if you have teenagers in high school. It was made by a mother of three and—of all things—an ex-Wall Street lawyer named Vicki H. Abeles, who decided to expose the darker side of academic success. She believes that the road to college is a pressure cooker world that literally can cause our kids harm.
Ms. Abeles watched her own kids struggle with stress related headaches, anxieties and panic attacks has they pursued their achievement-driven lifestyle, one that included hours of school work, tutoring, and extracurricular activities. Over time, she became deeply troubled and began to re-consider her family’s options. Like a lot of other well intended parents, Abeles dreamed her children would to go to a top tier college. But she wondered, at what cost? She began to question the intensely competitive culture around her. And she began to ask important questions. Where was the healthy “down time” that all kids need in order to play, to express creativity, and to discover their passions?
And even more crucial was the effect on the quality family time that she so valued in her life? She believes that for today’s college-bound kids, these hours have been replaced by stress-filled homework time and endless carpooling to the next activity.
Her film, Race to Nowhere is her is her call to parents everywhere. To stop and question the academic world of our kids.
Race to Nowhere is gaining grass roots support from affluent communities across the nation. Because it’s filled with real people. There are kids that look and sound like our own kids. Sharing their heart-wrenching struggles to adapt inside an educational system that’s become a breeding ground for higher rates of depression, anxiety and stimulant use in young people. These kids are describing an academic world where cheating has become commonplace, and where educators worry that we’re creating a generation of mechanized thinkers who are more adept at memorizing than learning.
Something is not right…
In probably the most gut-wrenching moments of the film, there are photos flashed on the screen of an adolescent girl playing the piano and frolicking in the water on a sunny day. She is smiling at the camera. Meanwhile, the viewer listens while her mother speaks on film and painfully describes how her talented, straight “A” middle school daughter, committed suicide.
From this mother’s perspective, it all began with her daughter’s simple struggle with Math, She recalled that daughter was “torn up” over her bad grade. Later, her father became worried and sought answers from the school, but the parents were reassured that they were seeing typical teenage behavior, and now, three years after their daughter’s suicide, the mother openly wonders if there were signs that were missed.
It was a riveting film.
And I believe the lesson of this film is about relationships, the ones we have with our kids. The message is, that we must work hard to keep real and honest conversations happening with our kids. Because we might not be able to change the current educational system our kids operates in, but we can change our part of it. And this happens with the realization that our kids are growing and changing before our eyes, and the deepest way to express our love for them is to take their feelings seriously. To care about what they’re experiencing. And if by chance they’re confused and unsure, it’s our job to help them figure out who they are, and what they want.
Even if it’s not what we want to hear.
Here are two questions that might help you support your own teenager. The first one has to do with us. And our honest feelings.
1. Could you be part of the pressure? (For instance, “Are you unconsciously trying to fulfill some of your own unfinished dreams through your child’s life?”)
This is an important realization. And maybe tough to acknowledge. But the more you’re trying to get your own needs met through your child’s successes, the less chance you’ll have of honestly “seeing” who your child truly is; because our emotions get in the way.
The second question involves the emotional skills of your teenager. What they’ve learned in the home.
2. How does your family deal with negative, intense feelings in your home?
The pressure-filled college process is only one of many stressful life experiences that your child may face. And although no parent wants to hear that their child is hurting, you can’t be afraid to hear their worries or their fears. Ignoring these feelings does not make them go away; instead, their feelings will simply stay hidden, which can lead to other problems. . Remember that the biggest compliment your teenager can give you is to trust you enough to open up… and share their feelings. Be prepared to really listen.
This reminds me. Near the end of the film there was a teacher speaking into the camera and I was struck by his intensity.
To all those parents who are surprised to learn that your kid is struggling, he has harsh words.
“…why ( are you so surprised)?” he says. “Because you thought they were a good kid? No. They were only a good performer; you never took the time to know if they were a good kid…”
It’s a powerful message for parents. Don’t get be fooled by good ‘performer.’ You might be missing some real pain.
I would love to hear your thoughts about this topic.
Your voice is so important.