The Childhood Pressure Cooker
Are you pushing your kids so hard they’re in danger of cracking under the pressure? Todd Patkin, author of the new book Finding Happiness, wants you to take a serious look at the demands you’re placing on them. He offers parents some practical tips you can use right now to help overstressed, overscheduled, overwhelmed kids create happier, healthier, more balanced lives.
Any parent with a child out of elementary school knows that we live in an achievement-obsessed, ultra-competitive education culture. From government-mandated standardized test scores to “tiger parents” to college admissions requirements, our kids are facing immense pressure to perform. For many students, every minute of the day is devoted to school, studying, homework, and other “necessary” activities ranging from sports to service work-to the exclusion of free time and fun. There’s a great deal of fear from parents that their kids just won’t be able to compete…and kids themselves are at risk of being overwhelmed by what’s expected of them.
According to Todd Patkin, this high-stakes, high-pressure achievement culture might not be as beneficial to our kids as we think. We may not only be pushing our children to excel-in many cases, we’re pushing them over the edge too.
“Of course we want our children to lead fulfilled, successful lives, but subjecting them to relentless academic and extracurricular pressure is not the way,” says Patkin, author of the new book “Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and-Finally-Let the Sunshine In,” www.toddpatkin.com. “A lot of parents must know it’s not right that their kids are so overstressed, but they have gotten just as caught up in it as their kids.”
Patkin speaks from experience-as a child and teenager he was obsessed with achievement at school and suffered from regular bouts of anxiety that stemmed from his desire for perfection. As an adult, Patkin’s unhealthy focus on doing and being the best caused him to suffer a breakdown at the age of thirty-six. Since then, he has re-evaluated his priorities as well as what truly makes people happy and unhappy.
“As the parent of a teenage son, I still have a personal stake in the well-being of America’s students, and I have seen firsthand just how oppressive our current system can be when the emphasis is on outcomes instead of on *true* education,” Patkin points out. “So many teens today are under the immense pressure I once felt-pressure to succeed, pressure to get the best grades, pressure to be accepted to a ‘good’ college, and more. Too many of them are burning out and making self-destructive decisions, and it’s our responsibility as parents and citizens to start to force a cultural change in America.”
It’s true: across our country, there’s an epidemic of teens and even pre-teens suffering from anxiety and depression, cutting themselves, and using prescription medications just to get through their day-to-day lives. Also, kids are drinking to excess and doing drugs on the weekends in order to escape this incredible pressure, even if only for one night. Most worrying, suicide is the third-leading cause of death among teens. Sixty percent say they’ve thought about it, and 9 percent of high schoolers admit they’ve attempted it at least once.
“Those realities are absolutely unacceptable,” Patkin insists. “If we truly have our children’s well-being at heart, we need to face the fact that forcing them into a mold of perfection isn’t working. If we really want our kids to grow up to be capable, creative, and inspired problem solvers, we need to focus less on their scores and grades and more on their happiness. It’s not going to be the experts who lead the way on this one-it will be ordinary people changing what we are doing in our homes.”
If the reality of disengaged kids heading for burnout sounds worryingly familiar to you, this is the school year to start doing things differently. Read on for fourteen tips to help you get started:
“Always remember that the ability to cultivate happiness and balance is one of the best possible ways to set your child up for success,” Patkin concludes. “Yes, performance and doing one’s best are important-but not at the price of your child’s well-being.”
About the Author:
Todd Patkin grew up in Needham, Massachusetts. After graduating from Tufts University, he joined the family business and spent the next eighteen years helping to grow it to new heights. After it was purchased by Advance Auto Parts in 2005, he was free to focus on his main passions: philanthropy and giving back to the community, spending time with family and friends, and helping more people learn how to be happy. Todd lives with his wonderful wife, Yadira, their amazing son, Josh, and two great dogs, Tucker and Hunter.
About the Book: Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and-Finally-Let the Sunshine In(StepWise Press, 2011, ISBN: 978-0-9658261-9-8, www.toddpatkin.com is available at bookstores nationwide, from major online booksellers, and at www.toddpatkin.com.