Letter: Unintended consequences of a high performing district

Posted 2/11/20

To the editor:

Barrington is an amazing town. It’s a town people move to for the schools, a town people return to raise their children, a town that makes children a priority by providing …

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Letter: Unintended consequences of a high performing district

Posted

To the editor:

Barrington is an amazing town. It’s a town people move to for the schools, a town people return to raise their children, a town that makes children a priority by providing well-funded schools. We have much to be thankful for and much to celebrate. At the same time, there are consequences that come with being a high performing school district with a culture of achievement and high expectations. These consequences can have negative effects on our children. Our challenge is two-fold: we can be proud of our schools, we can support our teachers, and want the best for our children and at the same time acknowledge that we need to make bold changes to our culture to improve wellbeing outcomes for our children.

Adolescents are experiencing rates of anxiety, depression, and self-injury never seen before. Nationally, youth suicide rates have increased 30 percent since 2000, making suicide the second leading cause of death among middle and high school students. Locally, 15 percent of Barrington High School students reported thoughts of suicide last year. More than half report less than 7 hours of sleep a night, significantly less than the 8-10 hours adolescent brains and bodies require for optimal health. We have seen, in this paper, comments from students reporting that they cannot get the required sleep they need as it means “less time” for all their activities and obligations. They aren’t saying they don’t need adequate sleep. They are saying their schedules are so busy, they choose to sacrifice sleep in order to fit everything in. We are seeing the impact of technology on student well-being, from cyberbullying, to late night texting, to the recent local stories of middle school aged children sexting. Our children are not only exposed to more than they are psychologically ready to handle, many of our young people lack the resiliency critical to become successful adults.

In our quest to ensure our children’s success, are we putting their physical and mental health in harm’s way?  We see issues within our schools related to vaping, cheating, and increasing numbers of 504 plans related to mental health. On average, Barrington students taking two Advanced Placement (AP) courses reported cheating significantly more than students taking no AP courses. Children are reporting that in addition to 8-10 hours a day focused on academics between classes and homework, they have significant extracurricular commitments. They are members of multiple clubs with evening meetings; they take part in 10-plus hours a week of physical training on sports teams (plus hours traveling to games), they work part-time jobs, and they participate in community service.  

While all these things in moderation are a sign of active and engaged students, too many are feeling pressure to do all these things at the same time, which is unsustainable. This high-pressure culture, once reserved for high school students has been seeping down to our middle school, with students feeling pressure to prep for college, to train similarly to high school sports teams, to be compulsively checking technology for grades. Many of us are concerned about the high stress culture our children are experiencing.

As an adolescent mental health professional, I see daily the unintended consequences of high-pressure, high stress environments on teens and young adults. While our children might be well prepared academically for college, I know many are struggling emotionally. Many are overwhelmed with anxiety, depression, and burn out.  Others struggle to handle the rigors of college independent from parents. We need to be open to ongoing changes to alter this unhealthy culture; a culture that is very different than the one many of us experienced decades ago. We need to be open to talking about these issues and seeking positive changes. Our children’s wellbeing depends on it.

Maura McCrann

Barrington

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