Two weeks ago, citing a summer publication by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, The Washington Post reported that children at high-achieving schools have now become an “at risk” population along with children in poverty, immigrant children and children with incarcerated parents.
“Students attending high-achieving schools,” notes the report, “show rates of clinically significant problems, notably depression, anxiety, rule-breaking, and substance use, that are much higher than national norms and sometimes higher than those [of children] in urban poverty. Two large-scale analyses of national datasets in the United States and Norway have confirmed a U-shaped association between community-level affluence and students’ adjustment problems.”
Our national conversation about this phenomenon is too often unfeeling – we are talking about children, after all – because it is too often defined in terms of class conflict and too often incredulous that financial well-being does not eo ipso beget social and emotional well-being. “Children in affluent homes are being hothoused through childhood, stress-tested into elite schools and colleges, and pushed to the brink of suicide or breakdown,” opined Richard Reeves earlier this week in The New York Times (“Now the Rich Want Your Pity, Too”) in his oversimplified and unnecessarily barbed assessment. “Their highly educated mothers and fathers are putting in long hours in their chosen professions: money-rich, perhaps, but time-poor. The whining of the wealthy is getting louder.”
A recent study published in The Journal of Youth and Adolescence offers a more nuanced, compassionate and constructive understanding of the challenge. The study authors asked 506 sixth-grade students in an affluent school district to rank six items based on what they believed was most valued by their mothers and fathers: being respectful to others, attending a good college, trying to help others in need, excelling academically, being kind to others, and having a successful career in the future.
They found that students whose parents emphasized care for others and personal achievement in equal measure reported higher levels of self-esteem and were less likely to have experienced psychological distress or to have engaged in disruptive behavior than students whose parents stressed achievement and success disproportionately. It may surprise you that these same children of parents who emphasized selfless behavior also earned higher grades than their peers whose parents prioritized achievement and success.
Like the parents of the socially and emotionally healthiest children in this study, we are committed to emphasizing both community investment and individual achievement at MICDS. I am thrilled to know that her study affirms our approach at school. I hope that it affirms your approach at home as well.
Always reason, always compassion, always courage. I wish you a wonderful weekend with your families. Go Cardinals!
Head of School