Good Grades—Nice to Have, But at What Cost?

Dear Mr. Dad: I’m really worried about my 9-year old daughter. She’s very smart and does well in school but lately she’s become obsessed with grades. A lot of her classmates have private tutors and she’s feeling more and more pressure from her teachers to study all the time. It’s gotten to the point where she doesn’t play with friends, rarely reads anything that’s not assigned, and almost never does artwork, which was something she used to be passionate about. Worst of all, she just doesn’t seem happy any more. Is there something we can do to get her back the way she was?

A: One of the most frustrating tasks of parenthood is to get our kids to do their homework, so being in a position where you feel that your child is studying too much, feels weird, doesn’t it? But you’re absolutely right to worry. Our obsession with grades and performance (in and out of school) has gotten too far out of hand. And the consequences are pretty severe.

First, it may actually be having the opposite effect than the one we hope for. A number of recent studies have found that the qualities that are most correlated with success in life are innovation, collaboration, and creativity. And the best way to nurture those qualities is to allow people unstructured time to think. Some of the classic examples of this include: Google, where employees can spend as much as 20 percent of their time on projects that could benefit the company’s customers. Google says that about half of its new products (including Adsense and Gmail) come from that 20-percent time. And Microsoft has its Garage program that gives employees a physical space—and permission—to work together to develop side projects. Branding expert Dan Schawbel says that 99 percent of Garage projects either ship as part of a Microsoft product or remain internal. Unfortunately, schools’ insane focus on grades leaves kids little or no time to let their minds run free. As a result, they’re becoming less and less creative.

Second, the focus on grades is literally making our kids sick—and worse. Young people today—and by “young people,” I mean kids from elementary school through college—are five to eight times more likely to have symptoms of anxiety and depression than they were 50 years ago. Worse yet, the U.S. suicide rate for kids under 15 has quadrupled since 1950, and the rate for young people 15-25 has doubled, according to Peter Gray, author of “Free to Learn.” Gray also points out that anxiety and depression levels are very much associated with how much control people feel they have over their own lives. “Those who are in charge of their own fate are much less likely to become anxious or depressed than those who believe they are victims of circumstances beyond their control.” Schools that are laser focused on grades over all else are definitely not allowing kids the freedom they need to thrive.

Now, as for what to do to help your daughter, start by talking with her teachers and the school administrators. Explain the downside of the pressure they’re putting on kids and encourage them to lighten up. But don’t expect much change. Your best approach is going to be to help your daughter understand that there’s a lot more to life than grades, and that by giving herself the freedom to play, draw, or just hang out with friends, she’ll actually do better in school and in life.

Cyberbullying: When Going Viral is Bad News

Dear Mr. Dad: My teenage daughter is often very upset and withdrawn after she uses her computer or checks her phone. And lately, she’s been refusing to go to school in the morning. She won’t talk to my husband or me about what’s going on. Could she be a victim of cyberbullying, and if so, is there anything we can do about it?

A: Humans have been bullying each other ever since we lived in caves, and students have been bullying each other ever since the first school was built. Bullying is so common that it’s almost impossible to find anyone who hasn’t witnessed it, been victimized, or done it.

Unfortunately, thanks to technology, bullies can now do their nasty work 24/7 and from anywhere in the world. Experts estimate that half of 6-12th graders have experienced cyberbullying at least once, and about a quarter of them experience it regularly. Worst of all, studies show that when bullying happens on line, people are more likely to join in—and less likely to do anything to stop it.

[Read more…]

Depression Among Elderly Men Is Rampant

Although women are diagnosed with depression about twice as often as men, four times as many men as women commit suicide. Part of the depression-vs-suicide discrpancy is due to the fact that men and women have different symptoms and too many mental health professionals don’t recognize men’s. In this guest post, Alena Shelly explains some of the factors that lead to depressnion in a particularly affected group: older men.

You may not be elderly or even middle aged (yet) but there are probably men in your life who are in that age category. Were you aware the group most at risk for suicide is older, white men? The suicide rate in the 80 to 84 age group is actually twice that of the general population. Many older men are in poor health and have become dependent on others for help. They don’t like this because they are not accustomed to being “needy.” When a man perceives himself as strong, independent and the one who took care of others it is hard to lose one’s autonomy. [Read more…]

Men and Suicide: Much More Than a Mental-Health Issue

Anyone who’s ever looked at suicide statistics knows that men are 3-4 times more likely to kill themselves than women are (women, however, attempt suicide more). But what a lot of people don’t realize is that men in lower socio-economic groups—especially men in their 30s, 40s, and 50s—are significantly more likely to commit suicide than men in higher income brackets. (A man’s “socio-economic group” can depend on his level of education, income, job, or even where he lives.)

There’s no question that there’s a major mental health issue here. Depression, anxiety, and feelings of hopelessness play an important role. But according to a fascinating new study done in England, there are a number of other factors the greatly increase men’s vulnerability to suicide.

[Read more…]

April is the Month of the Military Child. Let’s do everything we can to support them.

1.8 million children have a parent in the military and most of those families have been through multiple deployhments. As a Marine Corps veteran, my heart goes out to every one of them. We’ve all heard a lot about PTSD, the increased divorce rates in military families, and the out-of-control suicide rate (more servicemembers committed suicide in 2011 than were killed in action). But very few of us know about the toll deployment takes on children.
[Read more…]

Veterans can’t get meeting with the VA? Sadly, not much of a surprise

A group from the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) spent some time in DC and had tons of meetings with various officials. But the one organization that shut them out was the Veteran’s Administration, the people who should be paying the most attention to issues vets–especially vets of Iraq and Afghanistan. And it wasn’t just that the VA was busy that week. Nope. The IAVA has been trying to get in the door for nearly three years!

[Read more…]