Is it time to re-evaulate how we view performance in teens?

Is it time to re-evaulate how we view performance in teens?



My thirteen year old son had some friends over last night.

They spent well over an hour verbalizing to me how stressed out they were in regards to school and the expectations placed on them.


Not only are they to succeed academically at a rate that far surpasses what we were expected to as adolescents,  they are to behave in ways that at times, (via their report), feels more like being at boot camp rather than a place of enrichment and learning.

They are told they are not able to go to the bathroom except during the 3 minute transition time between classes (at the risk of being marked tardy and having punitive measures taken against them, if so). They also have to manage and normalize harsh tones and sharp words directed towards them on a regular basis. This communciation style has been researched as one that sends classmates brought up with discord or trauma, into what can be experienced as “fight or flight mode.” It also brings those brought up in a home with a more gentle communication style  to experience a submissive or fear based response.

Regardless, after hearing a few examples of how they described, “a day in the life of a 7th grader”, a part of me felt there were some demeaning and dare I say, completely unnecessary interactions taking place. Nevertheless, I challenged them to be respecful to their teachers, while at the same time, not let the pressure of expectations and feeling minimized chip away at their dignity and self-worth. I also walked away wondering, how did we as a society even get to this point?

No wonder our kids are so stressed out.

But, the complaints about pressure with adolescents are not limited to my living room.  I see this age on a regular basis in my therapy practice.

Anxiety, feeling pressure to perform well at school, and depression (alongside the threat of verbalized desires to commit harm to themselves) are the biggest complaints bringing clients of this age to counseling. 

Is this really what we have become?  I refuse to believe we will become better as a society if we have high performing individuals who make over a 4.0 GPA, be the football (or whatever sport you would like to “fill-in- the- blank” captain with), involved with 3 other clubs, but are stricken with anxiety or are so depressed, they struggle to get their head up off the pillow.  Just this week, we have been bombarded with how far parents will go for a certain college of “elite status” to accept their child. With the right financial means, we do not think twice about buying our way to acclaim. Yes the Celebrity Cheating College Scandal  has taken this to an entirely new, but unfortunately, not very surprising level.

We are at a tipping point and something has to change.

I acknowledge, last night’s reports from my son and his friends were from the perspective of three adolescents, and there are always different sides to these complex equations. I would also like to go on record and state, I am not blaming the teachers. Having to meet over the top standards while simultanesouly being expected to teach students from various backgrounds and personalities, in overcrowded schools, all while staying within the confines of a pre-set curriculum is not an easy task. I would admittedly become a bit snappy myself if I had to take on all that our educators do.

The truth is, I don’t really know who to pin the blame on, but I do believe, as parents, we have played a role. Is it possible that our own pride has contributed towards this performance based mindset? We have moved away from being satisfied with excellence and good effort, and slowly replaced “being the best” as the goal.

I wonder what would happen if we were to stop looking at rankings, performance and grades as the “know-all, end-all point” for examining our children’s worth and started to view character traits like integrity, effort, and kindness as something even more important?  This thought may be frightening to some, as our children’s accomplishments would not  be able to highlight the achievements of our “excellent parenting”. The irony is, I bet, they still would get into excellent colleges and great long term success, only with a lot less anxiety. In fact, without the burden and pressure to be  “noticed” for their performance or rank, our kids may actually be able to dive into areas they are truely passionate about and thrive more overall.

The truth is, all children are very much worthwhile, without the accolades or awards. It is up to us to acknowledge and impart that truth, yet doing so involves a level of humility that is admittedly difficult, especially in a society where notoriety and attention seeking is at an all time high. 

However, I am willing to do so, not just for our children’s sake but for the sake of our families, educators and future generations. Let us encourage a job well done, and be pleased with a honest attempt of hard work or a kind gesture, regardless of where they land on the charts. Something tells me we will all be better for it.

10 Things I Learned as A Therapist the Year Everything Changed

10 Things I Learned as A Therapist the Year Everything Changed


Harper Lee once once said,

“You Never Really Understand A Person Until You Can See Things from His Point of View”.

There is so much truth in this.


1) Looking back on 2020 and now full steam into 2021, both as a therapist and an individual, I am leaning heavily on the importance of Lee’s quote. Being empathic toward how one family or individual may manage “all things Covid”, versus another, may seem obvious, but this year more than ever, the reality of intentional empathy needed to be front and center.

2) Many have their reasons for why they do what they do, and usually after an hour with them in a therapeutic setting, any doubt specific to decisions made through the pandemic often led to compassion and understanding.

3) Catching our breath in our self created (as well as culturally encouraged) world of hustle, slowing down quickly became forced upon us. Family bonding and strengthened relationships developed. Many even rediscovered themselves again. It became a welcome change.

4) Others found the “togetherness” too much.  The pandemic created financial, emotional and physical hardships, while taking an incredible toll on the well-being of themselves and family members. 

 More often than not, it was a little of both. 

5) I quickly learned, that just like any heated topic, compounded with the inevitable stress that was endured, people were quick to divide, creating opposing camps, based on the viewpoints of whatever “side” they landed on.

The “Mask” or “No-Mask” camp,  “to quarantine or not camp”, and most recently, the “vaccinate or not” one. The opportunity for debate and civil discourse quickly transitioned into judgement and division. Burdened with this reality, I was compelled to understand more. It was through the listening of many stories, I noticed a common thread starting to expose itself. 

6) During times of uncertainty, (and yes, even those moments when we are not in a pandemic), fear often takes the front seat. Yet, as I spent time with people, I was let in on the many reasons (often good ones), for the choosing of whatever particular camp people would stand behind.

Were some of these decisions poorly thought out, followed because of what others did, or simply made and far from being a good choice? 


However, for the most part, as I was allowed into a person’s story, the choices they made, very much made sense, for them

7) It has become evident through the last few months, that without walking in the actual shoes of another, someone else’s choice may seem ignorant, or even selfish.

In the context of just one day I heard great arguments specific to the fears someone had around losing freedom, while an hour later, just as compelling, someone else justified a concern regarding the impact of the first persons’s rebellion.

But for each of those individuals and the lives they have lived thus far, neither was far fetched or judgement worthy. 

8) We all know someone who feared, or worse, experienced vulnerable friends or family members dying at the hands of the virus. Simultaneously they may have been caught up in their own despair, convinced a part of them may be dying too, especially as isolation and lack of connection took hold. It likely felt this contradictory experience to be wrong.

However, I am learning, we actually can live in both places, while still being respectful and kind to one other.

Example after example of “both sides” came my way. In my very own family, there was deep grief as important milestone celebrations were cancelled, right alongside appropriate frustration for an irresponsible celebration a few months later. 

9) Hearing story after story, I have grown to see how important it is to view other’s decisions, not as an act of defiance or ignorance, but more so as a response to something deeper.

Whether it be fear, protective love, or even an unconscious choice, responding with humility, knowing we do not always know, is the best approach. I may go so far as to say, this tactic may fuel some much needed individual, as well as corporate healing. 

10) I have both witnessed and been educated on the fact that our brains do not always interpret information accurately. The research shows we have built in coping mechanisms that implicitly validate our own certainties, whether these “certainties” are correct or not.

Not to be mistaken for intuition (which usually is correct), certainty around another’s motives may not be.

Knowing that our brain is always trying to protect us, both physically and emotionally, validates the intricate complexity of our design. However, if it is true that sometimes our responses are coming from a faulty radar, could we admit we may miss the mark sometimes? 

I wonder if this truth could be an invitation to practice cautiousness v. certainty as we interact with others.

I am willing to give it a shot (no pun intended). 

Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts on this topic. In keeping with respectful and kind discourse, I would love to hear yours!