All of us are looking for that perfect set of skills, that collection of tools that will help us get our parenting right. Since we first knew we were going to be parents we have been reading everything we could find about each different age, talking to friends, seeking expert advice, seeking not so expert advice, and trying our best to educate ourselves on this incredibly significant role.
In her book, How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success, former Dean of Freshmen at Stanford University, Julie Lythcott-Haimes offers humor and wisdom as she tries to guide us away from our perfectionism, and helps us find comfort in the humanness of parenting. We are not perfect, we will make mistakes, but it shouldn’t stop us from leaning in to the challenges and struggles our children face. Lythcott-Haimes shares that the days of the “helicopter parent” have been replaced with the “bulldozer parent” who doesn’t hover, but rather seeks to clear all of the difficulties and struggles away from their child. We laugh at the picture this creates in our head, but what parent wouldn’t want to save their child from hurt and pain? We know growth comes from skinned knees, but we still want to catch our children before they fall. Raising adults means that there will be challenges we can’t clear away, yet there are some challenges, some risks, that we know as parents still require our active involvement.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Dr. Lythcott-Haimes in recent months as we’ve engaged on campus in discussions around health and wellness. I have been working closely with our board, faculty, and staff to raise this concept as the most pressing and critical of our time as educators. Whether we are discussing smart phone use, social media behavior, bullying, gun safety in schools, vaping, smoking, drugs and alcohol, or sexual harassment – child and adolescent development today feels like it is filled with a greater level of complexity and anxiety than previous generations had to confront.
As a community that serves gifted students, the anxieties our children encounter can often be more intense. Challenges around mental health and depression are far more pervasive on college and high school campuses than ever before. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recently called for universal screenings of middle school aged children for depression. It is important to note that many of our gifted students are often the individuals mostly likely to be the empathetic listener to a friend in need, and become more vulnerable in their attempts to be supportive.
We are asking our young people to deal with adult issues at earlier and earlier moments in their development, and for us, the adults in their lives, we are feeling a growing sense of our own anxiety.
Roeper students are not immune from the influences and activities that pose challenges to their health and wellbeing, and so we as a community must actively engage in education, prevention and where necessary interventions that support the health and wellness of our community. Ensuring that students always have a trusted adult to turn to when they have a concern, helping students know they are not equipped to carry the mental health burdens of peers, and providing you as parents with education, guidance, and resources are all critical components of our school.
In the coming weeks and months, you will see us actively working on structural pieces meant to support the health and homeroom programs. You will also see institutional initiatives around health and wellness directed at supporting the mental and physical health of our community. We will need your voice as we problem-solve; we will need your support as we begin new initiatives; and we will need your partnership as we intervene to provide care and guidance for members of our community.
The RPC has shared with the community two important films: Angst and Screenagersthat shed light on some of the challenges we are facing around our children’s mental and physical health. The issues presented in these movies are hard, and difficult to fully understand – but the science is real, and the problems discussed are present in the lives of our young people. We talk frequently about the power of relationships at Roeper, today more than ever those relationships between all members of our community are essential as we work to raise strong, resilient, healthy students.
The message I would like you to take away from this note is two-fold – Roeper is certainly not immune to the health and wellness challenges of our day, and most importantly – you are not alone as parents in raising your children through these challenging times. We will share with you, and we want you to share with us – this is how a community cares for one another and thrives.