Naperville 'State of the Kids' Town Hall: Examine Our Environment, Achievement Culture


(This post was originally published on LinkedIN on July 12, 2017.)

Naperville City Councilwoman Rebecca Boyd-Obarski’s call for a town-hall meeting to assess the “State of Kids” in our community is a timely one.

Alongside a review of student alcohol and drug use data, we need to take a look at the state of our youths’ mental health and examine how cultural messages and expectations impact our children’s well-being.

Our culture’s narrow focus on academic achievement–grades, test scores, rote learning–and ambitious resume-building has adversely affected many of our students’ health. Calendar slots for time spent with family, hanging out with friends or simply reading a book for pleasure, are rare to non-existent. To cope with their over-scheduled lives, students often resort to unhealthy coping strategies or even self-harm. Following a classmate’s recent death by suicide, Tessa Newman, a Naperville North High School student posted an online petition asking that the school’s pressure culture change. Tessa’s experience matches that of many of her peers living in affluent and high-achieving communities across the country.

Academic stress impacts kids’ lives nationwide:

  • "73 percent of [high school] students cite academic stress as their number one reason to take drugs, yet only 7 percent of parents think their teens might use drugs to deal with stress.“

  • "36 percent of 9-13-year-olds said that they were more stressed by academics than any other stressor—even bullying or family problems.”

  • “Youth were also 3 times more likely to agree than disagree with the statement: ‘My parents are prouder if I get good grades in my classes than if I’m a caring community member in class and school.’”

In DuPage County, 17 percent of 10th grade and 27 percent of 12th grade students reported that they had “use[d] alcohol or drugs to relax, feel better about [themselves] or fit in.” (Illinois Youth Survey, 2014)

For 'State of the Kids' we need to get as many stakeholders involved as possible: students, parents, school administrators, educators, health, prevention and social service providers, the business community. Let’s talk about parenting strategies that best serve our youth to become joyful, resilient and caring people. Let’s think about ideas to promote engaged learning and tweak school schedules. Let’s hear from our business community's thoughts about what young people need to be successful in the workforce. And finally, and most importantly, let us please listen to our kids.

Perhaps we could start thinking about these issues by asking, What does it mean to be successful ?

Prevention starts with our conversation. Let’s be open and honest. Thoughtful and courageous.