Why more US teens are suffering from severe anxiety than ever before — and how parents can help

This story was originally published in October 2017.

Nearly one-third of American adolescents and adults are affected by anxiety, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. It’s the most common mental health disorder in the country.

And when it comes to teens, severe anxiety is becoming more crippling each year.

In fact, over the last decade, anxiety has surpassed depression as the most common reason college students seek counseling services, the New York Times reported.

The data comes from the American College Health Association’s 2016 survey of students about the previous year.

Sixty-two percent of undergraduate students in the survey reported “overwhelming anxiety,” a significant increase from 50 percent in 2011.

A separate survey from the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, asks incoming college freshman whether they “felt overwhelmed by all I had to do” during the previous year.

In 1985, when the institute began surveying students on the issue, 18 percent said they felt overwhelmed.

By 2010, 29 percent said they did. And in 2016, the number jumped to 41 percent.

And since 2012, the Washington Post reported, the Boys Town National Hotline has seen a 12 percent spike in teens reaching out via calls, texts, chats and emails about their struggle with anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.

The rate of hospital admissions for suicidal teenagers has also doubled over the past decade.

Recent data from the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mirrored a national trend in suicide rates across the board.

But the research found suicide rates among 15- to 19-year-old girls doubled between 2007 and 2015, reaching a 40-year high.

That means for every 100,000 American girls in 2015, five committed suicide.

For teen boys, the rate rose by more than 30 percent.

What’s causing the rise in teenagers with severe anxiety?

Anxiety, along with depression, cuts across all demographics, including both privileged and disadvantaged teenagers.

But privileged teens are among the most emotionally distressed youth in America, Arizona State University psychology professor Suniya Luthar told the New York Times.

“These kids are incredibly anxious and perfectionistic,” she said, but there’s “contempt and scorn for the idea that kids who have it all might be hurting … there’s always one more activity, one more A.P. class, one more thing to do in order to get into a top college. Kids have a sense that they’re not measuring up. The pressure is relentless and getting worse.”

But helicopter parents aren’t always to blame. Many students internalize the anxiety and put the pressure on themselves, Madeline Levine, co-founder of Challenge Success, a nonprofit aimed at improving student well-being, told the Times.

Another expert, psychiatrist Stephanie Eken, said despite the cultural differences, there’s a lot of overlap among teens regarding what makes them anxious.

Eken mentions factors range from school, family conflicts, what food to eat, diseases, how they’re perceived by friends and notably in the last few years, Eken told the Times, to a rising fear about terrorism.

“They wonder about whether it’s safe to go to a movie theater,” she said.

A lack of close, meaningful relationships is also a major factor.

Experts have long said hormonal, mental and physical changes associated with puberty may leave teens especially vulnerable to anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders.

And social media doesn’t help, Eken said, adding that teens are always comparing themselves with their peers, which leaves them miserable.

When Times reporter Benoit Denizet-Lewis visited Mountain Valley, a nonprofit that offers teens need-based assistance for $910 a day, a college student at the facility said, “I don’t think we realize how much it’s affecting our moods and personalities,” he said. “Social media is a tool, but it’s become this thing that we can’t live without but that’s making us crazy.”

But social media can also be used to “help increase connections between people,” CDC suicide expert Thomas Simon told CNN in August. “It’s an opportunity to correct myths about suicide and to allow people to access prevention resources and materials.”

Still, Simon acknowledged that cyberbullying can greatly impact vulnerable youth.

How parents can help

Withington Independent Girls School pupil Sophia Siddiqui, aged 18, is embraced by her mother Farzana Siddiqui as Sophia reveals that she achieved three A* and two A’s in her A level exam results on August 15, 2013 in Manchester, England. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 80 percent of kids with a diagnosable anxiety disorder are not getting treatment. And anxiety disorders are highly treatable.

While anxiety can be a normal reaction to stressful environments and situations, there are specific symptoms associated with anxiety disorders.

Generally, someone with anxiety disorder would have fear or anxiety that is out of proportion to the situation or inappropriate for his or her age.

The anxiety would also affect normal day-to-day function.

Two questions parents should ask themselves: Is my child more shy or anxious than others his or her age? Is my child more worried than other children his or her age?

According to Lynn Miller, an associate proessor at the University of British Columbia, those questions can help predict a child’s potential of developing an anxiety disorder.

If you notice overwhelming feelings of anxiety in your child, the ADAA suggests seeking help and talking to a professional.

While antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications can offer relief from symptoms, they’re not treated as cures. Instead, talk therapy is often recommended.

More tips from ADAA.org.

Here are some additional tips to manage anxiety and stress from the ADAA:

Explaining the News to Our Kids

Dramatic, disturbing news events can leave parents speechless. These age-based tips on how to talk to kids about the news — and listen, too — can help.By Caroline Knorr 

If it bleeds, it leads. The old newsroom adage about milking stories for sensationalism seems truer than ever today. And with technology doing the heavy lifting — sending updates, tweets, posts, and breaking news alerts directly to our kids’ phones — we parents are often playing catch-up. Whether it’s wall-to-wall coverage of the latest natural disaster, a horrific mass shooting, a suicide broadcast on social media, or a violent political rally, it’s nearly impossible to keep the news at bay until you’re able to figure out what to say. The bottom line is that elementary school-aged kids and some middle schoolers have trouble fully understanding news events. And though older teens are better able to understand current events, even they face challenges when it comes to sifting fact from opinion — or misinformation.

No matter how old your kids are, threatening or upsetting news can affect them emotionally. Many can feel worried, frightened, angry, or even guilty. And these anxious feelings can last long after the news event is over. So what can you do as a parent to help your kids deal with all this information?

Addressing News and Current Events: Tips for all kids

Consider your own reactions. Your kids will look to the way you handle the news to determine their own approach. If you stay calm and rational, they will, too.

Take action. Depending on the issue and kids’ ages, families can find ways to help those affected by the news. Kids can write postcards to politicians expressing their opinions; families can attend meetings or protests; kids can help assemble care packages or donate a portion of their allowance to a rescue/humanitarian effort. Check out websites that help kids do good.

Tips for kids under 7

Keep the news away. Turn off the TV and radio news at the top of the hour and half hour. Read the newspaper out of range of young eyes that can be frightened by the pictures (kids may respond strongly to pictures of other kids in jeopardy). Preschool kids don’t need to see or hear about something that will only scare them silly, especially because they can easily confuse facts with fantasies or fears.

Stress that your family is safe. At this age, kids are most concerned with your safety and separation from you. Try not to minimize or discount their concerns and fears, but reassure them by explaining all the protective measures that exist to keep them safe. If the news event happened far away, you can use the distance to reassure kids. For kids who live in areas where crime and violence is a very real threat, any news account of violence may trigger extra fear. If that happens, share a few age-appropriate tips for staying and feeling safe (being with an adult, keeping away from any police activity).

Be together. Though it’s important to listen and not belittle their fears, distraction and physical comfort can go a long way. Snuggling up and watching something cheery or doing something fun together may be more effective than logical explanations about probabilities.

Tips for kids 8–12

Carefully consider your child’s maturity and temperament. Many kids can handle a discussion of threatening events, but if your kids tend toward the sensitive side, be sure to keep them away from the TV news; repetitive images and stories can make dangers appear greater, more prevalent, and closer to home.

Be available for questions and conversation. At this age, many kids will see the morality of events in stark black-and-white terms and are in the process of developing their moral beliefs. You may have to explain the basics of prejudice, bias, and civil and religious strife. But be careful about making generalizations, since kids will take what you say to the bank. This is a good time to ask them what they know, since they’ll probably have gotten their information from friends, and you may have to correct facts.

Talk about — and filter — news coverage. You might explain that even news programs compete for viewers, which sometimes affects content decisions. If you let your kids use the Internet, go online with them. Some of the pictures posted are simply grisly. Monitor where your kids are going, and set your URLs to open to non-news-based portals.

Tips for teens

Check inSince, in many instances, teens will have absorbed the news independently of you, talking with them can offer great insights into their developing politics and their senses of justice and morality. It will also help you get a sense of what they already know or have learned about the situation from their own social networks. It will also give you the opportunity to throw your own insights into the mix (just don’t dismiss theirs, since that will shut down the conversation immediately).

Let teens express themselves. Many teens will feel passionately about events and may even personalize them if someone they know has been directly affected. They’ll also probably be aware that their own lives could be affected by violence. Try to address their concerns without dismissing or minimizing them. If you disagree with media portrayals, explain why so your teens can separate the mediums through which they absorb news from the messages conveyed.

Additional resources

For more information on how to talk to your kids about a recent tragedy, please visit the National Association of School Psychologists or the American Psychological Association. For more on how news can impact kids, check out News and America’s Kids: How Young People Perceive and Are Impacted by the News,

Marie-Louise Mares, Associate Professor in the Department of Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, contributed to this article.

Parents’ Ultimate Guide to Fortnite

Are your kids caught up in the Fortnite frenzy? Here’s everything you need to know about this popular video game. By Frannie Ucciferri 
The Fortnite frenzy seemed to come out of nowhere — almost as if it dropped from a party bus in the sky. And now many parents are taking notice of this rollicking game where players fight to the death. With Fortnite‘s millions of players and sudden success, you might be wondering: What’s it all about — and is it OK for my kids?

This survival-action game is a bit like what you’d get if you combined a sandbox-building game like Minecraft with an action shooter like Call of Duty. On one hand, it’s getting major points with kids and parents alike for building teamwork and thoughtful collaboration. On the other hand, it’s a combat-based game with tons of guns and violence.

Read Common Sense Media’s full review of Fortnite, and learn more about how it works. Then find answers below to parents’ most frequently asked questions about the game and how to use it safely.

What is Fortnite?
What is Fortnite: Battle Royale?
Do you play by yourself or with a team in Fortnite: Battle Royale?
What if I’m not ready for the action of Battle Royale?
What is Save the World?
Why is my kid so interested in playing Fortnite?
Is Fortnite appropriate for kids?
What age should kids be to play Fortnite?
How much does Fortnite cost?
Are there microtransactions in Fortnite?
What are Fortnite Seasons?

What platforms can you play Fortnite on?
How is Fortnite related to Twitch?
Can players chat with each other in Fortnite: Battle Royale?
How do you turn off voice chat in Fortnite: Battle Royale?

How long is a match of Fortnite: Battle Royale?
How do I manage screen time for my kids when they’re playing Fortnite?


What is Fortnite?
Fortnite is a video game for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows, Mac, and mobile that takes elements from sandbox-building games and adds the fast-paced action of a third-person shooter. There are two modes to the game: a solo version called Save the World and the hugely popular multiplayer version called Battle Royale.

What is Fortnite: Battle Royale
If your kids say they’re playing Fortnite, they’re probably talking about Battle Royalethe free-to-play multiplayer offshoot of Fortnite. In this version, up to 100 people participate in a match together. Players are dropped onto the game map and must compete to be the last one standing by killing every other player in the game. During the game, players collect weapons, build safe structures, and try to avoid the Storm that damages all players outside of a safe zone. Unlike the Save the World version, there aren’t any zombies to kill, which makes it a less scary version to play. However, players can buy items to make themselves look like a zombie or another creepy character.

Do you play by yourself or with a team in Fortnite: Battle Royale?
There are three modes of play in Battle Royale: Solo, Duo, and Squad. In Solo mode, you’re dropped into the game alone. In Duo, you’re dropped in with a partner. In Squad mode, you play on a team of four. Duos and Squads can either be friends choosing to play together or randomly matched players. All players in a match are playing in the same mode.

What if I’m not ready for the action of Battle Royale? 
Don’t worry if you’ve never played Fortnite or a Battle Royale game before. Playground mode lets players get used to the mechanics of the game without the pressure of fighting other gamers. So, if you’re rusty with a particular gun, need to practice building structures, or even want to try out the vehicles like golf carts or shopping carts without being shot, this is the mode for you. Playground sessions are limited to a maximum of four players, and you can even put everyone on the same team to eliminate the possibility of friendly fire.

What is Save the World?
Save the World is the traditional solo campaign in the game Fortnite. Unlike in Battle Royale, where players compete against each other, players in the Save the World mode are survivors of an apocalyptic storm where the few remaining humans must band together to defeat creepy zombie-like creatures called husks.

Why is my kid so interested in playing Fortnite?
There are many reasons why Fortnite has taken off with kids. One is that it combines two other genres that are big winners with young gamers. Another is that it has a more cartoonish look than some other more gory video games, so younger gamers are drawn to it. Kids can play with friends in Duos and Squads, creating a more social element. And popular YouTube and Twitch gamers like DanTDM have also taken to playing the game on streaming sites. Plus, in the case of Battle Royale, it’s free (although it does have in-app purchases — more on that below).

Is Fortnite appropriate for kids?
For some parents, the cartoonish, bloodless style of the action in Fortnite makes the violence less problematic than the aggressive gore in other popular shooter games. But the game’s online chat feature — especially in Battle Royale — could expose younger players to offensive language or mature content from random strangers. Common Sense doesn’t recommend games with open chat for kids under 13, but with the right controls and parental guidance, this can be a tween-friendly alternative to violent first-person shooters.

What age should kids be to play Fortnite?
Common Sense recommends Fortnite for teens 13 and up, primarily because of the open chat and action violence.

How much does Fortnite cost?
Players can currently download Fortnite: Battle Royale for free. The current cost of the full Fortnite is $39.99, although the developer, Epic Games, has suggested it will make that version of the game free-to-play sometime in 2018 as well.

Are there microtransactions in Fortnite?
There are frequent opportunities for players to spend real money on items in the game. Fortnite encourages purchases such as upgrades to editions such as Deluxe and Super Deluxe, as well as in-game currency to buy bonus items. There’s also the Premium Battle Pass, a $10 subscription that lets players compete on more levels and win exclusive game skins/costumes.

What are Fortnite Seasons?
Unlike other multiplayer games, Battle Royale has a storyline, which results in frequent additions of new content to the game. Many of these new elements, such as skins and costumes for characters, simply serve to keep the game fresh and exciting. But others introduce completely game-changing features. You might see a brand-new game map (without major features you’re used to playing with), new teleportation rifts (to let you travel to new places), and new ways you can appear to other players (such as the ability to become invisible). Seasons seems to update approximately every 10 weeks and you’ll begin to see clues to the updates during the current season.

What platforms can you play Fortnite on?
Fortnite is available on Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows, and Mac. Users need an internet connection to play. A mobile version is also available for iOS and Android. Players can play “cross-platform,” which means a Windows player can be on a team with a console player, for example. Gamers can also create an account on any device and carry over their progress in a game to another system. For example, you could start on a cell phone, then pick up a game on a computer or console later in the day and continue where you left off.

How is Fortnite connected to Twitch?
Some kids aren’t only playing Fortnite — they’re watching other people, including celebrities like Drake, play it on Twitch. Twitch is a social media platform for gamers where they can livestream themselves playing popular video games, including FortniteLivestreaming can be unpredictable, so make sure to check out which gamers kids are watching, and if kids say they want to livestream themselves, carefully consider the risks.

Can players chat with each other in Fortnite: Battle Royale?
There is live, unmoderated chat possible between users in the console and PC versions of Fortnite: Battle Royale. Both voice chat and on-screen text chat are options. This exposes players to random strangers and the likelihood of profanity. Chat is currently unavailable in the mobile version of the game.

How do you turn off voice chat in Fortnite: Battle Royale?
Open the Settings menu in the top right of the main Fortnite page by selecting the three bars, then the cog icon. Choose the Audio tab at the top of the screen. From there, you can adjust several audio features, including voice chat. Turn the setting from on to off by tapping the arrows.

How long is a match of Fortnite: Battle Royale?
Each match in Battle Royale lasts about 20 minutes, although players who are killed early play for less time.

How do I manage screen time for my kids when they’re playing Fortnite?
When each match only takes 20 minutes, it’s easy to fall into the trap of “just one more” — sort of how you end up binge-watching an entire season of Stranger Things. But you can take advantage of the quick matches by using them as a natural stopping point in gameplay. Some kids benefit from using a timer, limiting themselves to a certain number of matches per day, or using one of these tips for finding a balance between gaming and other activities.

Jeff Haynes, Senior Editor, Web and Video Games, contributed to this story.

5 things I’m telling my kids to prepare them for the future

Fast Company

As young people start to enter the workforce, things are going to be very different than they are now. Here’s how to prepare them.

October 8, 2018

I have four kids, ages 5 to 14, and I and know they’re very unlikely to follow the same educational path I did. I’m certain they’ll be preparing themselves for a very different job market. As my youngest is in kindergarten and my oldest just started high school, here are my thoughts for them.

Technology’s impacts are varied and yet to be determined. We like technology when it makes our daily lives easier and often more fun. But on the flip side, we worry. It’s natural to look toward the future and wonder what change will bring. Earlier this year, for example, Gallup found that nearly eight in 10 Americans believe artificial intelligence (AI) will destroy more jobs than it creates over the next decade. I believe the impact of AI will be much less significant than most predictions, but at the same time want to help people look ahead, eyes wide open.

Drawing on my time as co-chair of the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Future Council on Education, Gender and Work, I’ve tried to distill some of the Council’s most important research into advice for my children as they gradually age their way into the workforce.

Here’s what I’m telling them and why:

[Image: Andrey_A/iStock]

ROBOTS (PROBABLY) AREN’T TAKING OVER

When I attended Davos in 2017, the metaphor most commonly used for AI was the Terminator: a scary all-powerful robot capable of doing your job, who then starts a robot revolution.

But the following year, as I’ve written before, the Iron Man metaphor replaced Terminator. The change reflected the shifting attitudes about tech: from completely replacing humans to complementing, or augmenting, their abilities and pushing innovation.

Personally, I think Iron Man is a better metaphor than Terminator for two reasons.

First, past technological revolutions, from the automobile to the ATM, have ended up creating more jobs than they destroyed. And second, contrary to popular imagination, technology still has a long way to go before it reaches the kind of capabilities that alarmists like Elon Musk have warned about.

Instead, I think Yann LeCun, who heads AI research at Facebook, has it right. “In particular areas, machines have superhuman performance,” LeCun says. “But in terms of general intelligence we’re not even close to a rat.”

Self-driving cars, for example, are still far from meeting minimal safety standards, and AI is still just fairly simple neural nets, not mythical omniscient machines. More importantly, while it’s great to be aware of the increasing powers of technology, the truth is that the prospect of automation creating serious joblessness is only one of what are really multiple plausible scenarios.

[Image: Andrey_A/iStock]

YOU’LL BE IN SCHOOL THE REST OF YOUR LIVES

Why? Because skills are changing faster than traditional education is keeping up. There are a few reasons for this. After all,  per Moore’s law, technological progress grows exponentially, creating smarter and smarter machines, which require newer and newer skills. Plus, in an era of fast-paced technological and scientific breakthroughs, the more we discover, the more we have to learn new skills.

And while some leading universities now offer courses on the gig economy or new technologies like the blockchain, it’s far from being the norm. The vast majority of high schools and colleges aren’t adapting quickly enough to the change, leaving their students increasingly unprepared for the jobs market.

“Some studies suggest,” according to the WEF, “that 65 percent of children entering primary school today will have jobs that do not yet exist and for which their education will fail to prepare them.” And the WEF report “Realizing Human Potential in the Fourth Industrial Revolution” predicts that approximately 35% of the skills demanded for jobs across industries will change by 2020.

In practical terms, constant technological change requires that my children’s generation needs to begin thinking of education as a lifelong pursuit. That means they might have to attend community college in order to get a certification, or get a Masters from a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) or a nanodegree from an online learning platform like Udemy–or all three at different points throughout their careers to remain relevant as the job market transforms.
[Image: Andrey_A/iStock]

YOU CAN BE YOUR OWN BOSS

A little over half of the working-age population worldwide are traditional employees. But that’s changing, because working for yourself has never been easier, thanks to technology that enables greater collaboration.

As work becomes more digitized, it’s also becoming less tied to geography. UX designers, or copywriters, or Android developers don’t need to be in an expensive downtown office building to find meaningful work and earn top dollar. They can do their jobs anywhere.

And as work becomes less tied to geography, digital platforms, like Etsy and Upwork–which connect people to work together regardless of location–increasingly offer people a chance to be their own bosses.

[Image: Andrey_A/iStock]

FOCUS ON SOCIAL SKILLS

As automation advances, the most prized skills are those that can’t be performed by a robot.

Sure, hard skills like programming, data analysis, engineering, and math are important; however, the WEF’s “Future of Jobs” report finds that technical know-how won’t be enough in the future.

“Overall, social skills—such as persuasion, emotional intelligence and teaching others—will be in higher demand across industries than narrow technical skills,” says the WEF. “In essence, technical skills will need to be supplemented with strong social and collaboration skills.”

[Image: Andrey_A/iStock]

THE FUTURE IS UP TO YOU

Despite a lot of the fear-mongering about the future, no one really knows how technology will progress.

A WEF study from earlier this year, “Eight Futures of Work: Scenarios and their Implications,” highlighted that uncertainty, pointing to other factors that will also change the way we live and work–like our education systems and immigration policies, which are both within our control.

After all, we make the machines. We create schools and write curricula, and it’s up to us how talent and work move across borders.

The future isn’t written in stone. It’s not inevitable. It’s yours to shape–and that gives me reason to be hopeful.

One School’s Conversation About Open Gradebook

NAIS

October 01, 2018

By Jess Hill, Buffy Baker, Armistead Lemon, Jenny Jervis, Maddie Waud, and Adam Wilsman

In the fast pace of what we do in our schools every day, every week, and every year, it is increasingly difficult to carve out time to research or even reflect on any change of policy that may be heading down the pike. We often hear or read about an educational trend or what another school is doing, or we may hear from a few parents that we should do [insert latest trend], too. At Harpeth Hall School (TN), we talk to faculty and to students, if appropriate, and take the time to consider what we think is best for our students within our school culture. Then we make a recommendation whether to change a policy.

In our wonderfully diverse coalition of girls’ schools, we espouse many different paths to reaching the summit of engaging, educating, inspiring, supporting, and mentoring our girls and young women. It comes as no surprise that the mention of an open gradebook—giving each student and parent online access to all of a student’s grades in a teacher’s gradebook, all of the time—is concerning to some girls’ school administrators. To others, it is something they incorporated years ago and are now off to consider newer trends and best practices. This topic was a clear fork in the road for us.

As one of only two girls’ schools in Nashville, with a robust community of independent, magnet, charter, and public co-ed schools, Harpeth Hall may be the only school that doesn’t have an open gradebook. We believe that considering this question within the context of our mission as an all-girls school is essential and a decision not to be taken lightly.

The Pros and Cons of Total Transparency

On the surface, a system that provides both students and parents uninhibited access and feedback on a student’s letter grade would appear to be an improvement. Students can keep track of their assessments and can easily see each grade and whether they have any missing or late assignments. There are no report card surprises; rather, the parent and student can always be aware of the student’s average and take action accordingly. An open gradebook allows for conversations between parents and students, and gives both parties an up-to-date view of the student’s achievements in each class.

Such ease of access and total transparency mirror the 24/7 online world that we live in. An apt parallel might be online banking: Log on anytime to learn your balance. The critical difference is that at Harpeth Hall, and most likely any all-girls school, we know a student’s numeric average at any given moment will never provide the whole picture of her educational journey. We have many high-achieving students, and we must consider whether such a system would best serve our particular community, or whether it would undermine our goals as an institution.

For the student who experiences anxiety about any uncertainty with regard to her grades, an open gradebook will allow for a superficial level of control via constant transparency. What might be the cost of this transparency? Right now, teachers are aware of their students’ specific anxieties because of the one-on-one conversations that happen around grades. Students can already ask for their average, grade, or test result at any time and be accommodated. More importantly, when students ask teachers directly, critical face-to-face conversations often reveal nuances for a teacher about how a student is processing an experience or developing in a class. The current system, while technically old-fashioned, preserves the teacher-student relationship and still allows students to have ownership. At this time, we can find no research showing that open gradebooks have improved students’ grades or helped teachers know their students better.

Minding the Confidence Gap

We do, however, have plenty of research on girls and confidence. Over the past four years, our school has focused on this research, namely the disconcerting truth that girls and young women who perform well in school do not always meet with the same success in the workplace. In order to address this confidence gap, we have identified several primary inhibitors we see in our students. Three of these five inhibitors could be exacerbated by an open gradebook.

Perfectionism: High-achieving students with perfectionist tendencies are more likely to equate their self-worth with their grades. Grades become powerful extrinsic motivators for these students, who begin to value successful performance over learning. Over time, the joy of learning diminishes as they focus narrowly on the numbers and improving the numbers. We are concerned that an open platform will drive students’ focus further toward numbers. At Harpeth Hall, we never want a student to define herself by a number.

Comparison: Equally concerning is the possibility of promoting an obsessive-compulsive behavior focused on results. Teenage girls are already online all the time, checking the number of likes on Facebook and Instagram. Refreshing the open gradebook page is an added reality for many girls across the country today, and we might spare our students from this option by giving them the space to think about something more than their grades. Tendencies toward perfectionism exist without an open gradebook, and we think they would worsen without the intervention of teachers should we go to an open system.

Fear of failure: Research shows that girls are especially prone to the fear of failure because of “good girl” conditioning. Girls avoid risks and value image over learning, and this avoidance diminishes confidence. Yet we are learning that college admission is becoming increasingly more interested in a prospective student’s ability to handle disappointment, adversity, and struggle rather than just seeing a grade point average. Girls who develop perseverance, tenacity, and a healthy sense of risk-taking are less vulnerable to depression and anxiety. This leads to a more successful experience in college and beyond. We hope our girls will have healthy, successful life experiences, and thus we want them to take safe risks in our classrooms, to have an opportunity to experience and recover from failure, and to develop skills that allow them to persevere.

Every day our faculty members are on the frontlines of our students’ emotional health and well-being. Harpeth Hall remains a progressive school with innovative teachers, and yet we hesitate to adopt the latest open gradebook trend. Based on our research and experience teaching girls, we question how an open gradebook would benefit our students’ well-being and emotional health or increase their ability to own their successes and failures, take risks, or succeed dramatically better in the classroom or more importantly, at life.

Am I a Lawnmower Parent?

We need to let kids learn to be tough. But we also need to show them love.

Jennifer Finney Boylan

By Jennifer Finney Boylan

Contributing Opinion Writer

  • Image
CreditCreditJen Wang

The mother sat in my office. Her daughter, my advisee, was failing three of her four classes. Perhaps, the mom suggested, a private tutor might be hired, to help her child get back on track.

“Perhaps,” I said, trying to be compassionate. But I also sneaked another look at the daughter: half asleep, clearly hung over and quite possibly high.

What I wanted to say was, “My suggestion would be that your daughter actually start going to all the classes she’s skipping, to maybe also start doing the homework.” Instead I let the mom talk.

“The thing is,” she said, “she’s really a good kid.” And it was at this moment, I believe, that my heart broke in half — for the mom, for her child and for all of us still trying to figure out the best way to shepherd young people into adulthood.

Some people would describe that mom as a “bulldozer parent,” engaging in a more aggressive form of what we used to call “helicoptering.” Others have taken to calling them “lawn mower parents” or “curling parents,” after the sport in which the path of a stone gliding on ice is smoothed by an athlete armed with a broom.

It’s easy to be contemptuous of such family dynamics, and if you look online, you’ll see plenty of articles condemning both the control-freak parents as well as their over-coddled, under-challenged children.

But as I listened to that mom, I did feel more than a little bit of sympathy for her. Because even though I’m a college professor, I’m also a parent. When she said her child was a good kid, I knew she was also saying that in spite of her daughter’s current predicament, “I’m a good mother.”

This took place over 15 years ago. One day, a few weeks earlier, my young son had headed off down our driveway to wait for the school bus, carrying in one hand a book report project. It was a complex mobile, a set of counterbalanced index cards attached to one another with string, listing the title, author, characters, setting and plot of “A Wrinkle in Time.”

As he ran down our front stairs, the thing fluttered out of his hand and fell, somehow, behind a crack between the steps and the front porch. Now the book report was trapped behind the concrete stairs, which could, of course, not be moved, at least not before the bus arrived. My son looked at me in tears as we heard the school bus approaching over the hill. “Go on, catch the bus,” I said. “I’ll deal with it.”

 

Ten minutes later, I was in the front yard with a shovel, slowly digging a hole next to our foundation. Dirt rose up in a pile. Ten minutes after that, I had reached into the hole, grasped the mobile and freed it. The next thing I knew I was in the car, driving to the school, where I placed it in my son’s hands in home room.

“You’re welcome,” I said, and felt, in that moment, like a superhero. I should be wearing a cape, I thought, an S upon my chest: Supermom.

But driving home, I wondered: Was what I had just done an act of love? That’s how I’d meant it. I’d jumped into action and solved a problem. I’d done it because I didn’t want a random act of fate — the book report falling behind the stone stairs — to wipe out all the work that he’d done.

Critics of lawn mower parents, though, would have suggested I let my son suffer the consequences of his own carelessness. Let the kid learn how to dig his own hole with a shovel! A little suffering, they’d say, would be good for him.

That’s the undertone to a lot of this criticism: Kids today have it too easy! They don’t go through what we went through, all the misery that made us tough! With their safe spaces and their trigger warnings, they’ve been essentially sealed off from conflict — and learning how to respond to conflict is the most important lesson a young person can learn. They’d all be better people if they cried a little more. Like we did.

As the product of a repressive private school, where I was frequently taunted and on one occasion beaten on suspicion of being queer, I know there are some things I don’t want my children to go through. Yes, that experience made me tough, resilient and — in an odd way — forgiving. But I would still do anything to spare my children that trauma. I would rather have them coddled than scarred.

Does that make me a lawn mower parent? Is it always so wrong to stand between your child and harm?

Surely this is a far cry from the parent who, as recounted on a blog, asked that a teacher blow on her daughter’s lunch to make sure her food wasn’t too hot. That’s silly, as is a lot of the “curling” behavior I observe as a professor. Parents cannot be brooms. Children are not stones thrown across the ice.

But I think we should be careful when we start romanticizing “toughness” — either our children’s or our own. Suffering makes us strong, to be sure. But so does love.

If I had to pick just one — suffering or love — I know what I’d choose.

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook and Twitter (@NYTopinion), and sign up for the Opinion Today newsletter.

Jennifer Finney Boylan, a contributing opinion writer, is a professor of English at Barnard College and the author of the novel “Long Black Veil.” @JennyBoylan

It’s Not Cyberbullying, But…

Though someone’s mean online behavior might not fit the definition, it can still hurt. By Christine Elgersma 
It's Not Cyberbullying, But ...

 

A student sees a group of girls coming toward her in the hallway. One has been her best friend since second grade, but she doesn’t know the others very well. She says hi to them as they pass. They all ignore her or roll their eyes, including her friend. A few lockers down, they whisper to each other while they stare at her and laugh behind their hands.

While we can all agree the girls in this situation are being mean, can we call this bullying?

These “IRL” (in real life) scenarios happen all the time, and they often carry over into the online world. And though insults, exclusion, and even all-out aggression don’t always meet the technical definition of cyberbullying — ongoing, targeted harassment via digital communication tools over a period of time — they still hurt.

The best remedy for all these issues is prevention and education: Teaching kids what it means to be kind and respectful and a responsible digital citizen can nip lots of trouble in the bud. But when and if problems start, it’s good for parents to understand what’s happening — and how to help.

So, other than straight-up cyberbullying, what are some other reasons our kids might be bummed by others’ online behavior?

Ghosting. When friends cut off online contact and stop responding, they’re ghosting. Refusing to answer someone’s texts or Snaps is actually a way of communicating during a shift or upheaval among a group of friends. Often, instead of ever addressing the issue head-on, kids will just ignore the targeted person.

  • How to handle it. Being ignored is tough. Instead of relying on the old parent standby, “If they’re ignoring you, they’re obviously not your real friends,” try to empathize and validate your kid’s feelings. If they’re willing, encourage them to try a face-to-face conversation with the ghosters. If that feels too hard, suggest your kid stop trying to get replies; the ghosters may come around, but if not, your kid is free to move on.

Subtweeting. When you tweet or post something about a specific person but don’t mention them by name or tag them, you’re subtweeting. Usually, subtweets are critical or downright mean. Since the target isn’t tagged or even named in most cases, they might not know it’s happening until someone clues them in.

  • How to handle it. If your kid finds out someone is subtweeting them, they have a few options depending on the perpetrator. If it’s a friend who’s suddenly turned on them, it’s a good time to address it face-to-face. If it’s someone they don’t know well or have a conflict with, it’s best to ignore it. Engaging in a Twitter war (or conflict on any other platform) usually escalates the problem.

Fake accounts. Sometimes kids will create fake accounts in someone else’s name and use that account to stir up trouble or hurt that person. In most cases, there’s no way to trace who created the account, and even if it’s shut down, the person can just create another one.

  • How to handle it. Dealing with fake accounts can feel like a game of whack-a-mole. But a kid who’s targeted should actively defend themselves by blocking and reporting it. Kids should also let friends know what’s happening to set the record straight — and take some of the fun out of it for the person creating the accounts.

Sharing embarrassing posts and pics. Taking selfies and group pics are a normal part of tween and teen life. But sometimes kids take pictures of each other that, while fun in the moment, are potentially embarrassing if widely shared or cruelly captioned. Often this is done by someone who thinks they’re being funny or assumes everyone will get the joke. But pictures or compromising posts can make the rounds in a hot minute, so no matter the intentions, the shame can stick.

  • How to handle it. It’s best if kids get in the habit of asking each other for permission to share photos. But that won’t always happen. Remind kids to think about the impact the photo will have on others before they post it. Kids can also ask their friends to take down embarrassing pictures as soon as they know they’re public. If the image has already made the rounds, they may not be able to chase down every copy. But you can reassure kids that everyone will likely move on to the next piece of news and forget about it soon.

Rumors. Social media is a perfect venue for the rumor mill, so lies can go far and wide before the target even knows what’s happening. And once the fake news is out there, it’s pretty impossible to reel it back in.

  • How to handle it. Your kid’s response depends on the type of rumor. If it’s something that involves other people — like a rumor that your kid stole someone’s significant other and that has led to threats — you may need to get the school involved. If the rumor is embarrassing or hurtful but isn’t likely to cause a fight, it’s fine for your kid to post a response. Coach them to respond just once and ignore the comments. Otherwise, they can refute the rumor in person when it comes up and wait for everyone to move on.

Exclusion. A kid may be scrolling through their feed and stop cold at a picture of all their friends together — without them. Usually, these kinds of photos aren’t intentional slights. But sometimes they are. And if the person who posted the picture knows your kid follows them, there’s — at the very least — a lapse in judgment.

  • How to handle it. Responding online probably won’t get the best results. Encourage your kid to approach the original poster face-to-face and explain that the photos hurt their feelings. It’s best if your kid can use “I” statements, like “I felt really hurt when I saw that picture … ” (not “I think you’re a jerk”). If your kid can express their emotions honestly, they’ll probably discover it was just a careless oversight. If it was a deliberate jab, then your kid should probably unfriend the OP (original poster).

Griefing. Remember those kids on the playground who always whipped the ball at other kids and called them names? Those kids play multiplayer video games, too. But instead of whipping a ball, they kill your character on purpose, steal your game loot, and harass you in chat. Online, that behavior is called “griefing.” If your kid plays multiplayer games with chat, they’re bound to run into it at some point.

  • How to handle it. Before your kid starts playing a game with anonymous strangers, make sure they know how to report and block players who are being cruel on purpose. Tell your kid not to get into an argument over chat, since it probably won’t resolve anything and could escalate the aggression. Certain games tend to have more toxic behavior than others, so encourage your kid to try a different game where the community is known to be respectful and the moderators don’t tolerate trash-talking.

Hate speech. Teens encounter hate speech even more than cyberbullying. This kind of language is similar to cyberbullying, but it’s targeted to hurt someone based on personal traits such as race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or belief system. And unlike the persistent cruelty of cyberbullying, it can be a one-time thing. Even if your kid isn’t the object of the posts or comments, they may feel the impact if they’re a part of the targeted group.

  • How to handle it. If your kid encounters hate speech online, it’s OK for them to post a matter-of-fact, one-time response refuting it. But they shouldn’t get involved in a flame war. Check in with your kid about the kinds of attitudes they see expressed online. If they’re seeing a lot of hurtful language, encourage them to seek out alternative feeds — especially ones from supportive online communities. And if it’s something really painful or that makes your kid feel humiliated, offer strong counter-messages. If your kid knows the person who posted hate speech — such as another student at school — you can gauge whether to get others (administrators and other parents) involved. Hate speech can have very real consequences in the real world, depending on the context and whether threats are involved.

13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do

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Raising mentally strong kids who are equipped to take on real-world challenges requires parents to give up the unhealthy — yet popular — parenting practices that are robbing kids of mental strength.

Of course, helping kids build mental muscle isn’t easy — it requires parents to be mentally strong as well. Watching kids struggle, pushing them to face their fears, and holding them accountable for their mistakes is tough. But those are the types of experiences kids need to reach their greatest potential.

Parents who train their children’s brains for a life of meaning, happiness, and success, avoid these 13 things:

1. They Don’t Condone A Victim Mentality

Getting cut from the soccer team or failing a class doesn’t make your child a victim. Rejection, failure, and unfairness are part of life. Rather than allow kids to host pity parties or exaggerate their misfortune, mentally strong parents encourage their children to turn their struggles into strength. They help them identify ways in which they can take positive action, despite their circumstances.

2. They Don’t Parent Out Of Guilt

Guilty feelings can lead to a long list of unhealthy parenting strategies — like giving in to your child after you’ve said no or overindulging your child on the holidays. Mentally strong parents know that although guilt is uncomfortable, it’s tolerable. They refuse to let their guilty feelings get in the way of making wise choices.

3. They Don’t Make Their Child The Center Of The Universe

It can be tempting to make your life revolve around your child. But kids who think they’re the center of the universe grow up to be self-absorbed and entitled. Mentally strong parents teach their kids to focus on what they have to offer the world — rather than what they’re owed.

4. They Don’t Allow Fear To Dictate Their Choices

Keeping your child inside a protective bubble could spare you a lot of anxiety. But keeping kids too safe stunts their development. Mentally strong parents view themselves as guides, not protectors. They allow their kids to go out into the world and experience life, even when it’s scary to let go.

5. They Don’t Give Their Child Power Over Them

Kids who dictate what the family is going to eat for dinner, or those who orchestrate how to spend their weekends, have too much power.  Becoming more like an equal — or even the boss — isn’t healthy for kids. Mentally strong parents empower kids to make appropriate choices while maintaining a clear hierarchy.

6. They Don’t Expect Perfection

High expectations are healthy, but expecting too much from kids will backfire. Mentally strong parents recognize that their kids are not going to excel at everything they do. Rather than push their kids to be better than everyone else, they focus on helping them become the best versions of themselves.

7. They Don’t Let Their Child Avoid Responsibility

You won’t catch a mentally strong parent saying things like, “I don’t want to burden my kids with chores. Kids should just be kids.” They expect children to pitch in and learn the skills they need to become responsible citizens. They proactively teach their kids to take responsibility for their choices and they assign them age-appropriate duties.

8. They Don’t Shield Their Child From Pain

It’s tough to watch kids struggle with hurt feelings or anxiety. But, kids need practice and first-hand experience tolerating discomfort. Mentally strong parents provide their kids with the support and help they need coping with pain so their kids can gain confidence in their ability to deal with whatever hardships life throws their way.

9. They Don’t Feel Responsible For Their Child’s Emotions

It can be tempting to cheer your kids up when they’re sad or calm them down when they’re angry. But, regulating your kids’ emotions for them prevents them from gaining social and emotional skills. Mentally strong parents teach their children how to be responsible for their own emotions so they don’t depend on others to do it for them.

10. They Don’t Prevent Their Child From Making Mistakes

Whether your child gets a few questions wrong on his math homework or he forgets to pack his cleats for soccer practice, mistakes can be life’s greatest teacher. Mentally strong parents let their kids mess up — and they allow them to face the natural consequences of their actions.

11. They Don’t Confuse Discipline With Punishment

Punishment is about making kids suffer for their wrongdoing. Discipline is about teaching them how to do better in the future. And while mentally strong parents do give out consequences, their ultimate goal is to teach kids to develop the self-discipline they’ll need to make better choices down the road.

12. They Don’t Take Shortcuts To Avoid Discomfort

Giving in when a child whines or doing your kids’ chores for them, is fast and easy. But, those shortcuts teach kids unhealthy habits. It takes mental strength to tolerate discomfort and avoid those tempting shortcuts.

13. They Don’t Lose Sight Of Their Values

In today’s fast-paced world it’s easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day business of homework, chores, and sports practices. Those hectic schedules — combined with the pressure to look like parent of the year on social media —cause many people to lose sight of what’s really important in life. Mentally strong parents know their values and they ensure their family lives according to them.

Amy Morin is a psychotherapist and the author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, an international bestselling book that is being translated into more than 25 languages. She’s also a lecturer at Northeastern University. Her articles attract over 2 million readers e…

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Amy Morin is a psychotherapist and the author of 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do.

Wait Until 8th

The Wait Until 8th pledge empowers parents to rally together to delay giving children a smartphone until at least 8th grade.  By banding together, this will decrease the pressure felt by kids and parents alike over the kids having a smartphone.

Smartphones are distracting and potentially dangerous for children yet are widespread in elementary and middle school because of unrealistic social pressure and expectations to have one.

These devices are quickly changing childhood for children. Playing outdoors, spending time with friends, reading books and hanging out with family is happening a lot less to make room for hours of snap chatting, instagramming, and catching up on You Tube.

Parents feel powerless in this uphill battle and need community support to help delay the ever-evolving presence of the smartphone in the classroom, social arena and family dinner table. Let’s band together to wait until at least eighth grade before children are allowed to have a smartphone.

Every major carrier makes a basic phone that just calls and texts without a data plan if you believe your child will need to get in touch with you before 8th grade. The Wait Until 8th pledge is encouraging parents to delay the smartphone. If you would like your child to have a basic phone that just calls and texts or a two-way calling watch, you still can sign the pledge! The basic phone and two-way calling watch avoid many of the distractions and dangers of the smartphone.

Childhood is too short to waste on a smartphone. Take the pledge today!

5 Questions to Ask Before You Get Your Kid a Phone

Make sure they (and you!) are ready for the next step with conversation starters that get everyone on the same page. By Sierra Filucci 

You’re on your way to pick up your kid after school, and traffic is crawling or your train is delayed or your car breaks down. If only your kid had a phone, you could tell him you’ll be late. It’s moments like these that lead many parents to get their tweens or teens their first phones. But even though the convenience is compelling — and your kid has probably been begging for one — how do you know he’s really ready?

If you’re considering a smartphone for your kid, you’ll need to think through a few things, from who will pay for it to whether she’s responsible enough to use it appropriately. But once you decide to take the plunge, start the conversation with these five questions. Also, consider requiring your kid to complete Digital Compass (a Common Sense Media game that teaches digital citizenship) before handing over the device.

Why do you want a cell phone?
The answer to this question will help you understand what to expect once she gets the phone and where she might need some limits. Does she want to text with friends? Or play Crossy Road for hours?

Do you understand the rules your family and school have for phone use?
Most kids know they have to answer yes to this question, but it can help start the conversation about your family and school’s expectations around how the phone is used, from whether they can download apps without permission to how they can or can’t use the phone in the classroom. Be sure to discuss the consequences if rules are broken.

What are some concerns you think your family and teachers have about phones?
This question helps you understand what your kid thinks are the main sources of tension around kids and phone use. You can use this conversation to clarify any of your concerns, such as how often your kid is on the phone, whether he uses social media apps, and how to handle a call or text from a stranger.

What are five places it’s not OK to use your phone?
Phone etiquette and safety are ongoing conversations, since kids will be experiencing some phone situations for the first time. But this is a good time to lay down the absolute basics, like no staring at your phone when Grandma’s talking, no taking photos in locker rooms, no phones at the dinner table, and so on.

What will you do if you lose or break your phone?
Unfortunately, this is a real possibility. Talk about whether the phone will be replaced and, if so, who pays for it. Is insurance an option? Discuss options for preventing loss or breakage.