As I contemplate the start of a new school year, I am freshly reminded of a conversation I had at an end of school year breakfast in June. I was sitting next to a teacher from my elementary school. I recognized her but knew I hadn’t interacted with her very much during the school year that was just concluding. As the school psychologist, I knew this was good news for her! I reminded her who I was and commented that she must have had a good school year, since I hadn’t seen her at any meetings. 🙂
Our conversation soon turned to our children. We both have college-aged children, and both of us began to explain how our kids were attending community colleges. I noticed that both of us shared rather tentatively and then as we realized that we were of the same mind about it we unashamedly explained how great community college is and how well that option is serving our children both financially and educationally. As we continued to talk, we found that we also agreed to the importance of children doing their best, but not being pushed to a level they cannot reach… or a level they are not even interested in. We both agreed that children should have down time, time to play, and time to just relax. If you have read my prior blogs or heard me speak, you know how excited I was to find a like-minded individual!
I would like to see a day where this conversation doesn’t have to be tentative. I would like to see a culture shift where all honorable occupations are valued and character rather than achievement at any cost is emphasized throughout our school systems. I believe that students who choose blue-collar careers should never be made to feel that they are choosing a lesser thing. I understand that we will continue to honor and acknowledge our high achievers and I think that is good. I do not think high academic achievement should be sold and discussed as the ONLY honorable and good goal for any and every student. Students should be praised for honorable character, hard work, and good study habits rather than ONLY their specific achievements! I am excited that my own district has changed our mission statement from a singular focus on college readiness to: College and Career Readiness for All Students. This simple change shifts from an obsession with a university education to a realization that some students would prefer to go straight to work or pursue employment and careers that do not include the traditional 4-year university pathway.
What does all this have to do with NSSI?
More than you might think. There is a subset of adolescents who self-injure who fit the high-achiever profile. These are students who lay everything on the line, take no breaks, and sacrifice everything to be at the TOP. When things go wrong (e.g. any grade below an “A”), a student in this category who also has other risk factors (especially poor emotional regulation and an exposure to the idea of self injury) may turn to this maladaptive coping strategy.
This school year, do not be a part of creating the stress and mindset that leads to the desperation these students find themselves in. Here are a few things that could make a huge difference:
- Provide a listening ear when students come to you in distress.
- Do not emphasize achievement at any cost. Especially not at the cost of mental health and stability.
- Take time to teach your own children and students coping strategies to promote emotional regulation and mindfulness skills. (One great resource can be found here)
Have a great 2015-2016 school year!