More than 500 people showed up to the Polson School auditorium Wednesday night to watch the documentary film, Race To Nowhere, and to talk about the best way to reduce stress among children in shoreline towns, stress that experts in the movie said could in some cases contribute to problems like anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, sleep disorders, anorexia, and suicidal thinking.
During a moderated discussion after, students and parents alike asked how the main points of the film could be transformed into action. Several parents asked that all schoolteachers and administrators see the movie. A student enthusiastically endorsed the idea of homework holidays and fewer pointless homework assignments. Another student asked that more of an emphasis be placed on the pursuit of happiness rather than high GPAs, test scores, and the emphasis getting in to a top college.
Representatives from the Madison Alcohol And Drug Education Coalition (MADE) said they would continue to work on these issues and faciliate the discussion to help create an environment where change can take place. The first step is pretty simple, said Laurie E. Ruderfer, MADE Coalition Coordinator.
Honest conversations a starting point
"We can start by having honest conversations while waiting in line at the Stop & Shop," she said during the discussion afterwards, making reference to a point made in the movie that pretending everything is perfect all the time can create unreasonable expectations and pressures for both parents and children.
Taffy Bowes, assistant director of Madison Youth And Family Services, agreed that being realistic about the issues facing the children in town is important.
"We know there are kids who drink and do drugs when they are under pressure," she said. "We know this about the shoreline."
Shoreline towns well represented
The shoreline towns were well represented Wednesday evening. MADE received inquiries from and got participants from Clinton, Higganum, Old Saybrook, Guilford, Old Lyme, Killingworth, Durham, and Milford, among other towns. Attendees included students, school board members, teachers, school administrators, a police officer, at least one state representative, and other town officials.
What they saw was a movie that made the following points:
- Kids feel like they have to be smart, pretty, athletic, artistic, unique, or they feel like they are failures.
- That parents too often succumb to fears that their children won't be successful and that those fears are transferred to their children, creating stress.
- The resulting stress can contribute to actual physical and mental illnesses like headaches, stomach aches, anorexia, sleep disorders, emotional breakdowns, swollen joints, anxiety disorders and suicidal thinking.
- That sometimes it's the child who appears to be just perfect and all that who is in the most pain. One expert in the movie described how one seemingly healthy student visited her office and the expert was startled to see what she called a "cutter t-shirt," or one that was pulled down low over the young woman's wrists and hands. "She had sliced the word 'empty' into her forearm" she said. "But she put on a terrific presentation" of being just fine.
- That kids need nine to eleven hours of sleep and that a failure to create an environment where they can get enough sleep can be a form of neglect.
- That kids who feel pressure to get endless amounts of homework done, after long hours of sports practice, can succumb to the temptation of stimulants to keep themselves awake, then tranquilizers to come down.
- That we're losing boys who become angry and act out, and we're losing girls to depression.
- That endless hours of homework not only creates stress but can actually have a negative effect on a child's ability to learn. One teacher in the movie described an experiment where he cut homework in half. The AP scores in his class went up.
Several experts said schools seem to be, more and more, preparing children for college applications, not even for college, or life beyond. An administrator at one top college, the kind of school where kids need perfect grades to be admitted, said an alarmingly high number of students in the freshman class needed remedial work in math and English.
Another expert pointed out that success in life all too often has nothing to do with what kind of grades you get in high school or college. "The world is run by C students. Very few got top grades. They were just very persistent."
If you're interested in having a honest conversation about this, joing us for our Moms' Talk Thursday at 4 p.m. Or, you are welcome to post comments anytime.
For more information about what you can do, check out the Race To Nowhere website.