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The message our children need to hear but almost never do: English teacher Peter Greene on One Wrong Move Syndrome

Stashed in: FAIL, Young Americans, Stress, Awesome, America!, Parents, Anxiety

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According to this longtime teacher, economic uncertainty has made childraising into a hellish competitive blood-sport.

One Wrong Move Syndrome sounds paralyzing and anxiety inducing and ubiquitous in America today: scared children are of making a mistake for fear of ruining their lives because that’s the message that society sends them. Peter Greene ends the post with a moving description of a class he once taught, what he told his students and how they reacted. This appeared on his Curmudgucation blog...

So many young people can't do anything because they're afraid of making a mistake. 

This is true... It's going to take a long time to undesign this... 

How can we undesign this?

I think we undesign this by individualizing education, mentoring, more contact, and by letting students explore.  Lest you think I'm being too left-wing hippie here, I'm not saying throw subjects you hate to the wind--I can get a kid to do math, science, writing--whatever--by justifying it and connecting it to passions.  I also get a kid to smile by recognizing his/her gifts and playing to them.  It's hypocritical that we do not in education.  In Real Life, I outsource things that should be outsourced (my accounting, for example, and I always get my math checked by an attorney or accountant...) 

No one told me I was a failure for not being an expert in everything.  Yet kids who don't pass their (state specific high-stakes) test can have huge consequences. 

We're not teaching like we operate in real life. I wrote this recently:

Take away the silliness and standardization and really teach.  This is actually harder than standardizing and measuring because it requires me to actually know about any field a kid might throw at me so I can make the higher-level connection.  It also requires me to make the relationships so I can see any red flags in learning or in life.  

All that being said, it's still going to take a while to undo all this and get kids to open up, trust, and take chances... the pendulum's swung toward pretty far and will need to recenter. 

Dawn, I hope you're right, and I agree it is going to take time. 

It's not total handwringing bullshit, but it sure is close.  This particular bit from the original Atlantic article sent me howling with laughter:

She reported that the adolescents she was encountering would “complain bitterly of being too pressured, misunderstood, anxious, angry, sad, and empty.”

Well no shit, Sherlock... it's only the universal definition and experience of adolescence since the beginning of time and in every culture.

As usual when the media piles on to what professionals with DSM IV inflationary ambitions for framing, naming and anointing the next social curse provoke we get reconstituted infotainment that's plain wrong on many levels.  

Though the topic is somber, the handling of it is worth a laugh, regardless...

But actually when I talk with teenagers today it seems like they're under way more pressure than we were. Am I just not remembering?

SOOOO COOOOLLL that you don't stress Rob. Dare you to say it to the face of a parent whose kid committed suicide. I pass the memorials to the ones who threw themselves in front of trains and off freeway overpasses on a daily basis, and it's pretty hard for me to be as cool as you.

Halibutboy: I've no idea what you're trying to say in your above comment, though it might be easier for you to be cool if you used your real name. 

Adam: regarding teenagers today (in the US of A) and if they're seeming like they're under way more pressure than we were growing up, meh, don't know.  I wasn't commenting on their relative stress, nor even indicting their parents as causal factors – I was being critical of our cultural appetites for enjoying media articles of hyperbole, innuendo, misdirection and journalistic incompetence as fait accompli facts instead of sober analysis.  It's a sincerely laughable piece on a somber topic that does more harm than good for all concerned.

I also don't believe that by framing Silicon Valley elites and any parental leaning on their whelps to succeed with an ass-kicking schedule of One Wrong Move competitiveness to get ahead served daily that we get a now widespread causal syndrome of teenage suicides, as reported.  Bullshit.

If this was so, then why don't we see these same syndromes widespread in other cultures where billions of teenagers are raised under similar or even greater widespread olympian-like pressure to achieve, progress in educational attainment and succeed – where there is still little to no cultural acceptance of failure at all points throughout one's career and life – such as Japan, China and India.  

Yet the evidence just doesn't support this conjecture.  These places have half the rate of teenager suicides per 100,000 than we here in the US do.

Go figure.

Perhaps it's something else entirely... cue the handwringing

I don't know what you're trying to say either, dude. Lotta TL;DR up there.

Pretty sure there's no objective measure of suicidal stress, but it's awesomely cool if you think there is cause then you can predict whether your own kid will do it. Also distasteful but I have heard there are pretty much no guns or drugs that can kill you (prescription or not) in Asia... that's why they use shit like cleaning products and oleander leaves. Who cares though, it's all psycho BS handwringing by people who just can't laugh!

Oh BTW Rob I actually have no idea whether Rob Hanna is your real name. I like to be transparent about the fact that I'm not using my real name or biodata.

It is.  

And clearly I'm not not making my point well at all, which has nothing to do with the suicides themselves (which are somber tragedies) but with the media treatment of it, which I suggest is doing more harm than good.

That's it.  


Sigh. OK Rob, I didn't want to go there but I guess you really want to push it.

Tomorrow is the 3 year anniversary of the suicidal action of a young protegee of mine (she was brain-dead in the hospital for like 10 days but tomorrow is when I think she killed herself). We hired her when she was like 19, taught her HTML, saw her blossom into a magical young woman and then she was gone less than 10 years later.

She was a super high-achiever and in no way a whiner. By many standards she may have seemed privileged although she really wasn't except for graduating from Stanford.

I guess you would call it handwringing because... she wasn't statistically significant? Not enough Japanese teenagers killed themselves? You think it's all laughable? I don't even know.

Do you think you "won" this "debate"? Are you "howling with laughter" about the stupidity of media depictions of teenage suicide? I actually hope you can forever, that you never know this despair -- not just for yourself for but your loved ones. Stay safe and oblivious, that's the best I can wish you.

That's terrible Joyce. I'm truly sorry.  

My above criticism of handwringing was directed against the professionals outside these communities, who choose to use local tragedies as examples to manufacture widespread syndromes in their areas of professional self-interest – not at all intended for those living within these communities, or those directly affected by these tragedies.

As far as tragedies go, just one person is statistically significant enough.

Apologies for my oafishness: I clearly didn't know my audience here or articulate my point well at all.


Admit mistakes to your kids.

Take risks and let your kids know about it.

Get comfortable explaining your horrible mistakes and what you learned. 

Show examples of people who got it wrong a lot - and succeeded.

Learn to surf or rock climb ( lots of failure is the norm and the only path to success ).

Remind your kids that playing the game is more important than winning. 

Cry in front of them - dads this is especially important for you. 

Remind them that "smart" is a bullshit metric. 

Persistent trumps everything. 

Bill, these are good tips. 

Resilience is a difficult skill to learn, when dealing with anxiety and stress. 

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