The pressure to get good grades. The pressure to excel at sports and the arts. The pressure to get accepted to the ‘right’ colleges. Adolescents and teens are under an increasing amount of pressure every year. Many are being pushed to the breaking point, with national trends showing a rise in anxiety, depression, and suicide among those ages groups.
Dr. Christopher Timmis, superintendent of Dexter Community Schools, has become increasingly alarmed by this trend. For this reason, Dexter parents and educators were recently invited to take part in a community book study to begin conversations about adolescent development and student mental health.
The district distributed 350 copies of the book At What Cost? Defending Adolescent Development in Fiercely Competitive Schools by Dr. David Gleason. Over one hundred parents, along with educators, attended the kickoff event in December, 2018. Dr. Gleason, a clinical psychologist who has studied adolescents for more than 25 years, was invited to speak on the topic, explaining what his research into adolescent brain development has found and why this topic is so important to student mental health.
A disturbing trend
“Over the years, we have experienced an increase in kids with anxiety and depression challenges. We had been looking for resources when I stumbled upon this book last spring,” Timmis said. “Some of the stories that Dr. Gleason described resonated. They really resembled a lot of what we’ve been experiencing with kids.”
Timmis felt that the book study would help parents and schools to better understand the pressures that adolescents are now facing when pushed to excel academically, artistically and athletically, often sacrificing of their well-being in the process.
“We are expecting more and more of our kids, but we are not really responding to what is developmentally appropriate,” he said.
A case for developmental empathy
Dr. Gleason’s research supports this as well. He has interviewed many parents and educators across the country, as well as in Europe and Asia. The responses were nearly unanimous.
“Adults around the world acknowledge that on the one hand, they want more than anything to educate and parent their students and children in healthy, safe, and balanced ways. However, because of unprecedented economic and cultural pressures, these same adults also acknowledge that they are too frequently over scheduling, over working, and at times, overwhelming their students,” Gleason said.
“The best way to support teens and tweens in competitive school environments is for educators and parents to come together, to actively collaborate with each other, on deciding about best practices that both understand and respect the ‘still developing status’, and the health and well-being of these students,” he added.
The Dexter community continued this conversation on January 15, when Dr. Gleason returned to lead parents and educators in an interactive workshop. Superintendent Timmis is hopeful that the district will find ways to better support students in the future.
“Understand that this is not just a Dexter challenge, but it is a broader issue across schools, across the country and across the world,” Timmis said. “We are actually going to try to work to make changes and understand the problem.”
For more information on future workshops, contact Dexter Community School offices at 734-424-4100 or email
Help For Stressed-Out Students
How can parents and educators support adolescents during their still-developing years?
Dr. David Gleason, clinical psychologist and author of “At What Cost? Defending Adolescent Development in Fiercely Competitive Schools”, suggests, “Two areas of focus are particularly important.”
1. Changing school start times — to enable teens to get the sleep they desperately need — to no earlier than 8:30 AM in secondary schools around the world.
2. Incorporating the instruction of executive functions (planning, prioritizing, organizational skills, time management, emotional understanding and regulation, etc.) into the daily curriculum for all high school students.
Dr. Gleason emphasized that parents and educators need to work together to find solutions. “This is not a problem that the students can address. This is an adult problem, one that needs, and absolutely requires, that the adults come together and generate creative, previously un-thought-of solutions to the adaptive challenge of trying to educate their students in healthy and safe ways, while simultaneously protecting and respecting the students’ health and well-being.”