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We want them to reach and be stretched by the kind of rigor and opportunity that will maximize their potential and their chances.
We bring them home to a sheltering roof and we delight weeks later when they make their first intentional eye contact with us.
So imagine how surprised I was to discover among my more affluent, well-connected students a growing number who seemed to be lacking the ability to make their way independently in the world, as, frankly, 18-22 year olds always had been able to do and just as crucially, used to to do. It took most of my ten years as dean before I figured out what exactly the problem was. I began to wonder whether lately we’ve been raising Stepford Children.
I’m deliberately being vague about what exactly was missing in so many students because frankly I couldn’t quite tell at first. For starters, each year my students were more and more and more and more accomplished. And not just the grades and the scores but the awards, and the accolades, and the activities, , literally or virtually, to: ask questions; select courses, activities, majors, internships, and careers; solve problems; handle conflicts; defend and advocate for their student; register for classes; fill out applications; track deadlines; and call to wake their kid up. Yes, of course, closeness, affection, love, frequent communication between parent and offspring, that’s all good. So this kind of constant communication between parent and child at first seemed so to me.
So intertwined with their parents they didn’t seem to know how to , but when you work with thousands of the so-called best and brightest, and you see this kind of existential impotence, and then you talk to colleagues at colleges around the country not just at the elite schools but at schools in every tier, and see this, and you realize that this isn’t just a Bay Area thing or a Stanford thing but a middle- and upper-middle-class American thing, and the rates of mental health problems in children, adolescents, and young adults are soaring, particularly in affluent communities, you get concerned. Was I in danger of being one of of other peoples’ grown-up children; the results of thousands of upbringings and childhoods, who, during my decade as dean, started referring to themselves as ‘kids.’ How would my generation pass the mantle of leadership on to such “adults”?
we’re all wondering in communities wherever this is being read. Why was childhood no longer preparing kids for adulthood?
We gaze down at our precious little ones with a promise to do all we can to help them make their way into the long life that lies ahead.