My client cried because her daughter found a Facebook post that called her ugly, friendless and mocked her home. Fifteen classmates added insults. The original author was an A student, musician, model and athlete. It seems that her mother forbade breakfast for weight control, had her play sports despite overuse strain injuries and packed free time with driven activities that would bolster her college application. Apparently, this child had little playtime.
According to psychologist Dr. Peter Gay, spontaneous play is important for the development of empathy, compassion and relatedness in children. Relentless pressure to achieve fosters narcissism and a cutthroat value system that engenders poor interpersonal skills, depression and disconnection.
In my practice I have seen some students so revved up for the next rung, so programmed to strive, that the soul feels parched. They are somehow starving. Students have told me they feel like machines or automatons. “What’s is all for?” is a frequent question. When inner spark, spontaneity, experimentation and play are sacrificed, there are mental health consequences. Depression, burn out, cognitive shut down or dropping out of school are risks. I have seen superstars who suddenly cannot do the assignments, for whom school becomes meaningless and who feel utterly disconnected from what they have achieved. They can’t reap what they sow because they are endlessly sowing.
We have to protect the childhoods and mental health of our children.
So much of success and happiness has to do with the quality of relationships. Concern for others protects the children, peers and the community. Harvard psychology prof Richard Weissbourd writes about the morality of children as a matter of psychological health.
Character has much to do with success and happiness in the long run, both personally and professionally.