Hendrie Weisinger Ph.D.

Thicken Your Skin

Is Your Son or Daughter Being Tutored by Amphetamines?

It's ten o'clock and your kids are studying—are they on amphetamines?

Posted May 11, 2016

 Does your high school student study late into the night so he or she can get stellar grades?  Is he or she studying history, math and chemistry past your bedtime hour?

Before you give yourself a pat on the back for instilling grit into your child, you’d be smart to check out whether he or she is one of the increasing number of high school students fueling themselves with amphetamines such as Adderall. In many cases, students end up in drug treatment centers with an addiction rather than in their school of choice. 

That students use amphetamines to  increase their study efforts is not new. Most baby boomers can remember college days when they or their friends popped a few pills to pull an all-nighter. Today, though, taking prescription pep pills without a prescription has filtered downward, especially to affluent public and private high schools.  

These are some of the grim facts that served as an impetus for drugfree.org to produce the short film documentary, Breaking Points http://www.drugfree.org/breakingpoints/

The film, which I saw at a recent screening, can be anxiety-arousing if you are a parent of a high schooler. Through stark interviews with high school students, several in drug rehab centers, and insightful comments by a collection of experts, the film makes it clear that the increasing number of students using amphetamines to study in the pursuit of success is a clear and present danger and often leads to tragic consequences. According to the students interviewed, the pills are alarmingly easy to get.

The film also suggests that most of the time, parents are clueless to their kids' pill use.  I agree and suspect many parents are blinded to the pressures their kids are under because of their own needs for their kids to succeed at any cost. Consider that several SAT prep books are among the top 100 Amazon sellers. Who do you think is buying these books—the high school student or the parent?

What can be done to curb the problem?  The film makes it clear that there is no one solution, but awareness to student amphetamine use is a good start.  After that, both schools and parents need to collaborate on the goal of helping high school students develop healthy strategies to cope with the pressure that schools and parents, often inadvertently, place upon them. 

I’ve studied the topic of managing pressure for twenty years. Here are some suggestions that schools and parents can use to help their students do their best without a pill boost, or as students call them, “grade steroids”

Excellence Vs. Ranking

We all know that we live in a competitive world. Competition encourages us to try to be better than others. The trade-off is a constant feeling of having to be the best, which creates unrealistic expectations and a sense that you don’t measure up. Most schools and parents foster a ranking mindset. Comparing your kids to others and the public posting of grades and class standing by schools are everyday happenings that teach  students that their self-worth is defined by how well they stack up against others. 

In contrast, teaching students to focus on their own excellence puts them on a course of steady development and progress toward achieving their goals.  Such teaching promotes feelings of confidence, rather than the anxiety of losing to another. Teach your student to take care of his or her own business and not to worry what the other kids are doing.

Affirm your student’s self-worth. By mid April, the question of the day is “What school did you get into?”  For many students, the answer defines their self-esteem.  Few parents brag that their son or daughter is going to a third-tier school, but most parents let you know quickly that their kid was accepted into an Ivy League School. It is no wonder that so many kids get depressed when rejected from their top choices.  In their minds, it's equivalent to failure or being a second-class citizen. 

The remedy is for both schools and parents to make sure that students do not fuse their identity with their school performance. Telling your son or daughter that he or she is a great kid independent of their test grades is a message worthy of frequent communication. Schools can do their part by creating a school culture characterized by respect for the individual. Schools need to recognize that students who have goals that do not require an academic path are worthy, too. 

Help students think optimistically

Optimism is best defined as positive thoughts and feelings about the future.  When students think optimistically, they experience less pressure and perform better. Optimism increases confidence and enthusiasm, two pressure reducers.  

Get in the habit of using an optimistic vocabulary: "Have a great day at school," and remind your kids that hard work pays off and that the world is basically fair.  Kids who believe in a fair and just work are more apt to try harder and do better—without pills.

Help Students perform under pressure

Hundreds of studies conducted around the globe indicate that nobody performs better under pressure. Pressure downgrades cognitive success tools—memory, attention, judgment, and decision making, the very tools that students need for doing well. Taking adrenaline is not the solution for improving performance; helping kids learn pressure management strategies is.  

One useful strategy, although counterintuitive, is to minimize the importance of a particular test instead of proclaiming, "This is really an important test." The more important a person perceives the successful performance of a task (such as a test or presentation), the more pressure is created. Schools and parents who emphasize the Importance of a test or assignment are actually adding pressure and causing their kids to do worse.This is why elite athletes tell themselves the championship game is just "another game."

Another evidence-based solution is to have students write down their anxieties the night before a big exam or class presentation. Those that do so are less likely to have anxious and distracting thoughts (What if I don't do well?) surface during the moment of truth.

All parents and schools want their students to do well—but it should not be at the expense of their mental or physical health. Taking amphetamines to do better is a short-term solution and a poor one at that. Teaching kids to handle pressure is a long-term solution and one that will help them build their COTE of Armor ---confidence, optimism, tenacity, and enthusiasm.

For more information on how you can help students develop healthy strategies for handling pressure, check out: https://hankweisingerphd.com/students/

follow me @pressuretweets


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