In this chapter, let's all take a collective pause for breath. Let's figure out what's wrong. In the busyness of contemporary life, let's ask the right questions in our own homes and schools. If you feel as though everything has sped up and is going too fast and there isn't enough time in the day to do it all, pause a moment and ask yourself some questions:
Is my child's life overscheduled? Am I spending all day taking children from one class, rehearsal, workout, team practice, and social event to another? If so, why?
Is the frantic struggle to keep up with other kids and their parents doing my child damage? If so, do I sense it but feel powerless against it?
Do I have a child who just "doesn't fit" the conventional expectations of well-intentioned teachers, doctors, and other experts who complain about him or her? Is my child just plain "different"?
Is my five-, six-, or seven-year-old on behavioral medication, unable to calm down or function properly without a chemical stimulant? Or has this medication been recently suggested for my young child, though I don't believe deep down that he needs it?
Has my teenage daughter gotten into trouble recently in ways that seem "not who she is"?
Has my teenage son begun turning away from my home and authority in dangerous ways?
Do I worry constantly about my child getting into the best college--and does that stress push me to create an overwhelming daily life for my kid?
Is my child obsessed with the computer, video games, television, cell phones, text messaging, blogging, or other "electronic addictions"?
Does my child have a materialistic sense of entitlement that cripples his or her ability to fully mature and find purpose and meaning?
Do I live in a constant anxiety that I as a parent am failing one or more of my children?
Many families and children today are not necessarily sick, ill, or destroyed, but nevertheless suffer from one or more of these issues. Some children play three sports, have team and personal coaches, and are rushing from one grueling athletic practice to another. Some are constantly taking test-prep workshops, dance classes, and music classes, and are rehearsing daily for one academic or artistic performance after another. Others develop social or emotional skills but little character. Still others act out in uncivil, angry ways, while at the same time struggling to keep up with the latest competitive trends.
I believe these children and their parents are suffering from chronic stress. After two decades of research and practice, I now believe that far too many families suffer from this dangerous condition. Let's pause for a moment to look at it carefully so that we can protect our families from it, then let's look at a major social force that might be causing it--one we can battle very well if we decide to become revolutionary and nurture the nature of our children. What Is Chronic Stress in the American Family?