By KaCey Venning
Adolescents are typically told to do well in school, and to excel in extracurricular activities. In addition to academics, this is a good foundation for getting accepted into college. I excelled in both areas, but the secret that I kept to myself is that in the midst of excelling, I lacked the confidence in believing that I was doing well. The pressure had me convinced that I wanted to commit suicide. I even tried to at the tender age of 16. While I contemplated suicide for weeks prior to my break down nineteen years ago, I was diagnosed with a chemical imbalance. I then learned that I was battling with depression. I refused to believe or accept it, and ignored the doctor's instructions. I went back full throttle to living my life the way that I was most comfortable with, and had been doing for years. I told myself I was supposed to do well, even when my capacity began to decrease.I became an expert in learning how to cover up my anxiety. I fooled my parents and teachers into believing that I was emotionally balanced because I was still performing well. I couldn't possibly be depressed as a top student with everyone being proud of me.
It is possible, and there are far too many children who are. The National Institute on Mental Health estimates that 2.8 million adolescents between the ages of 12-18 experience a major depressive episode every year, and unfortunately I was one of them.
After I graduated college and entered the workforce, I found myself working with youth. Elementary through College aged youth were somehow always on my program roster and I even co-founded a nonprofit, Helping Empower Youth, Inc. While the young people that I was assigned to were all different from me, I found myself working with those who experienced the desire to overachieve as well. I quickly realized that while most of the youth I worked with didn't have a mental illness, they were showing the signs of buckling under the pressure. I decided to involve the parents and share information with them to help avoid the same situation that I went through. I began working with the parents to help them identify the signs, to determine if their high performing student might be dealing with anxiety and to see if they would benefit from professional medical advice.
Here are the 5 things I shared with them:
1. Ask your child daily how they are doing and then ask them why they feel the way that they feel.
2. Assess which activities your children are most connected to through their passion and interest and allow them to cease the other activities.
3. Be willing to modify expectations during highly stressful periods.
4. Ensure that as a parent you aren't projecting your unfilled dreams onto them.
5. Don't be quick to punish them for mistakes, ask questions, and assess before using discipline.
While every child is different and these 5 tips may need to be modified, I encourage you to slow down and pay attention. Our high performing children are generally going to rise to expectation even at the expense of their own emotional balance. Be sure they are confident that they have a safe space to say that they are overwhelmed, and change is needed. I promise together, you will find a way to confidently send your children into the world ready to handle all that life brings their way.