News

Guest opinion: Keep Calm and Parent On

What can parents do right now to decrease the risk of suicide in their children?

Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of being a lunchtime speaker during Career Week at Palo Alto High School. I love my profession, I have a son at Paly right now, and there is a severe national shortage of people who do what I do -- so I was excited to see nearly 150 students crowd into the hall.

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Comments

135 people like this
Posted by Laurie
a resident of another community
on Mar 16, 2015 at 3:05 pm

This is excellent advice. Thank you!


88 people like this
Posted by Perspectives
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 16, 2015 at 3:13 pm

Perspectives is a registered user.

Thank you Dr. Strassberg. You care enough about others that you took action to write this article and that's very much appreciated. Great advice.


46 people like this
Posted by paly parent
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 16, 2015 at 3:15 pm

Thank you for this sage advice-much appreciated.


37 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 16, 2015 at 3:17 pm

Thank you.


148 people like this
Posted by very concerned parent
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 16, 2015 at 3:20 pm

Thank you Dr. Strassberg. I was particularly interested in your comments on sleep and the causal relationship found in the literature between sleep deficit and suicide attempts and depression. Many of our middle school and high school students attend school early for "zero" period or sports practice. I am very concerned based on what I am reading and learning about this. The more I think about it, the more worried I am. I don't think that the schools should ever have our students at school that early due to the research but in light of what is going on now with the suicides it seems foolhardy at best. Can you please comment on the American Academy of Pediatrics policy paper that was issued in August that says that school should start no earlier than 8:30? Shouldn't Paly move its start time to 8:30? Shouldn't Gunn cancel zero period which starts at 7:20? (and Paly at 7:10)?

The school says it is "optional" and I know that is not really true, but even if it was, shouldn't the school take a firm stand against offering "options" that it knows could contribute to suicide attempts? Smoking is also "optional" but school should not encourage it by providing cigarette machines and smoking areas.


36 people like this
Posted by Nora Charles
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 16, 2015 at 3:29 pm

Thank you very much for this. Palo Alto is very fortunate to have you practicing here.


34 people like this
Posted by Kevin
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 16, 2015 at 3:38 pm

Is there any evidence that any of your advice actually prevents suicide? Is there any evidence that tiger moms increase the suicide rate of their children? I happen to know many demanding parents who have had healthy and well-adjusted children.

You mention biological factors, but you do not elaborate. Is there, perhaps, an increased rate of mental dysfunctions in Palo Alto parents, like depression disorders and Asperger's autism syndrome, which have a strong genetic predisposition? To simplify the question: Is there a set of suicide genes?

The FBI is well known for profiling criminal behavior, based on analyzing details of interviews with criminals. Does a similar set of profiling exist for attempted suicides, as well as a control set for those who never attempted suicide? For example, is sleep deprivation a proven risk factor? Is academic achievement? Achievement in general?

[Portion removed.]


102 people like this
Posted by Psst
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 16, 2015 at 4:01 pm

Students can't sleep when they are taking too many AP classes. Limit the number of AP classes to 4 total at graduation. Yes, they are optional, but ever heard of peer pressure? Everyone else is doing it so one feels like an idiot if they aren't.

End zero period option. It's not really an "option" if hundreds of students are doing it. Again, peer pressure.


94 people like this
Posted by About the pet
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 16, 2015 at 4:15 pm

It works!

Got one when my child was older too, in High School. A puppy, and though it's a chore at first, it's unconditional love.

Doesn't care if your kid has finished their homework or what grade they got on a test. If their hair looks good or if the acne is bad that week. It makes you laugh and have something to talk about that is not official business. I'm glad it's also doctor approved!

Yes you have to take care of it, and you (parent) are stuck with it, but it actually pays off. Can't explain, it just works.


122 people like this
Posted by Deb
a resident of another community
on Mar 16, 2015 at 4:23 pm

Be Brave. That's my favorite suggestion on the list.
It's up to YOU parents to value your child and make sure they FEEL valued. Don't be afraid to say no to homework, to take them out of school (into another schooling experience), to say no to AP classes and so on. Really, they will be ok. Life is long and making a child feel that high school is the most important gateway to "success" is total and utter crap.


48 people like this
Posted by parent of a teen
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Mar 16, 2015 at 4:46 pm


I loved this article. The best I've read in recent weeks. But I had to chuckle at:

1. Make your teen sleep

Sounds like 'Make your toddler eat his vegetables'. I always had a saying while my kids were young. It was my responsibility as a parent to provide the healthy food (thus limit the amount of junk food in the house), it was their job as a child to put it in their mouth.

Not sure I can make my teen sleep. I'm pretty sure if I tried to make my teen sleep they would go in their room and purposely stay awake longer. :)




660 people like this
Posted by The "Juggling Kid" at PALY
a resident of Southgate
on Mar 16, 2015 at 4:52 pm

Hi Dad.

Great article!

While I do agree that some things could be changed in our community to result in a safer society, I also appreciate the added pressure that our community gives to success. It would be a shame for our community culture of success to be dampened by our need for improved mental health.

I am so lucky to be your son - you implement so many of your great mental health suggestions into our home life.... and oh.. by the way, I think I need to show you my report card...

Love,
- Zach

P.S. Can we get more cats?


46 people like this
Posted by GAT-ED Community
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 16, 2015 at 4:52 pm

I have wondered if the kids who committed suicide were intellectually and emotionally intense. In other words, I have wondered if the kids who committed suicide were “gifted.” I know the term sounds elitist and is problematic, but I can’t think of another term to use. I use the term as it is used by researchers to describe those who are intellectually AND emotionally intense.

Emotional intensity is the seemingly “darker” side of giftedness. This emotional intensity, however, can be misinterpreted as something else, like depression or bipolar disorder. Other traits of giftedness can be misperceived and misdiagnosed as something such as ADHD or anxiety. I think many adults in Palo Alto need to be aware of these issues.

For information about the misdiagnoses of gifted kids, please see: Web Link

Another poster noted the number of medicated kids we now have in PAUSD, and I have to wonder: Are we medicating our gifted kids out of their natural, emotional intensity and/or the more frenetic patterns of their thoughts?

How many parents have done their research on giftedness? How many parents can recognize, without pathologizing, the common emotional characteristics of gifted kids?

Given the demographics and genetics of Palo Alto, I would imagine many students in this town are gifted. There used to be a GATE program, but it no longer exists. How well is PAUSD now accommodating the gifted and talented students at the elementary, middle, and high school levels? For the high-school students, I would say bombarding them with crazy amounts of busy work is not an effective strategy.


22 people like this
Posted by Rational
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 16, 2015 at 5:01 pm

Very good article. Very untypical. Thanks.


85 people like this
Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 16, 2015 at 5:32 pm

Reason is a registered user.

Dr. Strassberg - excellent article. I agree with you on all points except #5. While I used to assume the best of our teachers, experience has taught me otherwise. One teacher abusing, bullying or intimidating your kid, Then another, then you find there is no support for your kid among the administration, and pretty soon you have to give up the assumption that "we are all in it together". It is sad but a true reality.

More and more, we have to assume the worst, and hope for the best. While the majority of teachers really are on your side, and really are trying to help your kid, not all are. And when they are not, your final points of "More sleep, more free unscheduled time to play and to grow, less homework, more balance" goes right out the window. Sometimes the teacher is a barrier to these goals.

And there is no system to protect the kids in these circumstances. That is our problem - we want the goals, we see how others achieve this, but are hampered by a system that does not regulate its worst offenders.

And the result is a marked decrease in mental well being.


28 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 16, 2015 at 5:34 pm

Thank you, Doctor, and I wonder about your opinion on negative peer influences/interactions owing to the near-constant presence of hand-held electronic devices/social media. In my experience, these are highly negative things and should be limited (in school? by parents? self-regulated/limited use by tense themselves?) The rise of "TMI" is part of this, too (bragging constantly about grades, Intel Science Competition, whatnot) rather than confining such commentary to close friends where sharing was once upon a time natural and appropriate. I am wondering if depression and anxiety (not to mention, bullying problems) arise from constant social media. Thank you for your opinion.


107 people like this
Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 16, 2015 at 5:36 pm

Reason is a registered user.

Also, having a therapy dog on campus would really help. Something large and sturdy that can tolerate a LOT of attention.


77 people like this
Posted by concerned parent and psychiatrist
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 16, 2015 at 7:24 pm

I applaud your willingness to lend your fresh perspective onto the current crisis. However, I am taking note of the lack of endorsement thus far by other readers, as evidenced by their comments, on what I consider to be the most novel and important advice, advise #3, to model behavior conducive for mental health. I imagine that in this town of over achievers, to do so would entail a fundamental change in behavior and values that most would not be able to follow through. That is why I am unfortunately not very optimistics that things will really change in Palo Alto. This cluster may soon fade away but I am afraid that without these kinds of fundamental evolution in values history will repeat itself in the near future.


6 people like this
Posted by Mac Clayton
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 16, 2015 at 8:34 pm

Mac Clayton is a registered user.

Nice. Thanks.


164 people like this
Posted by Paly Alum Mom x 3
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 16, 2015 at 9:24 pm

Thank you for your good thoughts. Both of my older children lost classmates (yes, plural) to suicide.

After graduation my son said he felt that Paly was a meat grinder, chewing up all the little freshman who'd had it so easy through elementary and middle school.

I asked him what he would do about it. He said the pressure should come on earlier so the kids 'ease' into it. He further stated that if he decided to raise his children in Palo Alto, that he would move away the summer after the oldest finished 8th grade, unless things changed drastically.

I am guilty of being a "Palo Alto" parent, pressuring my kids for high grades, teaching them at home, taking them to tutoring, signing up for all manner of enrichment activities from age 4 on. That changed when a classmate of my eldest took his life sophomore year. My husband and I realized my children's lives and happiness were far more important than any grade, SAT score or college degree could ever be and CHILLED out. Despite this new attitude, my kids didn't end up in the gutter, they all graduated from respectable UCs, and are happy, loving adults. That is the ultimate measure of success.


10 people like this
Posted by counselor
a resident of another community
on Mar 16, 2015 at 9:33 pm

Thank you.


20 people like this
Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 16, 2015 at 9:37 pm

Excellent. I learned something and I will worry less about my child's future. I will go with the flow now. Thank you.


9 people like this
Posted by Keri
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 16, 2015 at 9:39 pm

Keri is a registered user.

Thank you Adam!


157 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 16, 2015 at 10:03 pm

As an adolescent I survived two suicide attempts (the second, barely) and occasionally still slip into negative thought patterns.

This line from the Desiderata (Max Ehrmann, 1927) comforts me, so I keep it close at hand.

"You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should."


I don't know if it is too old fashioned to help our kids...


16 people like this
Posted by Karen
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 16, 2015 at 10:21 pm

Thank you very much for putting those thoughts together. Very useful during these times. I laughed about the cat. I find that happens in our house too.


19 people like this
Posted by Teen Wise Seattle
a resident of another community
on Mar 16, 2015 at 10:26 pm

As a teen life coach, I constantly talk to teens and parents about nurturing the whole self rather than just the academic self. Our teens are more than just their grades or what college they attend. We as adults need to consider the pressures that we place on our kids. We need to make sure that they are enjoying life! I'm sure that up here in Redmond, WA (Microsoft country) that the pressures are very similar to Palo Alto. Thank you for this great article.


59 people like this
Posted by Celeste W.
a resident of another community
on Mar 16, 2015 at 10:27 pm

I am a child and adult psychiatrist -- likewise trained at Stanford and lived in Palo Alto. And current parent of a high-achieving teen.

Dr. Strassberg's advice is spot-on, sleep and all.

Listen to your children. Love them for who they are, not for who they could become.

The rest, to misquote Hillel, is detail.


6 people like this
Posted by Christine
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 16, 2015 at 10:37 pm

Excellent article. Thank you!


38 people like this
Posted by FINALLY!
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 16, 2015 at 11:38 pm

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you for this post Dr. Strassberg! Our community is, and has been, reeling in the face of all of these public suicides, and we are scared and confused as to what to do to try and ensure our kids are not next. Thank you for your insights and excellent guidance. Free of charge. :-)

@kevin:

Holy Cow! Did anyone say 100% of the children of "Tiger Moms" will turn out badly or commit suicide? You want an entire dissertation on all things that cause suicide in a guest opinion piece on Palo Alto Online? We have a wonderful, local resource who is giving his expert, professional guidance to our community - free of charge!!! Respect that and be appreciative - I know I am!

@concerned parent and psychiatrist:

Really? You are looking for an online "vote" to base your opinion? If you are truly a psychiatrist, I would think you would support the positive behavior suggested, not undermine it with negative PROJECTIONS.


117 people like this
Posted by Mike Mason
a resident of another community
on Mar 16, 2015 at 11:51 pm

Great advice. Unfortunately, I fear (judging by my 25 years experience and the comments) that you lost many parents right here:
"Sufficient sleep must take priority over homework, athletics, social life, work, etc."

People, it's not that we need to lower our "success" standards, it's that we need to REDEFINE SUCCESS. There is AMPLE evidence that overwhelming pressure to succeed and achieve contributes to suicidal ideations. Remember when a 4.0 meant something? No one's saying lower the bar, but please, STOP MOVING IT UP. "Teaching to the test" is not an education.

Maybe we're motivated by guilt, or greed, or whatever, but we must never forget: while teenagers may look like adults, they are developmentally still children in many ways. They need a childhood that involves play, rest, and socialization.

For the love of children everywhere, LET YOUR KIDS BE KIDS.


4 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 17, 2015 at 3:04 am

Yikes, Dr Strassberg, I looked behind the curtain and there is truly a trifecta of university credentials hanging on the wall. Is that still achievable for our kids these days?


22 people like this
Posted by Jamal
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 17, 2015 at 4:49 am

Perhaps an attempt at a better balance - in the curriculum, home life, summer retreats - that allows the teens to ground themselves into something more real, something that centers them internally and guides them ethically, will help them (and others around them) escape the hypnotizing effects of the present - a revelry that ultimately leaves us all empty. A better balance - that connects the here and now to something much larger - may perhaps help them thrive more meaningfully as well as become more resilient, internally and collectively, to the inevitable slings and arrows of time. This transformation could be brought about through diverse and pluralistic interventions - courses in philosophy, inspirational quotes, art work, meditative spaces, etc. - that help focus on the eternal rather than just the ephemeral. In education I believe the International Baccalaureate program has been working towards this approach.


9 people like this
Posted by Another opinion
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 17, 2015 at 6:31 am

What a great article. Thanks for writing this, Dr. Strassberg!


3 people like this
Posted by butterfly
a resident of Southgate
on Mar 17, 2015 at 6:52 am

Thankyou for taking the time and writing this editorial. I find it so valuable. I am not a statistician either, suicide has always existed, but two completed suicides, as you call them and one attempt in five years on our street in our neighborhood frankly frightens and alarms me.


12 people like this
Posted by Merrett
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 17, 2015 at 9:28 am

Amen!

-Merret Sheridan, ACS Site-Director at Paly.


60 people like this
Posted by Rachel
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 17, 2015 at 9:43 am

As a teenager, I am glad to finally see an article that is not trying to place blame or force unwarranted solutions or advice onto the community. Honestly, it's refreshing. I understand that there are multiple factors to be considered when looking for the reasons for suicide, but I don't think that I've seen this point better stated in anything else that I've read thus far. Great article.


15 people like this
Posted by Concerned parent
a resident of another community
on Mar 17, 2015 at 9:47 am

There is no mention in this article of removing guns from the household or ensuring that firearms are secured. Reduction in access to the most lethal means of suicide can be an easily carried out and concrete step parents can take to minimize the rate of successful suicide.
Web Link


31 people like this
Posted by Terman parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 17, 2015 at 9:56 am

Limit AP classes. Eliminate zero period. These ARE choices. These ARE optional. Yes, there is peer pressure, but we are the parents: it's our job to help our children make wise decisions about their time, their lives. Stop passing the buck. Don't blame the schools and teachers. Don't blame the "culture" of this valley. If anything, we need to take a closer look at our home "culture." I agree with the writer of this article when he says we need to lead, and thus model, balanced lives. Keep calm and PARENT on, indeed.


18 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 17, 2015 at 10:01 am

I grew up in Palo Alto and come back often to visit family and friends. Over the years I've seen many striking changes in the community, one being a generally unhappy attitude. Such an environment, and the underlying causes, must have an effect on kids. Looking at the schools for a quick fix is not the solution. The solution needs to start at home. It's important for parents to communicate and exemplify the things that give life real value and happiness. Dr. Strassberg is right on.


11 people like this
Posted by Kelly S.
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 17, 2015 at 10:03 am

Thank you Dr. Strassberg for putting this information together in such a straightforward and reader-friendly fashion. It's the best, most sane, most practical advice I've seen on the topic in a long while. It will be the topic of discussion in my house at Sunday dinner with my Paly student.


25 people like this
Posted by Gunn Father
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 17, 2015 at 10:20 am

Yet another professional weighs in , and what is the number one point ? Get more sleep --- what is PAUSD and the "administraion" doing ? Protecting ZERO PERIOD ? Disconnect? Let's wring our hands and cry some more vs actually doing something. The lack of accountability is almost criminal .


40 people like this
Posted by My Thoughts
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 17, 2015 at 10:29 am

My Thoughts is a registered user.

@Marie: " Looking at the schools for a quick fix is not the solution. The solution needs to start at home."

Yes, but the solutions cannot stop at the School's door.

For many of us, we have already done with Dr. Strassburg recommends. What we are not seen is much change at all by the school to reform teaching methods that contribute to stress and mental illness. My kid spends more time per day in front of a teacher than with me. If that relationship is toxic, stressed, disorganized, or unfair, there is little being done to fix it.

So I am calm. I am parenting on. I got a dog.

What I don't have is a change to the teaching that is pressuring my kid.


10 people like this
Posted by Katherine
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 17, 2015 at 10:33 am

Thank you for writing such a thoughtful article. You have given us much to ponder and suggestions on how to create an environment in which are children will thrive and be happy.


13 people like this
Posted by Sandy
a resident of another community
on Mar 17, 2015 at 10:42 am

"It's you and the teachers versus your teen, not you and your teen versus the teachers."

Should it ever be you and anyone versus your teen. I don't want to be an adversary. I am an advocate, protector, educator, collaborator, parent, listener - not adversary.


21 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 17, 2015 at 10:42 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"What I don't have is a change to the teaching that is pressuring my kid."

"Yes, but the solutions cannot stop at the School's door."

Think Charter School - and one that has as its core tenants learning for the sake of learning and the reduction of stress.

If you want change then you must be willing to lead and make that change.


7 people like this
Posted by My Thoughts
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 17, 2015 at 10:48 am

My Thoughts is a registered user.

@Peter Carpenter: "Think Charter School - and one that has as its core tenants learning for the sake of learning and the reduction of stress."

I like your posts. And I like this idea. I think Kickstarter campaign can raise the funds to start this. But my kid is already too late in High School, so we would not be able to do this.

Even so, I think it is a good idea, and I would give money to start this, even though my kid cannot go in time.


16 people like this
Posted by David Cohen
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 17, 2015 at 10:50 am

As a Palo Alto teacher - and parent - I try not to use the term "Palo Alto parent" in the way described here. We're talking about my friends and neighbors after all! And many of us, maybe even a majority in my experience, do seem to work with the teacher as a partner and teammate in supporting our children. However, the issue described here re: "Palo Alto parents" is real, and worth consideration, so thank you for bringing it up from a parent perspective. I suppose it's natural to complain about difficult situations or disagreements when they arise - I've heard it many times (no comment about whether or not I've ever done it myself...). While it may not be realistic to shift everyone's thinking about these relationships, it might be more manageable to at least suggest presenting a united front to our kids, and while in their presence, refrain from casting doubts and aspersions on schools or teachers. And finally, as a teacher, I'd always rather hear about questions and concerns directly, instead of finding out indirectly that concerns have festered over time unnecessarily.


12 people like this
Posted by other possibilities
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 17, 2015 at 11:01 am

How come no one has brought up the possibility that these kids were bullied by their peers? Are PA kids so perfect that they can't be bullies? It is possible that constant bullying faced by these kids made them desperate enough to do what they did. Academic stress may or may not be the proximate cause, it could be stress from bullying. We need to keep our minds open in looking for a fix.


9 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 17, 2015 at 11:02 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" I think Kickstarter campaign can raise the funds to start this."

I hereby pledge $1000 to such a campaign as soon as it is established.


27 people like this
Posted by Sandy
a resident of another community
on Mar 17, 2015 at 11:28 am

All great advice, all great points. Th only point I have to somewhat disagree with is the one about teachers and parents versus the teen. Not all teachers are the caring concerned people you are referring to in your comments. Sometimes the student is right when they believe the teacher is more interested in seeing that particular student fail. For whatever reasons, some teachers do pick out students that they simple don't like, and no amount of hard work is going to change that attitude. There are wonderful, amazing teachers, and there are teachers who should have chosen a different profession. One can't automatically "side" with the teacher until they have given their teen a chance to show how hard they have tried to succeed, and how the teacher has refused to let that happen. Doubt it all you want, but if you've "been there", you know. Siding with my kid first. Have always held that belief, and they all turned out great, by the way, in spite of a few of their teachers.


4 people like this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 17, 2015 at 11:29 am

@ Peter Carpenter: Charter schools are a good idea, but they are and will be fought by the teachers' union. I think educational vouchers are an even better idea (freedom of choice by the parents)...but even more resistance from the public unions. At some point, we will decide to put the interests of the child above the interests of the unions.

Nevertheless, I will contribute to the Kickstarter campaign, if it gets off the ground.


6 people like this
Posted by neighbor
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 17, 2015 at 11:33 am

Thank You!
Please speak at each school PTA mtg and to the kids at their assemblies.


12 people like this
Posted by very concerned
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 17, 2015 at 11:33 am

Dr. Adam, can you please respond to my question about zero period and early sports practices? I don't think it makes sense from a public health perspective to lecture parents on the importance of sleep while the schools are depriving them of sleep. We need to treat our current situation not as 12,000 families but as one community. If this is a hazard to the community then it must go. Please respond.


4 people like this
Posted by PA mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 17, 2015 at 11:37 am

PA mom is a registered user.

Thank you for this great article!


10 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 17, 2015 at 11:38 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"@ Peter Carpenter: Charter schools are a good idea, but they are and will be fought by the teachers' union"

If they didn't fight the idea then I would be convinced that the idea was not worth pursuing.

If the current system is not meeting the needs of some students then there needs to be an alternative - and competition between the current system and the Charter School will foster improvement and creativity in both.


3 people like this
Posted by Yud'l
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 17, 2015 at 11:46 am

"Asking about suicide will not implant the idea of suicide"
It still may be worth thinking carefully about HOW you ask. Joseph E. Lifschutz used to teach an Intro. to Psychoanalysis class at UCB. He would ruefully recall the beginner he was supervising who asked a patient, "Have you ever considered suicide?"


12 people like this
Posted by Deb Goldeen
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 17, 2015 at 12:08 pm

Ask yourself: Do you want a pleasant lie or a painful truth? Dr. Strassburg means well, but the fundamental purpose of his comments are to make parents feel better while allowing them to keep doing as they have always done. Parents know why kids are killing themselves. But to look at the why honestly means you will have to change what you do and how you behave in some very fundamental ways. They just don't want to do that.


22 people like this
Posted by Old but Wise
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 17, 2015 at 12:09 pm

Oh thank you so much for some real help here...I taught preschool/kindergarden for 45 years at first in a very poor area in London England. When I came to Palo Alto I thought I should be teaching in a "poor" school But I soon realized I could do a lot for the Palo Alto Moms... I made sure the children in my school enjoyed life, had time to ponder the world,explored, had time to dream, and enjoy the wonders of this world. As "computer City" hit the world I kept it out of preschool... we needed to know each other, needed to interact, needed to have laughing fun, cook, dig in the dirt and sing. Thank you so much for this article, how I detest the new "you must succeed " for the kids today. I had 2 geniuses in my classes and both of them learned something at my school... that there was something else out there, other than academics...their parents kept them with me..thank you parents who let kids be kids.


47 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 17, 2015 at 12:12 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

In AP classes, don't mix kids who have been prepped for AP classes for years with kids who haven't. This is outrageously unfair to the kids who don't game the system, and creates enormous, and completely unnecessary pressure and feelings of inadequacy and low self esteem in them.


20 people like this
Posted by Choices, including zero periods, are a good thing for kids.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 17, 2015 at 12:12 pm

I think here is a lot of wisdom in this article. As parents we teach our children, from birth I hope, to regulate their choices about food, sleep, good manners, friends, chores, time management...--preparing for that day when they leave home and we won't be there.

My teenage kids are in bed most school nights at 10pm. Electronics are off. They can read for a half hour, but then lights go out. Those are the rules. My husband and I follow them too. (Model what you teach. Good advice.)

I realize there are night owls. There's a large spectrum of human behavior and need in every category--including sleep needs. I have a friend whose son happily wakes at the crack of dawn each day to row crew. He goes to bed every night at 8:30pm and wakes at 4:45 to get to rowing practise. The zero period works really well for him--and probably some other kids, too. Schedule options that accommodate the widely varying needs of individuals are a good thing. A small percentage of Gunn kids use the zero period. I think it is a viable option for kids who LIKE to get up early. Eliminating this option is like buying one size of shoes to fit all of the kids at a campus where foot sizes range from 0-13. Kids have different sleep needs and patterns. I think it's a good thing to offer options that meet their varying needs.

Let's not eliminate choices for our budding adults. Instead, let's support them learning to make thoughtfully considered choices that promote a healthier, happier life in the long term.


69 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Dad
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 17, 2015 at 12:26 pm

Sorry but this article is such a bunch of dodging and prevaricating, it was almost unreadable.

The reason for the problems at Gunn are quite simple: insane levels of stress and homework by teachers and administrators, who are utterly in denial and have been for years. That's it folks. It's that simple.

Stop blaming the parents, or lack of pets, or mobile devices, or whatever the latest excuse has been cooked up. It's insane "rigorous" schools that leave a trail of wrecked lives.

My advice to parents, very simple: Get your kid the heck out of Gunn. Now. Start a charter school nearby, you'll find hundreds of parents eager to join you.

If there was an outbreak of the black death at the school and 8 kids had died, you'd pull your kids out immediately, and you would ignore the "experts" who dash around telling you to "keep calm". They are protecting their institution and their jobs, not the kids.

By the way, I pulled my kid out last year, it's a financial nightmare but the change in him is stunning. Instead of a nervous wreck who needed meds to stay sane, he's as happy and healthy a young man as ever was. I can't believe I let him suffer this school as long as I did.

When kids are dying, you get them the heck out.


8 people like this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 17, 2015 at 12:58 pm

There needs to be an educational program for the children which will address their individual needs, approximately. Some will excel and enjoy more challenging academic courses, and like to be 'pushed'; others will reject that approach and want to avoid academic stress; still others might like creative pursuits. As long as these children and their parents are willing to accept the consequences of their choices, I think it is a good idea.

Answer: Educational vouchers. Then the parents can assign their own kids to the perceived educational needs of their own kids. Such vouchers should be redeemable at public or private schools.


47 people like this
Posted by College Terrace
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 17, 2015 at 1:13 pm

@Palo Alto Dad: Why are so many families clamoring for their kids to go to Gunn if it is so awful? Families are crumbling under the stress of living in Palo Alto due to the high cost just so their kids can go to school here. Seems to me a lot of people WANT Gunn to be the high-stakes, high stress academic environment it is. I'm sure the teachers and administrators are a part of it but to say parents have nothing to do with it is ridiculous. I grew up in Palo Alto and had friends in MIDDLE SCHOOL who were grounded for entire semesters when they got a B. It had nothing to do with the school. It was 100% the families, not the school or teachers. (And by the way, those kids didn't go to any better colleges than the rest of us.)

Even though I grew up here and have my own kids in schools here, we plan on sending them elsewhere once they get to high school. This is partly due to the stress but it has even more to do with the wealth and money-obsession that has completely taken over. Frankly, it's getting pretty dull with everyone trying to be the very, very best at the very same things, treating their kids like projects to be managed and a competition to be won. For what - so those kids can grow up [portion removed] trying to live in Palo Alto and finding self-worth only if they become a billionaire?!


7 people like this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 17, 2015 at 1:39 pm

> so those kids can grow up and kill themselves trying to live in Palo Alto

@CT: So tell your kids that there is no need to live in Palo Alto...big wide world out there. Also many means of income, including truck driver, military, construction, Internet creator, child care, yard work, mechanic, non-profit ventures, etc. No need to chase the billionaire track in PA.

If we had the educational voucher system, you would be free to make that choice. Your kids could shine and feel good about themselves in the track that you choose...and accept the consequences of your choices. Anything wrong with that?


38 people like this
Posted by PA Parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 17, 2015 at 2:14 pm

Unfortunately, many of the posters have missed the point of Dr. Strassberg's excellent piece. It's about getting sufficient sleep, communicating with your teen, modeling good behavior, valuing your child for who he/ she is, offering unconditional love and maintaining calm. I don't think the intent was to blame the schools, kids or parents. We just need to have the courage to send the right message to our kids.


18 people like this
Posted by Steve
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 17, 2015 at 2:33 pm

Wonderful article. Idea: Make homework optional. Kids who know the material waste their waking hours on mind numbing busy work. Idea: Teach kids how to self-assess and give them the freedom and resources to focus energy where it makes a positive difference. Palo Altans are motivated by accomplishment. (So are most other people.) Let our kids (with guidance from parents and teachers when needed) decide what they are thirsty for and let them choose how much to drink to quench their thirst. That will enable accomplishment and at the same time reduce depression-inducing forced labor.


18 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Dad
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 17, 2015 at 2:43 pm

@College Terrace

"It was 100% the families, not the school or teachers."

Nonsense. Parents have been trying for years to get the teachers to back off. They flat out refuse. That's why I yanked my kid.

And nobody is clamoring to get into Gunn -- not anymore. The curtain has finally pulled back and revealed what many of us have been warning about for years.

When the school faces lawsuits and parent abandoning ship, then all the people who want a "rigorous" school can congratulate themselves on destroying it. Sure it was rigorous. Then is crashed. There's a little lesson here.


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Posted by CW
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 17, 2015 at 2:49 pm

[Post removed.]


33 people like this
Posted by GM
a resident of another community
on Mar 17, 2015 at 3:32 pm

I grew up in Palo Alto schools and attended Gunn, graduating in the 80s. Was ther student stress then? Yep. Enough for suicides to happen? Maybe-probably, but I don't recall any.
The article shares a smorgasbord of commentary, but absolutely fails to recognize an extremely important component of education: failure. The prevalence of "helicopter parents" and pressures of scoring highly on achievement tests leaves ritually no room for error. What is it that helps cement learning the best? Learning from our mistakes. When kids are not allowed to make little mistakes when they are young, they do not learn how to recover. When older, if they have no experience to guide them, what do they do when something happens? I suspect that can result in suicide for some. It's not exclusively the fault of any one source: parents-teachers-scholastic goals, but a long-term trend buoyed up by the near impossible goal to never make a mistake. Medication is not the answer. Computers in every classroom are not the answer. There needs to be more allowable trial and error in the whole of the educational system. (And maybe classroom pets!)


17 people like this
Posted by Maybe
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 17, 2015 at 3:34 pm

@Palo Alto Dad - "And nobody is clamoring to get into Gunn -- not anymore"

I checked with my realtor - yep, still clamoring.


22 people like this
Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 17, 2015 at 4:03 pm

Dear Palo Alto Onliners, especially Dr. Strassberg,

Thank you, thank you, thank you for throwing your hat into the ring.

It's amazing, given all you do for your private patients, that you've taken the time and had the concern and empathy to write this piece. It's a marvelous gift to the town.

What you write is many-faceted, well-expressed, filled with compassion, and has been sent out to all of us at just the right time.

"Want the best for your child, not for your child to be the best" is a terrific adjuration, perfectly worded; your understanding of the role of teachers is exemplary; and, as a cat person myself, I admire your stance on furry companionship.

I hope it's a complement--and compliment!—to your work that I'm a co-founder of "Save the 2,008," a local, grassroots campaign not designed to help at home, but designed to improve the schoolday. Though our high schools don't cause, nor can they cure, adolescent despair, they can make it more bearable and more survivable, I believe.

But my goodness—kudos to you! You written with heart and common sense--backed by rich experience--and I'll bet that many, many people will benefit from your posting.

Sincerely,
Marc Vincenti
Gunn English Dept. (1995-2010)
Co-founder (with student Marth Cabot)
www.savethe2008.com


9 people like this
Posted by green mom/ Silvia
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 17, 2015 at 4:11 pm

Cooperation Vs Competition:
Thank you very much for your well put words Dr. Strassberg. I agree with everything you have said, and admire your clarity. As I wrote in another blog called "The time to change is now" we have three fronts to re-think: 1,schools pressure, 2,parents pressure, and 3.the college entry system. I gave ideas regarding the schools in my comments in that other article. But Dr Strassberg' article is very pertinent to address front #2: we the parents of the Palo Alto children. The problem is ours, our community's, it is big but it has a solution, now is the time, and there is work to do in the three fronts.
I was going to write more about how to help change the over achiever-parent culture, but I really have little to add, Dr Stressberg said it all and he said it beautifully.
I will add this for the us parents: What does it mean “The best schools”? Best schools do not foster mental health problems. They spark curiosity and teach students how to learn. It has nothing to do with "competition". Competition is good for games and sports, and if we have brought it into the education realm, is only because of fear of being left behind. Fear is not a good advisor. Calm down, as Dr Strassberg says. Challenge Success has done great work on this terrain. We need to support it, expand it and make it mandatory for parents as part of the orientation process,and as an ongoing basis.

As for the parents considering leaving Palo Alto, I am concerned too, for the future of my now middle schoolers. I would consider leaving if we do not succeed in re-thinking the current school system. But first, lets work at it, we need you, and lets start thinking about starting a third public school option, that is guided by cooperative principles, a real continuation of Escondido or Ohlone and JLS. (and many others, I am just familiar with these ones) We dont need to taughen up the children starting earlier (as somebody suggested), we need to get rid of the rat race altogether. And if we can't succeed, which I am sure we will),I support the idea of a charter school, a totally different school, a Montessori type. Lets start working in that direction, we, us, parents.


11 people like this
Posted by College Terrace
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 17, 2015 at 4:11 pm

@ Palo Alto Dad - Isn't it possible to acknowledge that stress is caused by both parents and teachers, and likely peers and kids themselves? In a city as diverse as Palo Alto, with people from all over the world and of many different cultures, to imply that there are NO parents putting unrealistic expectations on their kids is ignoring an important piece of this. Perhaps YOU don't put pressure on your kids but if you ask them if ANY other kids they know get too much pressure from their parents, I bet they'd know one or two.

You and I have come to the same conclusion: that we don't want our kids going to high school in Palo Alto. Not sure why it's so hard to acknowledge that there are multiple factors influencing the school culture to lead us to that conclusion.


8 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Dad
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 17, 2015 at 4:23 pm

@College Terrace

What you say might sound all very reasonable but it's exactly how we got into this mess to begin with.

Every time people bring up this issue, school officials jump in and try to shift the blame to others. It's all about distracting people and making the issue messy so they can evade their own share of the blame. Evasion is the name of the game.

It's time to bypass that evasion -- focus on first principles and primary cause.

What is the *primary* cause of the problem? The culture of the school. The nature of the institution. Fix that, and you have the best chance of fixing the problem. How to fix it? Razor focus on teachers, homework, and school officials.


9 people like this
Posted by My Thoughts
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 17, 2015 at 4:44 pm

My Thoughts is a registered user.

@College Terrace has some confusion:

a:"It had nothing to do with the school. It was 100% the families, not the school or teachers. "

b:"Isn't it possible to acknowledge that stress is caused by both parents and teachers, and likely peers and kids themselves?

So which is it? 100% parents, or other factors?


I believe that confusion is caused by multiple groups lumped together, combined with poor internet language.

Let's say the school is made of 3 groups: T0, T1, Admin
T0 = low quality teacher who pressurizes students to get results
T1 = good teacher who encourages students to get results
Admin = Principal, guidance

Parents are made of 2 groups: P0, P1.
P0 = Parents who pressurize their kids, game the system, etc to get restults
P1 = Parents who want kids to enjoy their childhood, pursue interests, work modest amounts, but not stress or lose sleep, or anxziety about college.

Our language online lumps "Teachers" with all teachers. Yet we know a difference between T0 and T1. Some posters online lump "Palo Alto Parents" as all being type P0. But I suspect most of us are not.

In my best estimate, most of us are T1 teachers and P1 parents. (good)

But we blame problems on T0 teachers and P0 parents. They are a minority.

This is how we talk past each other all the time. This is how the poster above got confused.

So I like Dr. Strassburgs letter, because it may help reassure P0 parents that things will be okay. We cannot get rid of them, but they are part of a complex problem. They push the system in a way that harms some kids.

And I like T1 teachers. They are kind, caring, supportive and teach my kids well.

But the community and school must do something about T0 teachers. They are a real problem; they hide behind the good teachers, and they are harming our kids. Can they be retrained? Can they be managed? Today, i don't think so, because many of the other teachers don't see a problem. Many don't respect Admin. And leadership in teh past has been very poor to manage T0 teachers.

And many parents have never had a problem (T0) teacher, so they don't see the problem either. When we recognize the whole system as inter-related groups of players, the problems become more clear. Harder to solve, but easier to see the problem.


9 people like this
Posted by rosie
a resident of another community
on Mar 17, 2015 at 5:32 pm

rosie is a registered user.

Hi,
I grew up in Palo Alto in the 60s and went through Walter Hays, Jordan, before we moved to Alaska.
I am also the parent of a daughter who has been through several episodes of severe or major depression in the past few years, with 3 hospitalizations, suicidal ideation. I know how difficult it is to live with a child who feels that low about living but we have so far succeeded in preventing the unimaginable.
I am so please to read this opinion from a Palo Alto psychiatrist. What we have done to keep her from harming herself was actually kind of " home grown' Intuitive sense that getting 2 new kittens would help her, whenever she is feeling low, I connect her to her kitties, to see the flow of love and concern for them, and their attachment to her. It is an important relationship for her! We talk about her depression at home, know the signs, and have sought therapy for her. We pull the gears back to the small activities that she can handle, and there are no extreme expectations that she will get well in 24 hours, and that at times, it is one day at a time.
I know when she feels fragile. Just keep an eye on your child, let them experience their young lives as kids, play, fun, sleep, explore, and have friendships. You will never get these years back! This topic was thoroughly covered in a Palo Alto fb conversation that basically said all of the above!!


4 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 17, 2015 at 6:14 pm

I find it interesting that the blame game played out on the various PAO threads falls into (for the most part) only two camps:
1) Parents
2) Teachers/School Environment

Neither one of these camps is willing to admit that there might be a possibility that both play a role in creating unnecessary student stress.


Like this comment
Posted by Tiger Moms
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 17, 2015 at 6:16 pm

[Post removed.]


10 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Dad
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 17, 2015 at 6:19 pm

@Cresent Park Dad

Again, you're missing the point. Sure there is blame on both sides. But ultimately, it's the teachers and administrators who set the tone for the school. If they wanted to tell the over-pressure parents to "back off" they could have done so long ago. They chose not to. The consequence is that they potentially lose their funding as parents walk (or run) away.

So yeah, you can spend all the time you want on long winded debate, but it won't fix the problem. The fix will only happen when the school officials get serious.


43 people like this
Posted by Opted my kid out
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 17, 2015 at 7:45 pm

i live in the Gunn School District. When my son was in 8th grade in a private school in Palo Alto, I went to court to fight my child's non-custodial parent's insistence that our child go to Gunn. I felt that the boy, very social kid with some mild learning differences would not be able to survive the nonsense of a Palo Alto public high school. Fortunately, I won my battle and my son attended Summit Preparatory High School in Redwood City. While this option is no longer available to Palo Alto residents, that school was sane and my son and his classmates, many of whom came from poorly rated elementary and middle schools did just fine. Every one of the 100 students in each class take all AP classes their Senior Year. All apply to four year colleges; almost all get in. Ivies are not part of the conversation. By sending my kid to Summit, by allowing him to attend Summit, by getting him out of one of the Best School Districts in the Country, the Ivies were taken off the table. And we've never looked back.

Some information about the way the Summit Schools work:
At Summit, homework is limited to 30 minutes per class/per night and the teachers who love to teach at the school and are devoted to their students, work very hard to create assignments that can be completed in the time that is allowed.and Summit students are all well known to their teachers since every class has only 100 students; there are a total,of 400 students in each Summit school. Each student is part of a mentor group of 17 students that meets every day to discuss non-academic issues. Wisely, each group is led by a teacher who stays with the group for the entire four years; no one is invisible, no one slips through the cracks; everyone gets to explore what is important, meaningful to him or her through the Intersession Program - 2 months a year in which the students scatter to concentrate on art, internships, travel, in depth study of a topic of interest. My son did film. His first documentary premiered at South by Southwest this week. Glad I said "no" to Palo Alto High Schools.


10 people like this
Posted by Mt. View Parent
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 17, 2015 at 8:16 pm

Thank you so much for this thoughtful reflection; this area of the country does indeed have a blatant tendency to miss the forest through the trees on so many levels, and the obsession for monetary success becomes more obscene with each passing year. I had a good friend from Palo Alto who committed suicide many years ago, in his early 20's, and the emotion toll wrought on friends and family for years afterward was horrific and devastating beyond compare. The level of pressure exhibited on local kids these days has been off the charts for years; the items outlined in your commentary - while not a guarantee to diminish the angst of adolescence who are growing up amongst perhaps the greatest concentration of self-congratulatory perfectionists and over-achievers on the planet - are certainly the building blocks for achieving a true sense of what contributes to true happiness and success in life.


15 people like this
Posted by Wash DC Parent
a resident of another community
on Mar 17, 2015 at 8:18 pm

Thank you, Dr. Strassberg, for your advice. This has sparked an important public dialog.

We have the same issues at the other ocean, unfortunately. I wonder if there is a forum for similar communities across the country to work together to save our teens. ??

I concur that parents and school systems are primary contributors to the crisis. Also remember that students sometimes make unhealthy choices (e.g., alcohol and drug use).

As we educated parents know, we can work to influence others (e.g., teens, teachers, administrators), but we can only CONTROL ourselves. Let us do that, for our children's sakes.


22 people like this
Posted by concern mom
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 17, 2015 at 8:47 pm

thank you for writing this article.
Personally, I benefitted from reading the article.
It is like an alarm clock, alerting me to look into the relation between my son and I.

It is not easy to be a parent at this age. I have to start learning how to become a better mom.
Let us all take time to review our relationship with our children.
Take good care of them !!!


3 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 17, 2015 at 9:01 pm

You know, it's not really an either/or situation. My experience in Palo Alto is sort of 80/20--80 percent of the parents and teachers are fine. It's the remaining 20 percent that create the issues that affect all of us. There are poor parents who don't realize that they're setting unreasonable expectations for their children. There are teachers who don't know or no longer care about doing their job. They're not the majority, but a noticeable minority.

That said, we, as a city, can't fix the parents. In that sense, all we can do is focus on how to make the schools a healthier environment--and we all have a responsibility to do this.

Instead of pointing fingers at the teachers, the parents, the administration, I think there needs to be some taking of personal responsibility. What have you done to make the situation a healthier one at the schools? What have I done? What could I do? What could we do?


13 people like this
Posted by Andrew Rosenblum
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 17, 2015 at 10:18 pm

Thank you for these thoughtful suggestions. I love all the suggestions. Sleep and cats and Koala Dads save lives. If success and happiness are at odds, you need to redefine "success." And yes, support the teachers. And as others have said, perhaps the hardest of all is for parents to model more balanced lives and expectations. I've never been the biggest Foucault admirer, but his idea that certain forms of parental perfection impose intense -- even brutal -- pressure on kids (and other adults) is very relevant in Palo Alto. --Paly, Class of '92


21 people like this
Posted by Rachel Hershberg
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 17, 2015 at 11:13 pm

I'm a Paly grad, 1988. I remember the suicide of Dan Popovich when I was a junior very well, it had a huge impact on me. My heart goes out to the bereaved families and friends, may you all eventually find comfort in your grief.
I would like to add a few thoughts to Dr. Strassberg's. One is just the flip side to Talking to your Teens - I would add, specifically, LISTEN TO THEM. Without judgement, analysis, or even necessarily feedback all the time. "Reflective listening" can save you all tons of money in therapy, and more importantly, create strong bonds between you. Just listen to them. The more they feel like you listen, the MORE THEY WILL TALK. And then you can really find out what's going on for them. I am not advocating tolerating endless complaining (which can happen) or never offering guidance. But for a kid to feel like he or she can confide in his or her parents, or another adult, provides a grounding, calming, security of support.
Another perspective, after having lived my adult life in another country - create a sense of community that your kid can belong to. If it's your neighborhood, place of worship, or community garden. My take as now an outsider to the US is that it can be a pretty alienating place. I believe people of all ages have a natural need to feel a part of something larger than ourselves. This also provides a sense of support and security. And if your kid doesn't feel like he or she can talk to you at the moment, maybe there will be an auntie-type person who can also be a positive adult presence in his or her life.
And, of course, MODEL for your kids that "success" in the classic Palo Alto sense does not mean happiness.
I welcome feedback at rachelhershberg@gmail.com


9 people like this
Posted by Rachel Hershberg
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 17, 2015 at 11:31 pm

One more thing - it is very, very difficult to be happy without a sense of meaning and purpose in your life. Obviously I don't mean the "happiness" of a Coke commercial, but the satisfaction that comes from feeling that your life has value. IMHO, this is a spiritual issue, and is hardly one-size-fits-all, but needs to be part of the discussion.


10 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 18, 2015 at 3:51 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Wash Post today:

"The competition for getting into elite colleges seems to be getting more intense, leaving frustrated students, parents, and counselors to wonder: Does it really matter where you go to college?

It doesn’t, according to Frank Bruni. The New York Times columnist is author of a new book coming out on Tuesday, “Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be.”

“I WONDERED IF THERE WAS ANYTHING IN THEIR RÉSUMÉS, A UNIFORM ATTENDANCE AT A FEW SELECT SCHOOLS, AND I DIDN’T SEE IT. IT WASN’T THE CASE. IT WAS A PATCHWORK OF EDUCATIONAL PEDIGREES.”

Frank Bruni, author of "Where You Go Isn't Who'll You Be."

The book is a quick read for stressed-out students and their parents. In it he has plenty of examples and lengthy stories of Americans of all ages and from all walks of life who have found success without degrees from brand-name universities. Bruni points out, for instance, that among the American-born chief executives of the top 100 companies in the Fortune 500, just about 30 went to an Ivy League school or equally selective college."
*************
So, RELAX.


Like this comment
Posted by Penny Williams
a resident of another community
on Mar 18, 2015 at 6:55 am

Thank you for speaking out about suicide and offering parents the information they need to try to prevent it in their family. If we talked more about suicide and children's mental health to begin with, that would make a positive impact as well.

Penny Williams
Author of "Boy Without Instructions: Surviving the Learning Curve of Parenting a Child with ADHD" and "What to Expect When You're Not Expecting ADHD"
ParentingADHDChildren.com


11 people like this
Posted by Laura
a resident of another community
on Mar 18, 2015 at 7:21 am

Two things:

1. An excellent article. Thank you.
2. I'm so glad I don't live in Palo Alto.


38 people like this
Posted by Gone
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 18, 2015 at 7:29 am

I lost my dad and brother to suicide, each at 38. Given our family history (there are plenty more suicides in the past), i work hard to maintain balance in my life. This is RIGHT ON POINT! These are exactly the things i do to maintain my own mental health while i foster authentic relationships with friends and family.

I left the bay, NEVER took an AP class (gunn '75), went to a state univ, but am largely self taught in my career, (which i love), enjoy flexibility in my schedule, guard my sleep patterns and those of my children (to the dismay of the football coach and principal!!!) with ferver. I live in rural calif on a river and creek. I take a hike with my dog each morning. Faith helps too.

Thanks Doc! Keep up the VERY important work!


3 people like this
Posted by MP observer
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 18, 2015 at 7:38 am

@Peter Carpenter

So 30% of top executives went to an Ivy or equivalent college, where less than 1% of college students get their education? Sounds like attending an Ivy confers a big advantage....


3 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 18, 2015 at 7:39 am

@Peter -- I've been noticing more and more that those telling us it doesn't matter where we go to college are disproportionally Ivy Leaguers themselves. Frank Bruni has a degree from Columbia. It's perfectly understandable to me why Palo Alto kids would want to find out the advantages first hand. "Where You Go Isn't Who'll You Be." But where you go seems to affect who listens to you.


1 person likes this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 18, 2015 at 8:08 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Musical - it is indeed a strange world where the advice of people who HAVE been someplace is discounted because of their knowledge. Do you prefer an uninformed opinion?

People who insist on learning everything first hand had best avoid studying history and literature .


4 people like this
Posted by Member
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Mar 18, 2015 at 8:27 am

Good points. But few areas not touched in this article are, 1.Peer pressure among kids. 2. School hrs (too early) & homework load. 3. Not all teachers are trained to see kids struggles & reach out to parents.


6 people like this
Posted by Opted my kid out
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 18, 2015 at 8:31 am

First of all, sorry for the typos in my original post. My eyes are not the best and I have some problems making sure my text is perfect.

But, back to the discussion:

I was glad to see the Bruni NYT article brought up and to note @MP observer's rebuttal. Yes, it does matter if your kid goes to an Ivy. Yup. It does. But, as Dr. Strassman's article makes clear, what really matters is having a child who is alive and who understands that not being #1, not being a suicidal "excellent sheep" is also just fine. And, in order for your child to know that, to really know that, you, as a parent, must really accept that your kid is probably not going to make $100k his or her first year out of college working 100 hour weeks on Wall Street and he or she may not get into Harvard Med School or Yale Law either.

For parents really interested in possibly starting a charter high school, I suggest that you look into Summit Public Schools at
Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by Gunn___Student
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 18, 2015 at 8:44 am

There have been some really good perspectives going on here. I wanted to point out @optedout. That is a PRIME example of what is going on here. If you don't want your kid to take zero period, they don't have to take it. It is a CHOICE, and when we are say choice we mean choice of the student and the students parents. But, as some people may have come to realize, some parents are for zero period. If any parent feels like there child is not enjoying the class, they can take their kid out. The real issue I am starting to observe appear among our community is that now parents are questioning the judgement of each other and what is best for other people's children. As the system stands anyone can remove their kid from zero period if they see it unfit, and transfer them into a plethera of available classes during the regular school day. The students curently taking zero period at Gunn, have spoken to their parents about it, and do have their approval, it is required on the form to apply for a zero period class. You can educate, preach and push all you want but it is NOT your decision how someone else behaves.


2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 18, 2015 at 8:51 am

@Peter, just has that patronizing flavor of "Do as I say, not as I do."


7 people like this
Posted by Gunn Student
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 18, 2015 at 8:53 am

Just, to add a bit of perspective for those of you who are a little tangled up. This conversation is so stressful for the 2,000+ students of Gunn. To be reading through comment feeds and hearing news every week is tiring. We have been through a lot, and I mean a lot. As one of my friends said the other day, "we shouldn't know this many people who have died at this age." With that I implore you to listen to us.
Listening to us does not mean "doing exactly as we say" as some of you have claimed earlier. But, listening means absorbing. At Gunn they teach us that in a good experiment you can research the background on it and learn about each part, but you never really know what is going to happen until you preform it. If the room is really warm or the cap was off the chemicals for a long time the experiment may run differently. That being said, we can look to your experience and research, we can back up your ideas with scientific data, but if you want to start a movement and change our school, your going to have to look at what actually happens during the real "experiment." Study's on sleep were not done at Gunn High School, where while many student go to bed at late hours, their parents are concerned and do try to get them to get more sleep. There is no sure way to know exactly what is going on at Gunn, without going there.
And to address that, their isn't much (bad) going on at Gunn. Gunn is a community of love, of strength and of defense. Defense is a quality we acquired of late, due to the attacks on our school. Most suicide is the result of a disease called depression. And, depression is not a disease that originated at Gunn.


1 person likes this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 18, 2015 at 9:03 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"@Peter, just has that patronizing flavor of "Do as I say, not as I do."

Only to the weak minded who do not wish to benefit from the experiences of others. Your choice.

For me, I am pleased to learn from others what bad situations to avoid and how to handle myself in circumstances that I personally have never experienced before - like the first time I jumped out of an airplane. Fortunately my instructor had been there and done that.


9 people like this
Posted by sea Reddy
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 18, 2015 at 9:18 am

Excellent article.

I could not agree more.

Specifically about getting a pet. I second that by modifying to say get multiple pets if you have more than one child.

No matter what happens, when you have a pet or two, children take ownership similar to us loving our children and come home.

It teaches the children responsibility. I was a single parent and drove 45 miles to work.

It was very helpful that I drove them to work so that I knew where they were.

Granted my house was uncleaned, smelled with pet odor, we got through.

So, please be aware, cognizant, out play and hep the children to get through these formidable years.

Parenting is not easy by any means. It is more than living in the best neighborhood, expensive habits.

I don't envy the difficulties specially the pressure to succeed among Asian borns including Indians.

My late mom used to say why is Vanessa not a doctor?

My daughter used to ask, if grandma likes doctors in the family, may be she should be one and not force me.

My daughter is a fine young woman at 35, working in Basel Switzerland for a well known pharmaceutical in south SF.

Let us not drive our kids to a point, where they carry the burden on their shoulders.

It is no worth it as a family
Let us smell the beautiful flowers, enjoy spring and cherish the land we live in in Palo Alto..

By no means I am an expert; but I am a happy parent. That is what I live for.

Respectfully


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Posted by sea Reddy
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 18, 2015 at 9:26 am

I meant it is important to drop children at their schools so I knew where they are.

I know it is lot of work. But, well worth it.

Respectfully


8 people like this
Posted by jen pleasants
a resident of Portola Valley
on Mar 18, 2015 at 9:30 am

thank you so much for this brilliant insightful article. as the mother of two teens who naturally follows your advice above i can testify that it works. my son is speaking to his entire school assembly today about his struggles and the importance of communication, getting help and he thanks me for modeling it for him as i too suffer with depression and anxiety. the sleep component is critical. some of the commenters above were asking for scientific proof, clearly you didnt read the author's disclaimers. sleep makes all the difference as do hugs and parent/child conversations and therapy. thank you again dr.strassberg.


18 people like this
Posted by Other views
a resident of Barron Park School
on Mar 18, 2015 at 9:33 am

This article misses the core issue.

Getting a pet, staying calm, these are nice ideas. But they won't do ANYTHING when schools are using emotionally abusive tactics to push kids beyond safe limits.

Schools ARE creating mental illness with aggressive pressure tactics. If these schools were private firms, using these policies for employees, they'd get sued out of existence.

Sure, there are some kids who prosper under this kind of pressure. But there are just as many or more kids who collapse. Schools are financially and legally liable for all types of kids, not just the select few.


20 people like this
Posted by Jerry
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 18, 2015 at 9:40 am

Dr. Strassberg,

Thanks you for these thoughtful words. They reflect much of what I have come to learn and experience. I have not been suicidal personally, but have had many close contacts with it, including being on staff at Cornell when they had the highest suicide rate of any university.

The causes of suicide are complex, so no one should expect any simple answers. Anything that reduces it to a schedule issue or barriers around the tracks is looking for a quick fix to a cultural issue.

One of the key components from my perspective is the hyper-competitive nature of our community and area. When was the last time you heard of a story of a student who persevered and overcame a limitation to be better rather than a student who reached some lofty recognition? Why is there almost no recreational sports system for high school aged kids, while the school sports require massive hours and effort and are purely focused on winning?

In a balanced community, the "regression to the mean" would be nothing other than each child finding their way in the world. In our community, it is construed as a complete failure with lifelong negative consequences.

@Peter: Your stat about 30% of CEOs are Ivy league educated is exactly what I am talking about. That's fine if 90% of the children are wired to be CEOs. I have tried it personally and know that I am not a CEO. For a long time there was a sense of failure in this for me. Now I am old enough to understand that my calling is different and less typical, so being a CEO would neither serve the company, myself or my community. I am successful by most any standard and far happier than I have ever been in my life.


I also use the word community loosely, because IMO we do not act as a community. There was a meeting at Paly on Tuesday to discuss the recent suicide. The PAUSD superintendent was there, the principal, half the school board, the chief of police, several teacher. They weren't there to tell us what they were doing or tell parents what to do, they were there to listen and engage in a discussion. There was only one significant problem. By my count, less than 2% of the Paly parents showed up. If this was a talk on a sure way to get your child into Harvard, the line of parents would be out the door.

I can come up with all sorts of thoughts about why these parents are making these choices, but they are just guesses. The truth is our children watch our actions much more than they listen to our words. The action of not attending is saying speaks to the lack of community we have. I think this is why some people are less optimistic, they don't see the people around them saying that to change this will take my effort.

This is both where I seen the changes as needed and why I see the changes as so hard to make.


5 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 18, 2015 at 9:51 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"@Peter: Your stat about 30% of CEOs are Ivy league educated is exactly what I am talking about. That's fine if 90% of the children are wired to be CEOs. I have tried it personally and know that I am not a CEO."

First, it is not "my stat". It is from an article that I posted.

Second, I agree entirely with you. In my opinion it is a huge mistake to convey to one's children that becoming CEO is a laudable goal. Just as i have made clear that going to Harvard is not the right choice for everyone - and certainly was not for me. But I only discovered that after 4 years at Harvard. Too bad that I did not have someone tell me that the Ivy League is to the best answer for every student.


3 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 18, 2015 at 10:08 am

@ PA Dad: I think one of the problems of your assertion is that you expect that PAUSD teachers to push back on the tiger parents. Problem is (unfortunately) is that there is a high proportion of parents who will not accept any answer unless it agrees with their opinion, wishes or perspective. And if they don't like the answer and the teacher holds her/his ground, the parent goes over her/his head.

None of these issues have simple and/or absolute solutions. Not saying you have this perspective, but it seems many have a binary view on the solutions that should be considered.


4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 18, 2015 at 10:11 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

correction:

Too bad that I did not have someone tell me that the Ivy League is NOT the best answer for every student.


15 people like this
Posted by Beth
a resident of another community
on Mar 18, 2015 at 10:33 am

Thank you so much for sharing your personal and professional advice. It was the BEST article I have ever read on this subject and resonates so strongly with our own personal family values. We have two teenagers experiencing academic, social stress and the loss of classmates to suicide. We also live in a very similar socio-economic community in the Bay Area and lived in Palo Alto and Menlo Park from the 80's through 2007.

Getting enough sleep is also a major issue for our teenagers and one that we wrestle with daily--they are both dedicated students who want to do very well--albeit they procrastinate from time to time and need downtime but overall they work very hard by any standards. My biggest observation is that the amount and type of homework is detrimental to the learning process. Then there is the lack of differentiation in the curriculum--in other words the amount of homework that one teenager can complete in 30-45 minutes may take another 3-4 hours to complete, and thus sleep deprivation and a host of other ills result. As one of the previous posts indicated, there are a lot of gifted and talented children and those with special needs that are completely missed in our educational system as well as those right down the middle.

I cannot drop this bomb out there without offering a suggestion about how we might be able to take action, helping our hard working teachers, administrators and leaders to provide a more effective educational system in the high schools. I have observed successful high school programs in other states which have adopted a block system of classes. Students' classes are ninety minutes in length and are held every other day of the week with a Friday traditional schedule of seven classes at approximately fifty minutes each. During the ninety minute class sessions, the teachers typically provide instruction-lecture for 40-50 minutes, and a lab or study time follows. Students are given a block of time for their homework, have time for in-class help if needed and don't have homework in each class every night. School begins at 8:30 a.m and ends at 3:30 with a 10:00 a.m. start on Wednesdays--a day in which the afternoon session has a career based seminar where older students--sophomore, juniors and seniors are allowed to go into the field for internships in the community. The academic results have been outstanding as well, and the high school size is over 1,000 kids which proves that this system can be managed in the public high school arena.

My heart is heavy for the loss of these families and all of those around our country and world. I feel the pain deeply each and every time I hear of a teen suicide in our own or another community.

I just hope that all can come together and begin a dialog to make a true difference, always remembering that Home is Where the Heart Is!

I couldn't agree MORE about the unconditional love of a pet and modeling empathy in our families. My beloved kitty always snuggled with me when I was stressed and my kids have exactly the same reaction!

Kudos!!


3 people like this
Posted by Beth
a resident of another community
on Mar 18, 2015 at 10:33 am

Thank you so much for sharing your personal and professional advice. It was the BEST article I have ever read on this subject and resonates so strongly with our own personal family values. We have two teenagers experiencing academic, social stress and the loss of classmates to suicide. We also live in a very similar socio-economic community in the Bay Area and lived in Palo Alto and Menlo Park from the 80's through 2007.

Getting enough sleep is also a major issue for our teenagers and one that we wrestle with daily--they are both dedicated students who want to do very well--albeit they procrastinate from time to time and need downtime but overall they work very hard by any standards. My biggest observation is that the amount and type of homework is detrimental to the learning process. Then there is the lack of differentiation in the curriculum--in other words the amount of homework that one teenager can complete in 30-45 minutes may take another 3-4 hours to complete, and thus sleep deprivation and a host of other ills result. As one of the previous posts indicated, there are a lot of gifted and talented children and those with special needs that are completely missed in our educational system as well as those right down the middle.

I cannot drop this bomb out there without offering a suggestion about how we might be able to take action, helping our hard working teachers, administrators and leaders to provide a more effective educational system in the high schools. I have observed successful high school programs in other states which have adopted a block system of classes. Students' classes are ninety minutes in length and are held every other day of the week with a Friday traditional schedule of seven classes at approximately fifty minutes each. During the ninety minute class sessions, the teachers typically provide instruction-lecture for 40-50 minutes, and a lab or study time follows. Students are given a block of time for their homework, have time for in-class help if needed and don't have homework in each class every night. School begins at 8:30 a.m and ends at 3:30 with a 10:00 a.m. start on Wednesdays--a day in which the afternoon session has a career based seminar where older students--sophomore, juniors and seniors are allowed to go into the field for internships in the community. The academic results have been outstanding as well, and the high school size is over 1,000 kids which proves that this system can be managed in the public high school arena.

My heart is heavy for the loss of these families and all of those around our country and world. I feel the pain deeply each and every time I hear of a teen suicide in our own or another community.

I just hope that all can come together and begin a dialog to make a true difference, always remembering that Home is Where the Heart Is!

I couldn't agree MORE about the unconditional love of a pet and modeling empathy in our families. My beloved kitty always snuggled with me when I was stressed and my kids have exactly the same reaction!

Kudos!!


23 people like this
Posted by Ferdinand
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 18, 2015 at 11:00 am

Although I am Ferdinand who likes to sit under the tree and smell the flowers, I feel compelled to say a few words.

The main message that I take away from Dr. Strassberg is that we parents can probably benefit from separating our emotional responses to the modern highly-academic high school [with its many imperfections] in favor of creating a safe harbor for our families to dwell in. Maybe, incidentally, we can influence the prevailing culture by being open with fellow parents/students about our choices towards this aim?

If we buy into the craziness of grades, elite college admissions, and fear of the future we will lose our most powerful parenting weapon: our inner calmness and the wisdom we've gained from life's experiences. For everyone's benefit, we have to get a handle on our success fears--measuring ourselves and our children against the current [and community] definition of success is not only deadly, it robs us of our own culture and life experiences.

I'm not advocating passivity--when things are unfair it is imperative to speak up, contact the teachers, and escalate matters if necessary. I've noticed a tendency with some parents to take a student's word at face value without investigating a teacher's practices. Feeling powerless, I've watched parent irritation grow to outrage and generalization. In truth, there are imperfect teachers, imperfect sons/daughters [like mine], and imperfect parents and there is value in surviving all of those faulty relationships. It is life.

Our son is very freedom oriented-in fact the Gunn culture isn't a great fit in most ways for him--but he continues to say that it is still a pretty good place. He is a middle and high-lane student who shortcuts homework, spends far too much time on his computer, and gets pretty good grades with little homework. Could high school be a better place? Absolutely. He feels the anxiety of expectations. But our son's attitude about learning could also be much better. Generally, I do back of the teachers as recommended by Dr. Strassberg.

So often we want our kids to stand on our shoulders and take off from an advanced position, but many kids often need to experience the same [avoidable?] pitfalls that we too fell into. As much as I feel our son is a very "bright" student, he will probably not get special recognition in an academically elite school, but he can get recognition elsewhere--from his musical talents, from our responses to his good work, etc. We can focus on balance in our homes and put our attention to the things that matter most--sharing our sense of humor, supporting neighbors, making small improvements in our community/world, and building a family that we will look back on as our own special creation. We could do worse.


15 people like this
Posted by kathy
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Mar 18, 2015 at 11:52 am

All three of our kids went to Gunn - pre-suicide clusters. But even then, I remember having words with the administration over the culture there. Our kids, no matter how sick, were afraid to miss class or, gf, a test. And, in the midst of the hanging chad controversy - history in the making - the history teacher insisted on teaching about the 1400's (teach to the test) rather than what was right in front of them. Two of our kids were heavy into extra-curriculars - one on the football team, the other in choir, theater, chamber singers etc. and of course they all graduated with their first quarter of college already done from AP credit.
I think there are two dynamics in play that create a negative spiral.
First is the ratcheting up of what we consider to be "standards." 4.0 is no longer good enough - the competition is fiercer than ever. This comes into play in HS.
Second is that prior to this, our kids are less prepared than we were to deal with competition in general. Everyone gets a gold star for showing up. We are uber inclusive and everyone is equal.
These dynamics are at complete odds with each other. We need to decide as a society which we value more or how to achieve a balance between them. As it is, we prepare our children to see everyone as individuals, but the same - then dump them into an environment where only the best of the best are valued. We cannot expect them then to thrive under these conditions.
Fortunately, once they got to college things mellowed out a bit for all of them. What does that tell us? PAUSD is more competitive than the University - something very, very wrong.


47 people like this
Posted by Darren Neuman
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 18, 2015 at 12:02 pm

@PeterCarpenter and @musical discuss the impact of school.

I would like to chime in on this subject, as I have interviewed hundreds of engineers over decades to do some extremely innovative work in semiconductor architecture. What we look for first and foremost is a strong interest in the technology, and a deep understanding of the underlying theory. We look for people that are innovative, creative, and have good leadership potential.


Notice - I did not point out what school. In fact, there are probably a 100 schools that could produce this kind of talent; Let me repeat that: there are probably a 100 schools that could produce this kind of talent. What we hire for is character and technical understanding. We look beyond brand name schools for the source of good people. In fact, after your first job out of college, the school you attend matters little. When I read a resume, I focus on the projects completed, not the name of the school attended.


For example, my staff come from all over the map: Santa Clara University, UCSB, Imperial College London, UCLA, IIT-Madras, Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Télécommunications, Northeastern University - Boston, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Polytechnic Institute of Bucharest, Université Catholique de Louvain, University of New Mexico, Stanford, University of Illinois, University of Arizona.


Take a look a this list again - there are many schools here that nobody has heard of, and some that I suspect are not very high on your application list. And there are many more that can give you a good education. Only one of my staff went to an Ivy as an undergraduate - I am sure he got a good education, but the name of his school is not why we hired him. Or anyone. The point is that there are more important aspects to life than getting into an Ivy. For technology, it may not always be the best choice. The best choice is going to be a school that is a good match for you. A place you feel comfortable learning. 100's of schools can teach you Computer Science sufficiently well; finding one where you fit in is much more rare. What matters more is what you do with that knowledge, the projects you take on, your ability to persevere when a job is difficult, the ability to think creatively, understand your problem space, and collaborate with others.


I'll admit my view of the world may be narrow - I have interviewed about 600 people in my life, and hired about 100. All of this is in the high-tech space, so perhaps other industries are different, but I suspect not too much different. I am open to a different perspective.


I wish the class of 2015 the best of luck, whatever college you decide to attend - they are lucky to have YOU. (not the other way around).


Full disclosure: VP Chip Architecture, Broadcom. University of Illinois '87, Santa Clara University '91. I spoke at career day Paly 2 years ago on the same subject, and can be contacted at dneuman@broadcom.com if anyone has questions on what it means to work in the high-tech industry.


6 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 18, 2015 at 1:52 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Darren - Thank you. I believe that we as a community must offer these students more alternative role models of what constitutes success. You have done a marvelous job of making it clear that what counts is not the name of the institution on one's degree but rather what are the skills and abilities of the individual.


19 people like this
Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 18, 2015 at 2:06 pm

Fred is a registered user.

@Darren, great point. My experience conforms with yours, and I have probably hired ~150 college grads and MBAs over the years and worked with 100's more. You take talent where you find it, and it doesn't always come from the same places. In fact, a few of the best and most successful executives and entrepreneurs I've worked with had NO college degree. I don't recommend that path for everyone, but it shows how little college brand really matters vs. passion and effort.

Coincidentally, just as you say, we tell our own teenagers that there are at least 100 colleges in the US that would be equally good for them, and that it matters much less where they go than what they do when they get there.


Like this comment
Posted by Stuart
a resident of Southgate
on Mar 18, 2015 at 2:13 pm

"If we had the educational voucher system, you would be free to make that choice. Your kids could shine and feel good about themselves in the track that you choose...and accept the consequences of your choices. Anything wrong with that?"

I like that approach, Craig. Freedom of choice is part of freedom, as are the consequences of those choices.


1 person likes this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 18, 2015 at 2:15 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

""If we had the educational voucher system,.... Anything wrong with that?"

Yes, a voucher system does not exist.

Charter Schools do exist.

Act and act now.


3 people like this
Posted by SamanthaFranklin
a resident of another community
on Mar 18, 2015 at 4:10 pm

Adoptee's are 4 times more likely to commit suicide. One way to help prevent this is to help adopted adolescents navigate complex emotions, rather than further disenfranchise their grief. Some excellent resources for adoptive parents (that are usually not provided by adoption agencies) is "Twenty Things Adoptive Kids Wish" by Sherrie Eldridge and "The Primal Wound" by Nancy Verrier.


4 people like this
Posted by ex palo altan
a resident of another community
on Mar 18, 2015 at 4:11 pm

Dr S. is a good man and a great doctor. Palo Alto is lucky to have him in the community. Our experience with Palo Alto schools was not good. I greatly agree with vouchers and the opportunity for ALL kids and their families to have choice. Our younger one thrived at the School for Independent Learners. We're not 1%'ers so it was tough financially, Paly however was not a terrible place for her so it was worth it. I would highly recommend checking it out.


7 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 18, 2015 at 4:33 pm

Thank you Darren, and Fred. Your messages are what I wanted to hear. Correlation does not imply cause and effect. Maybe parents need to hear it more than students, going back to item 4 in the original opinion piece: "If you attended an Ivy league college, your child is unlikely to attend an Ivy league college. This hard reality is anathema to all."

I agree with Darren's observation: "The best choice is going to be a school that is a good match for you. A place you feel comfortable learning." Probably a topic for a new thread, how does a high schooler figure out the best choice? Maybe some of us who made a less-than-optimal decision could recall some red flags that hinted at future discontent. I don't think you can really know until you are deep into it, and then transferring elsewhere is facing the same uncertainty.


24 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Portola Valley
on Mar 18, 2015 at 5:03 pm

Very good article.

I would like to see the college admissions folks do a little introspection and take some responsibility with respect to the pressure being placed on high school students.

High school students, parents, teachers, etc. do not control the rules/standards by which students will be judged and admitted...or not. The colleges do.

When the colleges make admissions all about grades and scores and a zillion other activities, they should recognize that some negative consequences are inevitable.

So, for example, if Stanford came out and said: "Anything more than 4 AP courses gives us concern. Or don't worry about getting a B or two...do what you need to do to get enough sleep, because that is one of our important admissions' criteria."

Is Stanford (my dear alma matter), the UC's, other elite colleges and universities willing to think about the unfortunate circumstances/side-effects they have helped to create?


22 people like this
Posted by Another parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 18, 2015 at 5:11 pm

Thanks for a loving, informative, and helpful article.

In my 15 years of contact with our district, my observations would be:
-We desperately need to make supporting creativity a priority. Kids are naturally creative, and very creative people need outlets. That in itself can mitigate depression as much as it is important to education. Our current educational program absolutely crushes creativity. Even teachers who wish to foster it have no support and often miss the mark by a mile anyway.

-Our schools need to decouple our psychology and health personnel and special ed personnel from whatever insurance or legal admin tries to perfunctorily deny services or even deny doctors' diagnoses and their learning disabilities. The current situation destroys trust. Personnel can't possibly intellectually reside in both roles, anymore than prosecutors can also be good defense attorneys for the very same people.

This is relevant to all kids, because the attitude among staff and atmosphere in special ed extends into other areas, such as how personnel handle bullying and other emotional health issues -- kids don't automatically have staff who are fully on their side advocating for them and their families. I think most people don't realize just have much this situation impedes our solving the very problems we are talking about now, or any problems, because we have top administrators left over from the Skelly years who are very invested in that unhealthy culture. It's very unlikely positive changes will stick unless we bring in new people, it's more likely McGee will become like them, because he's immersed in it now, too.

-I think our teachers, families, and kids are mostly really great. I love this place and it makes me really sad to see what is happening. I don't think some of our admin at Churchill are up to the challenge I would like to see the admin change at Churchill to allow a more positive and open community so that we can respond to things like this more positively and in a family-centered way. I would rather see us improve Gunn to meet a wide range of intellectual and emotional needs than branch off into a bunch of charters, but I do think that will happen if McGee and the board don't hop to it and make changes at Churchill, in the culture of psychology and health staff, and in educational offerings.


22 people like this
Posted by Darren Neuman
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 18, 2015 at 5:51 pm

@musical and @Observer discuss regression to the mean, and admissions problems


My own thoughts on regression to the mean: my career had a large element of luck, took a lot of hard work, and an incident with a chocolate donut. Sure my school helped me learn, but it was not the largest factor in my career. Regression to the mean simply states that my kids will likely have a more normal career. In fact, it is so astronomically unlikely that my kids would follow my path that there is simply no expectation at all that they do what I did. So I understand regression to the mean. My kids will have a more normal path. That is probably good.

As for University admissions, I agree something is wrong, there is inefficiency and information lacking somewhere - otherwise the top 10 hires would come from the top school, the next group from the next school and so on. The fact that great employees come from many places tells us that the information colleges use to decide admissions does not match those who are going to succeed (or not). Many kids choose a school because it is a better fit academically, or culturally (or financially in my case). Many schools choose a kid because of limited information; they reject perfectly good kids for a similar lack of good information. The focus on grades, AP’s, extracurriculars, and sports give them some notion of what a kid can do, but I believe an interview is far more informative. It is also very expensive. When we hire kids out of school, we devote about 20-30 hours interviewing for each candidate we hire. We want someone who is going to be able to do the job, but we also want someone who will enjoy the job we are filling. Even with that effort, it is not a perfect process. If school admissions was a perfect process, there would be no dropouts, transfers, or discontent graduates. The reality is that schools simply put less time into your admission application than you put into evaluating them.

And I think that is the key - you are choosing the school. Don’t ever let the framing of the “system” make you think that the school is choosing you. You are the customer, you are the one who is going to study, you are the one picking classes, you are asking the questions in class, you are doing the projects, you are paying them, you are the one picking the school. Repeat that: you are the one picking the school. Study something you have an interest in, or study many things you are interested in. Pick a place that you like.


35 people like this
Posted by pj
a resident of another community
on Mar 18, 2015 at 6:31 pm

Our school and community is highly academic and competitive. Our current 11th grade student finally had an IEP done in the freshman year. They told us, "you child is on the path to be a significantly depressed person." I asked her, 'are you depressed." She said, "everyday of my life." Train was lifted and put on another track which is an alternative school in our town that teaches to her abilities. She will be attending a junior college. Her smile is back. I believe she absolutely the smartest one in our family and also the bravest because she helped herself by admitting to her emotional state. We couldn't be happier. We also downsized in home-size and work load and told our oldest: It's only up from here for you two. She grasped the concept and said, "thank you...you can stay right here." We are very fortunate to have two very well adjusted girls - two whole children and I wouldn't trade that for all the money in the world; all the prestige; all the bragging rights. But what we did trade in was our fears, anxieties, disappointments, longings and false hope for the future because all you have is right now and the ability to love. Oh, and we have 5 cats.


9 people like this
Posted by Paly Graduate
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 18, 2015 at 6:46 pm

Dr. Strassberg, thank you so much for taking the time to write and publish this article. I graduated from Paly in 2012 and am so saddened to see that the clustering suicide trends that marked my time there have not subsided.

Your article echoes the most important lesson I've learned at college: to appreciate the whole, to excite the entire self, for the purpose of one's happiness alone. There is nothing that matters more than that. At the end of life, looking back on the relationships with whatever it may be -- people, animals, books, music, nature... -- that fill the soul with meaning is what we will remember.

These beautiful things exist in Palo Alto. I remember in my senior year looking around at Paly and my classmates and vowing never to move back and subject my kids to the harsh environment there. But looking back, I realize that Palo Alto has so much to offer besides its the competition and stress that permeates into most (or all) of our interactions. Palo Alto is beautiful. It's people are creative and talented in so many things other than school. The institutional pull to excel, and the all-too common judgements based on how test scores and resumes, cause us to turn away from the people and places that will supplement our happiness. It is vital to remember the world is SO MUCH bigger than what we know. My heart aches for the families and friends affected by the most recent suicide. Stay strong.


8 people like this
Posted by Another dad
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 18, 2015 at 7:27 pm

@Peter Carpenter said: "Act and act now."

I agree completely. Our kids are at risk and everybody wants us to "calm down". To heck with that. Act and act now.

.


5 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 18, 2015 at 7:29 pm

Thank you Dr. Strassberg for such professional perspective.

I want to add that, as grim as it is, it seems to me that suicide represents a solution to a problem that faces the individual. To the sufferers, of whatever cause, 'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.' In dealing with this issue a different - more attractive - solution must be presented to the sufferer. That alternative, quite simply, is love. Pure, unconditional, love for the child. It begins at the home at birth and must follow the child through her schooling and is delivered by parents, teachers, administrators, and peers. Children must be shown that they are loved absolutely and unconditionally regardless of what they are or what they do.


6 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 18, 2015 at 7:52 pm

@Darren Neuman, your university list interests me and makes sense. You have given a list of an array of very good schools, some of which are not particularly known/acknolwedged here, like I.C.
Some have extremely narrow views based on US News & World Report, which is taken as gospel.
Only in Palo Alto, do some sneer at University of Illinois for Engineering...you just can't convince some of the ultimate rule of Harvard and Stanford. I've even heard U.C.Berkeley put down here, which is absolutely ridiculous, although we are forced to live in a Stanford-centric view right here.
Oh, I know very successful hires from Santa Clara University (but again, don't say that in Palo Alto schools!)


3 people like this
Posted by Deb Coman
a resident of another community
on Mar 18, 2015 at 8:27 pm

I am glad someone shared this on Facebook because your message is so important and there can never be too much talk about this. I worked in mental health for many years and share so many of your views, particularly that we need to talk openly to our children and to anyone we care about when it comes to depression. I completely agree that talking about it does not increase the risk. In fact, I believe it takes away stigma and promotes seeking help. It's good advice to not leave a person alone who has expressed ideation. I also believe in contracting with people who have had suicidal thoughts in the past that they will seek help before taking any action. Thank you for an important article.


1 person likes this
Posted by Suicide Clusters
a resident of another community
on Mar 18, 2015 at 8:36 pm

Why do suicides happen in one community and not another? Sure, Silicon Valley as a whole and Palo Alto in particular are wealthy and high-achieving and kids are under a lot of pressure. But Dr. Strassberg misses an important piece about copycat behavior that needs to be considered:
Web Link


13 people like this
Posted by SLJ
a resident of another community
on Mar 18, 2015 at 10:06 pm

Thank you, Dr. Strassberg. I live in a suburb of a major city in Canada teeming with overachieving parents and their ostensibly overachieving (but actually just really exhausted) teenagers. I have two of my own. My son has now been overheard on 3 occasions to be at risk of self-harm. We encouraged him to see a professional and that has been good for him, but the big AHA moment for us has been that all our son really wants is more family time. All the accolades we give him for his many academic and athletic successes are moot - he simply wants more family time. So that's what we're doing. And he has smiled more in the past month than he did in the past 2 years. And here we thought he was just being a teenager. Thank you so much.


3 people like this
Posted by Mary
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 18, 2015 at 10:32 pm

Thank you very much for sharing your wisdom. I will continue to try to stay calm
with my parenting... not easy with the pressures of today. I'm interested in continuing
to read messages from you on teens and parenting. Again, thank you!


9 people like this
Posted by teacher & parent
a resident of University South
on Mar 18, 2015 at 11:16 pm

Excellent article by Dr. Strassberg and such interesting conversation in response.

As a teacher and parent in the area, I would like to add yet more comments that may be in agreement with some and in conflict with others. This is my opinion based on my particular view of things and I do not expect everyone to share my opinions.

I have been a teacher for a long time. I am not a "regular" teacher but do teach in a variety of schools in the area and have students who attend PALY and Gunn, among others. I also have children of my own in the public school system here. From my experience as a teacher and parent, I would have to agree that it is often an issue of the parent vs the teacher. But NOT necessarily the parent and student vs the teacher. My students ask me questions often and are not afraid to approach me about their challenges with what I teach. But not once do I recall a student complaining about the results of an exam. Yet I have had to respond to many complaints from parents about the grades I had given their children. The parents seem more concerned about the grades their children receive than the children do. The children are there to learn & develop and enjoy the experience. Some parents seem to want to make it just about their children's grades.

Although there are public school teachers in this area who may exacerbate the problem, it appears to me that the catalyst for pressure at the schools is primarily coming from parents. Let's face it - the parents are the customers in the education business. The school administration tries to please the parents. We have all heard the argument again and again that teachers work far longer hours than the official school times and spend significant amounts of their own money on supplies, etc. These stories are generally true. And most of them really do care about the kids. What one person already noted speaks volumes on this situation, regarding last Tuesday's meeting where so many school officials and others were present but fairly few parents were there. The teachers seem to be listening. Unfortunately, they seem to be listening a lot to parents who want to increase the pressure.

Higher test scores reflect well on school administrators and teachers. No doubt of that. But should tests be the primary focus of our schools? One of my children and quite a few of my students attend PALY or Gunn. What happened at those schools yesterday and today? There were tests for sophomores. So all education seems to have screeched to an abrupt halt. All the focus was on those tests. The other students all stayed home. Why didn't they go to school for two days? Sure, some of them have classes with sophomores and there is an argument that since the sophomores would miss those classes it wouldn't be fair to them to have the classes they would miss. But how about offering non-acedemic classes? How about running additional Career Day events, for example? The brain-washing of my son seems to be nearly complete. He argued that it would be "pointless" to have classes for other students on those test days because the same (test) material couldn't be covered for everyone. <sigh>

Personally, I feel that the schools in Palo Alto are NOT necessarily better than elsewhere and in many ways are sub-par. This is not the teachers' fault. It is the focus on test scores, bowing to pressure from parents to maintain a schedule that fuels anxiety, and general lack of a well-rounded education.

Sure, the school's administration plays a part. Sometimes it is difficult to tell who started this problem. But, as my mama always said "It isn't about who started it; it's about who ENDED it." If you want to improve the situation, do as Dr Strassberg suggests - listen to your children. Really listen. And model good behavior. Be the type of person you want your child to be. Do you want them to live to work, rather than work to live? Do you want them to enjoy life or to develop health problems from stress? Do you want them to think creatively or just fall in line with the rest of the (very successful) cattle? Let's think about what are priorities are and if it might be worth changing them a little...


2 people like this
Posted by About the pet
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2015 at 12:13 am

So good to see the affirmative comments about pets.

teacher & parent - I agree with parents being on the same side as teachers but disagree that students are silent spectators who do not care about their grades (that only their parents do). More than grades students react to wasted time or grades which have nothing to do with learning. If you look at the comments in Rate my teachers, students usually refer to fairness issues, and if the work was fair. There is also direct feedback from students in alumnae surveys.


17 people like this
Posted by Peter
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Mar 19, 2015 at 12:15 am

Another point about why kids take AP classes is that an A is worth 5.
Hence one can have a GPA > 4.0.
When I went to Gunn an A was always only worth 4.0
for AP classes and non-AP classes.
Need to do away with inflated GPA.
It will stop some kids from taking some AP classes - as they will only be worth the same as all other classes.


7 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 19, 2015 at 1:02 am

This is a touch off-topic, but with so many health care professionals here, maybe someone can answer what the rules are on recordkeeping.

How much can a student confide in a counselor or school psychologist before it becomes a matter of permanent record? Could this dissuade someone from seeking help? Can it affect future employment, as in background checks for law enforcement positions or government security clearances?

Here's a standard security question verbatim: "In the last 7 years, have you consulted with a mental health professional or have you consulted with another health care provider about a mental health related condition?" If yes, supply the dates and doctor's name.


7 people like this
Posted by Shannon Lavery
a resident of another community
on Mar 19, 2015 at 6:41 am

Thank you for this wonderful article, so full of insight and compassion for teens, parents and teachers. I live in MetroWest Boston, in a community similar to Paly. The culture of super achievement is exhausting and we could all benefit from more focus on happiness and less on success. I'm grateful for your articulate arguments for sanity.


2 people like this
Posted by LeAnne Parsons
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 19, 2015 at 6:42 am

Thank You for speaking life into a very challenging topic... I work with folks who have been impacted by adoption and journey with them as they navigate the complexities adoption can bring- this topic is one that comes up frequently... Your encouragement and honesty are a breath of fresh air.
In Gratitude,
[Portion removed.]


3 people like this
Posted by Billie
a resident of another community
on Mar 19, 2015 at 7:29 am

It's a great article, and reinforced my thought: we all need 3 essentials for a good life -- good sleep, good nutrition, good exercise.

I was hoping to read more about sleep habits since you can't force your child to sleep if their body is saying I don't feel tired or, I'm too wound up to settle down. We tried black-out curtains, warm milk, etc. Our [future Ivy+2] child, even as an infant, was so curious and so alert that he struggled with allowing his body to relax into sleep.

There is a family history of suicide (if you have a large enough family, it's bound to happen) and mental illness, so we are always on high alert and we do talk about it.

When parents constructively criticize a child who may be emotionally fragile, might they be pushing them over the edge? It's a delicate balance and I wish it had been addressed. "Your room is messy, you need a haircut, are you taking time to smell the roses, be sure to incorporate socializing into your weekly routine." Could a child internalize that to mean, I'm not good enough, not worthy, I don't measure up?

We, as parents, model our values to our child, but still worry about the pressures that society and rigorous academics put on him and, even worse, the pressures that he puts on himself.

Condolences to the families that have suffered the loss of their children.


10 people like this
Posted by Barron Park
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 19, 2015 at 7:53 am

Great article, great discussion.

I won't argue with others' experiences, but my experience with our three kids is that Gunn is a great school. Smart, supportive teachers (mostly). Lots of academic pressure, but manageable. Two of our kids were very involved in sports, and the third in a wide variety of volunteer activities. None were even close to the top of their class. But they got into good colleges, and went there with a love of learning and a zest for life (and with pictures of the pets they couldn't take with them ;)

I am well aware of the pressures felt by many kids in our town, and I won't claim to know how that happens for them. But, in my experience, it is unreasonable to lay that responsibility substantially on Gunn or the other schools. I am grateful for what they offered to our family.


10 people like this
Posted by Alphonso
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Mar 19, 2015 at 8:48 am

Another form of pressure that nobody has mentioned - future prospects of maintaining a lifestyle equal to that of parents. According the a recent Sac Bee story a new family moving into PA can expect to pay $2.2 million for a house and will need a household income of around $400K. I think we need to do more to demonstrate more interest in the future of children - build more housing, minimize the current pattern of enormous student loans etc.


9 people like this
Posted by A Gunn Parent
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 19, 2015 at 8:55 am

Thank you, Darren, for a very helpful perspective. We need input from people who live in the real world and who have not based their right to weigh in on credentials they got from institutions with marketing tactics that are causing the absurd pressure on our students. This psychologist has good points, but he undermines his credibility by hanging out his Stanford label so that we are impressed and in awe. I am not. Although Stanford has plenty of good, smart graduates, I see many whose pedigree has made them oblivious to the real world and its influence. I am boycotting input from anyone who uses a Stanford degree as the reason we should listen to them. In the case of student well being it is a direct contradiction of every patronizing thing they say after that.


4 people like this
Posted by member
a resident of another community
on Mar 19, 2015 at 9:30 am

How does one make anyone sleep? I need to make myself sleep.


Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 19, 2015 at 9:42 am

@ Peter: Colleges are moving away from weighted GPAs when evaluating applications. In other words, an A is a 4, not 5.


9 people like this
Posted by Darren Neuman
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 19, 2015 at 9:58 am

@Gunn Parent – thanks for the comments. I also agree that a real-world perspective is helpful to share with our teens and other parents who may not be familiar with how high-tech hiring works. I really enjoyed Career Day for that opportunity to speak to kids.

As for Dr. Strassberg’s comments, I think his points are valid. It is always critical to me to evaluate the contents of the message, as well as the messenger; I would not discard good advice from a specific graduate of any school, just as I would not hire someone only for his school’s name. I have employees from Stanford who I respect greatly, but I respect them for the quality of their work. I have a doctor who is from Stanford; again same situation. Rejecting a well thought out comment from someone based solely upon their school is not pragmatic.

When we make architecture decisions at work there are important aspects to evaluating data: we look for various ways to validate and evaluate both the message and the messenger, as well as validating against other sources: Dr. Strassberg’s message seems coherent, well said, and in my own experience pretty applicable; as a messenger he does not have an agenda other than the best interest of our students; I don’t see evidence of bias. His message cross-checks with other sources. I feel we should not reject anyone who can help.


7 people like this
Posted by A Gunn Parent
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 19, 2015 at 10:54 am

Darren, It isn't because he is Stanford educated, it's that this is being used as a reason we should take his advice. When our community stops listening to the message because it has a marketing brand on it and listens because the message is useful, we will be much better off. A primary reason for the misery in this town is the wrong assumption that when a person has a certain brand among his or her credentials it means they are somehow superior. The pressure to scramble to get our children branded by the institutions that are creating this illusion is being reaffirmed every time someone uses the brand itself to validate his position as was done in the above piece. When their position is patronizingly talking down to the community from this presumed height and telling us to chill out, I find this offensive and invalidating to the message, what ever it is.


5 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 19, 2015 at 11:02 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Darren is right - judge the message on its content and not on the credentials of the messenger.

And I certainly found nothing patronizing in Dr. Strassberg's very thoughtful message.


5 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 19, 2015 at 11:43 am

I don't see an issue with Dr. Strassberg mentioning Stanford when talking about his background. He also mentions his lack of expertise in statistics and suicidology. He's giving us the information so we can use it to judge or not judge as we see fit his level of expertise and familiarity with the issue.

So, I'd say the Stanford/Palo Alto parent thing matters in that it tells me he's very familiar with the area and its pressures from the inside and out. He knows the community.

I thought his advice was good, practical and down-to-earth. Clearly, a lot of people are connecting to it since it's made its way on to Facebook and we're hearing from people outside of the community.


16 people like this
Posted by Darren Neuman
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 19, 2015 at 11:46 am

I interpreted Dr. Strassberg’s citation of Stanford as a minor part of his article. It is pretty common for a medical professional to establish his bona fides when writing on issues related to medical recommendations in his field. I took it as nothing more than a legitimate attempt to be sincere and open about his credentials, where he practices, and his knowledge about the local issues. It does not read like a social grandstanding, and I think it does not detract from his message. He is legitimately trying to help a large number of people, and I believe he has achieved that in some meaningful way.


9 people like this
Posted by Darren Neuman
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 19, 2015 at 11:53 am

...In fact, thinking about this, I would be skeptical of a medical professional who doesn't disclose his school - at least this gives me the ability to verify who he is.

And I still feel we should be open to help from whatever quarter.


1 person likes this
Posted by Palo Alto Mom
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 19, 2015 at 12:45 pm

Thank you for taking a stand and writing a brilliant article that our collective community - schools, teachers, parents and kids can easily orient around and move forward with a greater level of sanity. This article was written with great love for our kids and the families that love them. Many thanks for guiding the rest of us, in your area of expertise. May this give rise to change, healthier lives, and a brighter way forward.


1 person likes this
Posted by Checkmate
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2015 at 12:55 pm

As in chess, some players in the classroom are more valuable than others. The Queen, the King, the Castle, the Bishop, the Knights have more value than the pawns. The classroom is like a chess board where students can be played against one another for legal reasons visible to teachers and administrators but invisible to many parents.

Let’s say the parents of the “Queen,” who behaves like a Queen Bee, has already made it clear to the school that they’re ready to sue for any perceived misstep, but your “pawn” is being bullied by this “Queen.” Chances are, in order to keep appeasing the parents of the “Queen,” too little will be done to stop the bullying of your “pawn.” It will seem unfair to you and especially your child, but the school might prioritize dealing with the greater (legal) threat. There might also be a “Knight,” who might as well have a sword in his hand for all the damage he’s done to kids with his out-of-control behavior, and he might have parents just like the Queen’s. In order to help control him, your “pawn” might be made to sit next to him in class for weeks or months in a state of learned helplessness.

What happens when there isn’t just a threatening “Queen” or a “Knight” in the classroom? The “King,” the “Castle,” the “Bishop” are also there. You have all these competing legal interests, and the classroom is like a battleground. The teacher will have to move the pieces very carefully, and it will probably be easiest to sacrifice the “pawns.” Many parents do not see this, due to the delicate nature of each case and the need to keep legal issues quiet. That said, some heart-centered teachers in PAUSD will take the steps to help the “pawns,” and these kids will fondly remember such teachers throughout their school years and beyond.

This post is not to suggest that parents seeking accommodations are at fault. Parents must advocate for the rights of their children. But some parents, beyond the norm, use legal threats to set the tone of their communication with the school, and they should be aware that this can negatively impact the other children in the classroom. It can affect mental health. Even more, the politics of the classroom can affect families. There have been many postings in Town Square about family life being negatively affected (mental health, physical health) by what goes on at school.

On the school side of things, the Skelly years were legally over reactive and seemed to promote a fearful and defensive attitude towards families. It seemed virtually all families were held suspect: guilty until somehow, some way proven innocent (via massive amounts of volunteering and donating to PIE?). Many parents have noted their emails going unanswered by teachers, as if to avoid any sort of paper(less) trail, which makes it seem as if parents are viewed as secretly plotting against the schools. This sort of distrust and mistreatment of parents does not create a healthy relationship. It creates an adversarial one. This is not the sort of relationship most parents ever imagine entering into with the schools.

The bottom line is that a (small) percentage of parents should reflect upon the threatening tone of their legal communications with the schools, because it can turn the other students into “pawns” of the classroom with potential long-term, mental-health consequences. And the schools should not quietly use students like “pawns” in their efforts to avoid legal problems with certain parents. The schools should make accommodations for students without certain parents feeling as if they have to resort to threats.


12 people like this
Posted by Sim the Sim
a resident of another community
on Mar 19, 2015 at 12:57 pm

Praise to Dr Strassberg for this helpful informative article.
As a mom that lost two sons to suicide/depression after college. Although we were getting help via hospitalizations, psychiatrists, therapists, school programs for my youngest son for over 10 years some of the advice given in this article was never brought to our attention . My hope is that well written articles like this , will help to give parents practice advice and de stigmatize suicide/depression. Hopefully other children can be saved. It is the second leading cause if death in ages 14 to 25. It's an epidemic that is largely ignored.


Sim
Agoodmourning.com


2 people like this
Posted by an educator and parent
a resident of another community
on Mar 19, 2015 at 1:07 pm

My only slight objection is, what if instead of us and the teachers versus the teen, it was us, the teachers, and the teen on the same team? I know that it's pretty difficult to imagine anyone on the teen's side sometimes (when they are being their very most "teen" in attitude and behavior), but that's all the more evidence that we should remind ourselves that really, we all have the same goal: raising happy, well-adjusted kids.


6 people like this
Posted by Beth
a resident of another community
on Mar 19, 2015 at 1:12 pm

As I continue to read new posts and dialog from previous contributors, my mind keeps returning to Dr.Strassberg's article. He is emphasizing the timeless connection and power of family. What constitutes family can vary greatly and not all will feel loved in their family, but it is the sense of community, both human and pet, and shared values of that community that can have a profound healing effect on those struggling with depression and mental illness. Getting off the fast track, spending more time with kids away from distractions and even possibly changing the family focus away from a material driven lifestyle, and, as a last resort, moving to a different location are all viable alternatives and may even become necessary to significantly change the course of teen suicide.

I believe very strongly that parents and students do have the power as consumers to buck these negative trends, even in the schools, if they just say no to this "Race to Nowhere." BTW-- for those who have not seen or heard of this film, this is an outstanding movie by a very accomplished Bay Area mom, Vicki Abeles, who said enough is enough.


3 people like this
Posted by Green mom/Silvia
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 19, 2015 at 1:35 pm

Opar and My Thoughts: : Than you for your reflexion about having two types of parents and teachers, and what can I do, personally to help this sad situation: Each parent should decide in the intimacy of their heart to what group they belong, and what they need to learn and change for the sake of their children. You are right, we cannot control that. But regarding the TOs, WE CAN CHANGE THAT. WE CAN change school policies and we can change teachers. Lets start going to the forums and join the meetings, write letters and work for the change we can influence. I have faith in the power of community. We can have the schools we want, we just need to work for it. I want to know about the parents that qare already working on starting a Charter school also. We need three high schools in Palo Alto: we need to improve the current ones (in the right sense, of course) and open an alternative one. I also vote for free choice. We the residents of Palo Alto should not be forced to attend a specific school, just because you live in the neighborhood.
In response to the coment made by a fellow blogger, "Everybody got gold medals just for showing up". YES. EXACLY!! We all need to show up, and that should be valued higher that who is best at a specific skill. We are all needed and all have something to contribute. If you have information about the parent groups, please email me at scabalxia11@hotmail.com. I also want to help!


14 people like this
Posted by Another parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2015 at 3:23 pm

Checkmate,

"On the school side of things, the Skelly years were legally over reactive and seemed to promote a fearful and defensive attitude towards families. It seemed virtually all families were held suspect: guilty until somehow, some way proven innocent (via massive amounts of volunteering and donating to PIE?). Many parents have noted their emails going unanswered by teachers, as if to avoid any sort of paper(less) trail, which makes it seem as if parents are viewed as secretly plotting against the schools. This sort of distrust and mistreatment of parents does not create a healthy relationship. It creates an adversarial one. This is not the sort of relationship most parents ever imagine entering into with the schools."

You have hit the nail on the head and described beautifully what we have experienced, too. But unfortunately, the same actors are still there, just with a new leader who they seem to have snowed pretty well. You have described exactly what we are experiencing now. In some ways it's even gotten worse, because Skelly was at least trying to make up for mistakes, the new guy seems to want to sweep everything under the rug (but his staff want the brooms and the rugs for themselves to cover their behinds).

Our experience is that the people in the district office are still the problem, and by extension, staff who hear their overly legalistic interpretation of everything. We still suffer from the same improper conflicts (people who are supposed to deny or go against the kids are the same people who are supposedly there to support them, an impossible conflict for anyone that totally destroys trust), the same overreactive legalization of everything, the same people at the district level who don't know how to take responsibility for a mistake and just apologize, do the right thing, and move on as before.

If there are parents out there threatening the district, frankly, it's probably because of how screwed up the district still is on that end. However, what I see from personal experience is the same overreacting by a few people as you described. As for actions that "avoid legal problems" -- what I see is a lot of "guilty flee where no man pursueth" stuff that only makes liability worse, not better, and keeps hurting everyone. It's not like the people I'm talking about have been great performers anyway. McGee should reorg.


14 people like this
Posted by Therapist
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 19, 2015 at 3:45 pm

Sorry, I must disagree. I don't think this article is helpful at all. More of the same vague prescriptions that have failed to work over and over again.

We have gotten many warnings in the form of prior suicides. We as a community have chosen to ignore them -- or more accurately, we have refused to take real action, choosing instead to issue vague platitudes. Nobody wants to face the reality, that this school has "institutionalized" abusive, high-pressure homework and grading practices.


3 people like this
Posted by About the pet
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2015 at 4:15 pm

an educator and parent,

It would be great if teacher and student were on the same team, but this topic has come up with "versus" and the intent was likely to avoid having a versus with the teacher, or not to have a versus' at all.

For my own beliefs and principles, students and parents are 1, so by definition a teacher and student team would be a team with the parents as well. That's looking like a challenge but it could be very real if students were respected as individuals, not as their parents' puppets - the challenge is for both parents and teachers to make that work. We can all work harder to respect each student for their individuality.


Like this comment
Posted by About
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2015 at 4:21 pm

an educator and parent,

The being 1 by the way does not mean that students aren't individuals, but that there is an implied expectation to not drive a wedge between parents and students. All our interests are anyway aligned in principle, it's the challenge of collectively raising adolescents that first calls for a stronger partnership between parents and teachers.


5 people like this
Posted by Opar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 19, 2015 at 4:28 pm

Therapist,

I think that's a reductive approach. Clearly, there's an effort being made right now by one board member, several medical professionals and members of the community to end the academic zero period practice. That is about the school.

Strassberg's op-ed, while mild, also emphasizes the need for emotional well-being and sufficient sleep being an important component.

As a district and a community, we have a long way to go when it comes to creating a healthier environment for our children--I don't fretting that an op-ed, which clearly did connect with people, didn't go far enough is helpful. Nor is demonizing one part of the environment (evil schools!) helpful. Indeed, I suggest that to do that is somewhat counterproductive as it encourages a self-defensive posture on the part of the schools and makes it harder to create a more collaborative environment.

I'm not interesting in blaming people for the recent suicides. I'm interesting in stopping future suicides and reducing the insanely high rates of depression and stress our kids have. There's no one simple villain here--if there were, we'd have been able to fix the problem long ago.


1 person likes this
Posted by Checkmate
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2015 at 4:29 pm

@Therapist,

I agree with you about the original post. The opening paragraphs/sections before the "list of direct suggestions to 'Keep Calm and Parent On'" seem like nothing more than advertisement for this psychiatrist's services. He has some useful suggestions, but the kids and families require far more more help--especially from the community and the schools to change the nature of the normed school culture here.





2 people like this
Posted by Therapist
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 19, 2015 at 7:26 pm

And by the way, it is very very likely that someone, at some point, is going to file a lawsuit. A doozy of a lawsuit, that could rip this school district to shreds.

Is that what it will take for people to take this seriously?


10 people like this
Posted by Ferdinand
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 19, 2015 at 7:36 pm

I sent this today:

Dear US News & World Report,

As you may be aware, our Gunn and Palo Alto High Schools in CA have been dealing with the recent loss of 4 students. We are rethinking many aspects of our school climate, including the high-achieving families we attract and how these rankings impact teaching. As you know, one important factor in this attraction is the Best High Schools ranking that you conduct and publish. After receiving a recent Duke magazine, I read with interest an article on the criteria for ranking colleges: Web Link.

These rankings are focused on more practical things than whether a student has gotten a 3 or more on one AP exam: employer satisfaction with a school’s graduates, the students’ satisfaction with their experience, and the research activity of the faculty.

I wonder if we could lobby you to offer an additional alternative high school ranking system that looks at similar issues in high school, rather than one that is based on AP scores? Perhaps "college admissions officer" could replace the "employer" and "research element" could be replaced with "creative program opportunities." You could offer both rankings, and let parents and students use them as desired. This type of rating would provide feedback to high schools on student mental health and adjusting to college life--both socially/emotionally and academically.Think of the message you would be sending to our youth who are feeling trapped by the AP route at any cost [and their over-involved parents who are acting out of fear for their futures].

Thanks for considering,


9 people like this
Posted by Jay Park
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 19, 2015 at 7:49 pm

My condolences go out to everyone affected by this: family, friends, classmates, and others.

Still, this is very puzzling. I have had plenty of time to think about this over the years of ongoing student suicides and here are some observations I've noted.

Other academically rigorous nearby public school districts such as Cupertino and Los Gatos-Saratoga don't have the same suicide rates, nor do other prestigious public school systems throughout the greater SF Bay Area. And I don't read of many suicides from private school children: Bellarmine, St. Francis, Castilleja, Menlo School, etc. although historically many of those parochial schools have had SAT results equal to or better than the top-tier public schools.

My conclusion is that there's something terribly broken within the "community" of Palo Alto public school teachers, administrators, the board, and the parents of children who attend Palo Alto public schools.

I doubt there's an easy fix, especially if it has to do with a fundamental change in public school Palo Alto adult worldviews and priorities. Clearly, there is something inexplicably very toxic about the environment.

There are options. You can move north and put your kids in Woodside/Sequoia/Menlo-Atherton, or move south and put them in Mountain View/Los Altos. Or one of the parochial schools.

For those who prefer to stay, I suggest you intensely scrutinize the school district. PAUSD covers everything from kindergarten through high school. I'm not sure if the right administrators can run than gamut, at least today. Over the past 20-30 years, we have seen 6th grade move from primary school to middle school because 6th graders are at an age where primary school practices aren't effective, their needs are different. My personal belief is that high schools should be run as separate school districts from the K-8 school systems.

I'm not convinced that a board member/district administrator/superintendent can handle the breadth of requests from parents ranging all the way from K-12. If you stretch yourself too thin, you often end up doing everything in a mediocre way. Frankly, I think Palo Alto public school parents would benefit by having separate school districts for K-8 and 9-12. Different administrations focused on different needs of students, parents, and teachers.

(Disclaimer: I do not live in Palo Alto, nor do I have kids. I did grow up around here and attended one of the schools mentioned above. I was a B+/A- kind of student. My high school was administered separately from the primary school system.)


2 people like this
Posted by Alphonso
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Mar 19, 2015 at 8:01 pm

Alphonso is a registered user.

Jay Park

I assume you are guessing when you say -
"Other academically rigorous nearby public school districts such as Cupertino and Los Gatos-Saratoga don't have the same suicide rates, nor do other prestigious public school systems throughout the greater SF Bay Area."

I think you are wrong since teenage suicide is a national problem and happens everywhere. Of course the PA train cases get substantial attention. I would like to see a study done comparing PA to Cupertino - it might help people focus on the more important issues.


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Posted by Mother of Piedmont High School Students
a resident of another community
on Mar 19, 2015 at 8:29 pm

Great article - great comments. I agree that depression is a huge factor in suicide. Some families do everything they can, including therapy, great home life and values, monitoring teachers and social life. How sad when a child takes his/her life.
I hope this helps those who need it.


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Posted by Another parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2015 at 10:37 pm

Alphonso,

Be careful about comparisons -- the lives of our children are worth acting, regardless. The surveys we've done, and published on the district website, show a much higher rate of depression among our kids especially 11th graders than the average. Even if the rest of the country were to catch up, that's really no reason to fail to act. The EPA studies have shown a high percentage of US schools environmental problems that could hurt the health of students, it's not a reason to avoid fixing the problems. We can act, and we can make things better. I think Ken Dauber put it well, that we don't need any more reason than to do our best to ensure kids are healthy and happy.


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Posted by Another parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2015 at 10:42 pm

Jay Park,

You bring up an interesting idea. Ask Ken Dauber to create a survey about district administrators, asking parents how much they've had to work with given administrators and how they would rank them, from helpful to toxic. Anyone who gets more than 10 toxic votes from people who worked closely should be shown the door, it doesn't even matter if they average out...


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Posted by member
a resident of another community
on Mar 19, 2015 at 11:05 pm

Your description of regression to the mean is wrong. Might I wonder how you got your degrees?


11 people like this
Posted by Craig
a resident of another community
on Mar 19, 2015 at 11:12 pm

Thank you Doctor for a brilliant and concise set of practical, positive actions. I agree with you wholeheartedly on almost every point. Your clearly and courageously presented wisdom is like a breath of fresh air.

I Lost my Daughter to a mental illness while she was a Freshman at a UC. Now, I am pretty heavily involved in advocating changes to prevent suicide. I don't live in your neighborhoods, but I have hurt for you all with each loss.

I don't believe it was your point, but I want to assure your readers that there is still more we can do to reduce the number of completed suicides. One particular area that needs to be addressed in California is the amount of suicide risk assessment and treatment training our physicians, licensed clinicians, and our counselors have. They are not always ready to receive the at risk patients we bring them. The Board of Behavioral Sciences and the Board of Psychology do not know how much training their licencees are getting or what they are being taught.

I was at an all day suicide risk assessment training course two weeks ago. The room was filled with 50 counselors and clinicians (13 licensed by the BBS). When the instructor asked who had previous training (any) in suicide prevention 5 people raised their hands. And my friend, who just finished her fellowship as a pediatrician, said she had zero training in suicide prevention. There are a lot of things we can do, but we must insure that our experts in mental health are experts in suicidal ideation. Otherwise, "knowing the signs" and "getting them to help" may not do our loved one any good. I have experienced this particular disappointment when I lost my daughter.


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Posted by Opar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 19, 2015 at 11:52 pm

Therapist,

I do agree with your second comment. You can't have a string of suicides and then have board members and school administrators disregard the rules put in place to protect student health and not expect a hell of a lawsuit at some point. I, for one, will not be happy to see my parcel tax go to defending the proponents of this reckless behavior.


1 person likes this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 20, 2015 at 12:11 am

In 2011 Cornell was sued for $168M.
By an alum!
Settled out of court for $100K.


11 people like this
Posted by Geraldine, survivor of suicide
a resident of another community
on Mar 20, 2015 at 7:18 am

Hello and thank you for speaking so plainly about suicide, a national crisis. My husband suffered from bipolar and died by suicide in 2009. Now, as a single mother of 2 living in the shadow of suicide, I am grateful for the straight forward advice and to see a healthy conversation happening.

Suicide thrives in silence. From what I understand and hear from other survivors, teen suicides often seem to come out of nowhere, completely unexpected. This is why I believe that talking about suicide is the best way to prevent it.

Your to do list is excellent advice for any family. I would add sitting down together for dinner as an excellent tool. I find that my kids share all kinds of information at dinner. They are still young, 9 and 11, and still willing to tell mommy stuff. On those days when we don't have family dinner, I'm the one that misses out, and ultimately they lose too.

Another tool I use is a journal for each kid. I write them a message, and they can write me back. It's a private conversation where we each get to take the time to say what's on our mind. My daughter is quiet, but she explodes on the page.

My final suggestion is having what we call a "mommy day." I spend a special day, one on one, with each child. I'm sure when they're teens we'll call it something else, but I plan to continue the tradition.

Praying for your community to know peace.


14 people like this
Posted by Brian
a resident of another community
on Mar 20, 2015 at 10:06 am

For twenty five years, I have been a private practice psychologist in a wealthy community in Sourthern California, a town very similar to Palo Alto in many ways. I echo your sentiments and applaud your insight and willingness to speak out. You're right; those of us in the mental health professions don't tend to place the spotlights on ourselves. But we must speak out on matters such as this, and you did so with great compassion and insight.
My community is also commonly driven by high acheiving parents who believe more is always better when it comes to academics and extracirriculars. Getting children into the best possible college is often the primary goal of our families, and my practice is often loaded with stressed out, exhausted, sleep deprived and secretly hopeless young people who fear that they will never be good enough. No amount of money, privilege, or opportunity lowers the distress these young people labor under. On the contrary, many struggle because of these things. Why has free time and play become such a bad thing? I worked and played hard, slept long hours and somehow still managed to get a lot of letters after my name. The current narrative dismissess this lifestyle as a thing of the past. No promising student can get by with such "balance" now. They must be soldiers, trained and tuned to the highest degree of achievement or they will fail. Is it any wonder that so many struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts, usually in silence?
Your suggestions are solid and feasible. I hope many within and outside of your community will read your article and pray it makes a difference in lives. Thank you for writing this.


10 people like this
Posted by outsider
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 20, 2015 at 10:57 am

Parents and students and the community are rallying and making efforts. One variable that could be eliminated is the lack of respect the administration and many teachers have for the state and district standards. They are very clear and simple to follow . This takes no effort and no money. Not following them at this time does seem beyond ignorant.

When the administration at a school was told that a teacher was giving ap tests for her Honors class, They stood behind protocol and said it was the parents' problem to deal with. There was no other apparent response or guarantee that the teachers would not have free license to test out of their grade level.

This seems like minutia to us, but it is very upsetting and scary to the quiet, bright students who push themselves. I have a child that could be a stereotypical overachiever and try to take her down notches when I can, but she has always wanted to exceed any challenge. I have told her that this is not normal and should not define her, but the pressure has manipulated her into thinking all her efforts need to be funneled into this teacher's rubrics. Many of the sci classes seem to be like a dark maze with no end point for these kids and many suffer. Just a simple pre-test and reteaching would solve this for every class. Why won't they let go of their overly rigorous testing at this school. It is only a-g credit for goodness sake- other schools are able to be clear and prepare kids without them having to have tutors . I just can not see the point in keeping a kid in a school where administration is told an exact really out of line problem and then responds with a "Thank you for sharing" type response knowing that their best and brightest stars are suffering.

High schoolers are still children and pets and support is great, but when we all know this problem exists and getting rid of it could be so easy, why is it still there? Do some people really think that their kid's B on a transcript in PAUSD is somehow as good as an A from the kid in Los Gatos who had a teacher who did not grade them on an AP test?

They should fix this and get dogs. One variable known and one positive.

One really good thing about pets for children is to get to take care of and listen to their pets and respond to them in a caring way and realize how different pets all have different needs. This helps them be better parents, and teachers if that is their choice. So, I think every kid at this high school does need contact with animals. There is nothing like being needed and being in control. I think teachers should all have one big dopey dog in their classroom. There is something about a look on a dog's face that lets you know there is joy in life and other things to think about rather than some overly zealous expectations. If they knew they could see a dog the next day or if a dog was waiting at the door, all these kids who have had such a hard year would know they had unconditional love.

The effects of this year on these children will not be over in a week. The PALY teacher that had the kids write letters insisting on "closure" two days later needs to get a dog and maybe realize her year of "honors rigor" with this trauma ridden class is really over. Her compassion will be the best lesson she could give and the one most remembered.


9 people like this
Posted by Christa
a resident of another community
on Mar 20, 2015 at 11:04 am

I am sorry to hear about a teen suicide in your area last week. I have one piece of information to add to Dr. Strassberg's article.

There is a Crisis Text Line for Teens. If you are not aware of this already, check out Web Link Teens may be less likely to call 800-273-TALK if they are in crisis. That's part of the reason this line was developed. I don't work for the Crisis Text Line, I just wanted you all to have the information.

I lost two friends to suicide and was once a suicidal teen. Now in mid-life, my vocation is mental health advocacy and suicide prevention. As a matter of fact, I just fielded a call from an educator 30 minutes ago with a question about how to handle a boy talking about suicide.

It is absolutely imperative parents, guardians and educators have open conversations about suicide. Please continue this conversation in your homes, schools, workplaces and churches.



9 people like this
Posted by Andrew Penn, NP
a resident of another community
on Mar 20, 2015 at 11:11 am

I work within the umbra of Palo Alto and these suicides of local high school students have been deeply unsettling.

Phenomenon like suicide are too complex to distill down to just "too much pressure" or "drugs" or "bullying" and are the terribly sad end point of a multifactorial problem.

I can't help but wonder about scarcity anxiety and how it is transmitted from parents (and the community) to our children. When a 1100 foot cottage costs a million dollars, and you need to make $250K a year to just live where you live, is it any wonder that kids are under such pressure to get the credentials (a "brand name" education that includes a professional pedigree) so that they can generate the income needed to just have what their parents have? What price do we pay for this fear?

Andrew Penn, NP
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, Kaiser Redwood City


1 person likes this
Posted by Andrew Penn, NP
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 20, 2015 at 11:16 am

I'd also like to compliment Dr Strassberg for doing more than just listnening, but rather, being a voice and a leader in our community for more dialogue, not less conversation about mental health and suicide.

We as clinicians in this field need to be more visible, more vocal, and more attentive to how we can use our own actions to decrease the shame and stigma around this topic. We need to lead by example.

After, Robin Williams died last year, I was asked to write about this topic and leave this here.

Web Link

Andrew Penn, NP
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, Kaiser Redwood City


4 people like this
Posted by JSnoo
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 20, 2015 at 1:08 pm

JSnoo is a registered user.

I think this a great article. All of these things sound like sound advice. If I were to add one more thing though I think it would be cultivating "Grit". There was a great TED talk on this by Angela Lee Duckworth. She said that research shows that students who have Grit, who are resilient, did better in life. This trait was in fact more correlated to success than IQ, and was also related to happiness.

[Portion removed.]


3 people like this
Posted by Names matter
a resident of another community
on Mar 20, 2015 at 1:28 pm

To JSnoo, you mentioned that your friend Eva is a "Stanford trained psychologist." Is that supposed to make her opinion more worthwhile? I thought we were supposed to stop caring about elite schools. Are these biases possibly subconscious?

Then again, the original writer of this article is a "Stanford-trained psychiatrist," and look at how much respect he is getting.


4 people like this
Posted by My Thoughts
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 20, 2015 at 2:11 pm

My Thoughts is a registered user.

@outsider: "When the administration at a school was told that a teacher was giving ap tests for her Honors class, They stood behind protocol and said it was the parents' problem to deal with. There was no other apparent response or guarantee that the teachers would not have free license to test out of their grade level. "

Is this Ms. [portion removed]? She is destroying many childrens interests in science. I think teh Principal knows this and they are not doing anytings.

It is a problem in the school - these kind of teachers are streessing kids. It is unfair if you get a bad teacher. Nobody seems to see the connecting between this kind of stress and expectatinos on kids. It is really hard to meet high expectations with a bad teacher. Then you get sad, and anxziety and it becomes too hard to continue in science.


8 people like this
Posted by Daniela Bryan
a resident of another community
on Mar 20, 2015 at 6:20 pm

I am not sure how I came across this article, but I feel compelled to offer a resource. My daughter is a psychology student at USF and volunteers at the Suicide Prevention Hotline in the City. She has gone through extensive training as have all of the other volunteers. After reading this article I asked her, if the SPH would also take calls from people outside of the City limits and she told me they take calls from all over the country. Anyone can call. They even respond to texts. I have no idea, if there is a hotline in Palo Alto/Silicon Valley, or if the existence of the hotline in SF is publicized in schools and within the community. However, I do think it might be helpful to offer this service to the students at large. I know from my own experience that teenagers sometimes will reach out to others more easily than us parents. Just a thought...


10 people like this
Posted by Callie G
a resident of another community
on Mar 20, 2015 at 7:24 pm

Thank you for this thoughtful article. As a college student myself, I would like to comment on the "sleep over everything else, including homework" portion of this article. While theoretically this is true, in practice for many high school students it is not possible. Either you stay awake (or get up early) and get your homework and studying done, or you're falling behind for not having it/your grades drop. Where I'm from (Virginia) high school takes up 7 hours of your day, and then you more often than not have at least four hours of homework and studying, if not more. Now they're adding in "virtual classrooms" where you teach yourself the material from an online lecture for homework and use class time for practice, and I am glad I escaped before that started. High school is becoming six hours of mandatory busy work while you have to spend your personal time learning. Add in any extracurriculars (have to make that college resume look good) and your day is done. Perhaps the homework system is something that should be looked at, rather than making your teen sleep at the expense of their grades.
Thanks again.


2 people like this
Posted by Observation
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 21, 2015 at 12:01 am

[Portion removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Deborah Huisken
a resident of another community
on Mar 21, 2015 at 4:38 am

I loved your article; tho I don't have children myself, most of my friends do.

One comment I'd make -- you use the term "normal" a couple of time at least. Some years ago, it was pointed out to me that "normal" is what most people do. So, sadly, it may be "normal" that teens have busier schedules than their parents and that parents be adversarial to their children's teachers. What it is not is healthy -- to me that is the critical difference. Because what you argue for so brilliantly in this article is a healthier world to raise teens in -- and that is what we for sure need.


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Posted by Koala Mom
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 21, 2015 at 9:04 am

Thank you, everyone, for talking about it! Demystify the taboo! An amazing resource to be aware of is: Web Link. Keep on keeping on.


8 people like this
Posted by Suzanne Anderson
a resident of another community
on Mar 21, 2015 at 6:21 pm

Hi, I am a counsellor working in the international community with teens and really appreciated your article. We have had 2 teen suicides in the last 12 months. Based on my experience with depressed teens, I would add one more recommendation. Technology (all technology) belongs in publics spaces of the home, not the bedroom. We lose a lot of opportunities to observe our kids moods and to have interaction with them when they are locked up in their bedroom with their technology, trying to solve their problems with a world of other people their age, with little input from the larger adult community of parents, teachers and other youth leaders. We talk about attachment a lot when kids are young, but I think that our opportunities for developing and strengthening attachment continue throughout life and that again we lose that when kids can spend the majority of their time in their bedroom with their technology. This to me is a keystone habit of parenting.


1 person likes this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 22, 2015 at 4:20 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

For those who believe that elite college degrees lead to greater financial success this study clearly shows that there is little correlation between the return on investment and elite status:

Web Link


8 people like this
Posted by Openues
a resident of another community
on Mar 22, 2015 at 7:27 am

Have a summit on this topic that is organized "by the students" from the various schools and invite everybody to listen to "them!"


16 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 22, 2015 at 7:50 am

Just a couple of things about the different cultures in our schools, particularly the culture of the parents of our students.

It is interesting to see that there is a special mental health event for Asian parents with Mandarin translation on Monday evening at The Haymarket.

BBC (and other media) are reporting on over the top cheating enabling by parents for school exams in India. Web Link

It is not always the students themselves that we have to concern ourselves with, but the attitudes of the parents that are forcing their kids to perform in ways suited to the parents' cultures rather than what the kids would want. To deny that these sorts of cultural pressures are put on some students for PC reasons is part of the problem. Of course all parents are not necessarily doing this, but pretending that all parents are equal is the first fallacy that must be understood. Some parents think that good parenting means helping their kids cheat. Some parents think that pushing their child to come out top is good parenting.


1 person likes this
Posted by east coaster
a resident of another community
on Mar 22, 2015 at 8:46 am

I was wondering if there was any way to compare the number of in house psychologists, counselors, social workers, school resource officers at the Palo Alto high schools and middle schools as compared to other high performing school districts across the country.


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Posted by Marc Bodnick
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 22, 2015 at 1:06 pm

[Post removed.]


7 people like this
Posted by posted above
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 22, 2015 at 2:49 pm

east coaster,

I'm not sure it would matter. Our school psychologists are kind of the "hit men" for district initiatives like denying IEPs and 504s, so they end up with a mindset about families that makes it hard for them to also be on the side of students in the course of school. If the student feels invalidated by the school psychologists every day of school, hit's not likely going to matter if there are more of them when said student needs help.

On a related note, with depression correlating with higher levels of indoor mold, why are the Gunn admin and counselors in that old space with those musty carpets? It makes me sick just sitting in there. It probably doesn't help the admin understand vulnerable students if the people working there aren't bothered by the old musty environment.


11 people like this
Posted by Michael
a resident of another community
on Mar 23, 2015 at 7:00 am

I am a high school teacher and coach, going on 8 years. I also recently became a first-time parent; my son is 4-months old.

I just wanted to thank you for writing this. At various times over the last 8 years, and oftentimes over the last 4 months, I've wondered if the way that things are done in my community is the right way. It just seems counter-intuitive, with all of over-scheduling and helicopter parenting.

I see it at work, too, and the children that are exposed to this just don't seem....right. Something's off; it's Stepford-Wife-like. They walk around in a trance, programmed to go from one 'future-defining' event to the next. Like you so perfectly state, Doctor: This could be never be normal.

So thank you. You've crystallized these thoughts and articulated them in a way that I never could have, and because of that have made me think about things in a way that I hope will make me a better parent and teacher.


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Posted by Julie
a resident of another community
on Mar 23, 2015 at 4:14 pm

Thank you so much for this wonderful article. As a teacher myself, who gives heart and soul to my job and the kids, I really appreciated your comments. And for parents looking for ways to increase calmness and peace in their lives and their kids' lives, Ananda Palo Alto is a great resource. Yoga, meditation, and spiritual community are wonderful ways to decrease stress and increase centeredness in the midst of life's "storms".


5 people like this
Posted by south bay parent
a resident of another community
on Mar 24, 2015 at 3:18 pm

All of the comments are about parents and teachers, but mental illness, what ultimately causes one to commit suicide, is multifactorial. How about more education for teachers, parents and students to see the signs, to foster open communication and to know what levels of help are available in the community. Blaming just keeps the wheels spinning. More awareness, and a greater dialogue at both school, home and between friends will move everyone forward.


19 people like this
Posted by PalyGrad06
a resident of another community
on Mar 27, 2015 at 9:21 am

In my year, there were two suicides. But maybe I have a little different perspective on the pressure-cooker that is the Palo Alto school system and community. I would like to suggest three factors I haven't seen brought up yet:
1) Lack of honesty regarding academic competition from parents, administrators, and teachers. Everyone knows Palo Alto is ruthlessly competitive and yet people like to cloak it in therapeutic language about how everyone is equal and all choices are okay. The resulting cognitive dissonance caused me more stress as a teen than any amount of homework. Palo Alto culture is like the Little League game where there is no scoreboard and everyone gets a trophy, except everyone knows the score deep down and bases their entire self-worth on it.
2) Lack of emphasis on character. If adults, both teachers and parents, spent more time emphasizing and modeling good character, it gives kids something to feel proud about that is not connected to their grades or college admissions. It's an identity completely in a kid's control that he can fall back on when he fails. And speaking of failure, let's teach young Palo Altans that your character is largely defined by what you do when you fail, not whether you fail (newsflash: everyone will fail at something in life).
3) Glamourization of mental disorders. Unless you have some victim card to play, you're not cool in Palo Alto. Mental disorders are the new Rolex as far as status symbols go. Our therapeutic culture encourages us to constantly self-evaluate our feelings and spend an inordinate amount of time navel gazing, meditating on what might be wrong with us. This attitude hurts those genuinely struggling with real, pathological issues the most. Paradoxically, happiness is what comes to many of us when we stop fixating on it and turn our attentions outward.

I realize my suggestions will be controversial, but they come from 20 years of observation and experience in Palo Alto, and I hope they are helpful to someone.


6 people like this
Posted by Laurie-therapist
a resident of another community
on Mar 27, 2015 at 4:50 pm

Thanks for the wonderful article, both smart and heart-centered. As the mom of a graduating senior AND a therapist at a Redwood City high school, I would add one thing: "Treat your teen(s) as your allies, not your enemies." So often I hear parents talk about their children as if they don't like them, as if their children are just trying to make the parent's life miserable. Of course, all children do annoying things at times, but they're still our beloved 'little ones.' And contrary to popular belief, if we as parents show our kids that we love them, respect them, and want to be connected to them, teenagers of any age will want to spend more time with us. Most of my clients are struggling (depression, anxiety, anger, overwhelm) because of painful relationships with their parents. And as I pass through the hallways, many of the conversations I hear have the words "my mom" or "my dad" in them. We as parents matter to our teens. A lot. Make sure they know how much they matter to us. Sure, set good limits and consequences as needed. But be their biggest fans too. That way, when we say," Get off the phone and go to sleep," they'll know it's because we love them. And yes, they'll probably grumble, but they'll also likely do as we say.


1 person likes this
Posted by Kim
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 2, 2015 at 11:02 am

We have become a medical induced society and college students are in that mix. There appears to be a drug for every mental issue one may be having in their lives. I was shocked to hear a rehab hospital that dr physc are prescribing ridilan as the "college" drug of choice, to help students focus. Really that's just crazy to me. What ever happen to teaching coping skills instead of popping yet another pill in hopes of a quick fix. What problems are thet really so loving is they just listen and write a new script. Sad and doesn't appear to be getting any better, in the mental health illness.


4 people like this
Posted by pwatson
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Apr 12, 2015 at 1:59 pm


Here are a couple resources providing grief support after the death of a child and suicide prevention support for teens.

The Compassionate Friends/USA; and
With Hope, the Amber Craig Memorial Foundation.

These are hugely supportive groups that are hard not easy to locate in times of a crisis and provide on-campus and virtual support. The second is a VERY VERY good resource for the prevention of suicide in teens. Please contact Annette Craig for additional questions. Thank you.


2 people like this
Posted by Enrico
a resident of another community
on Apr 14, 2015 at 1:35 am

Grazie Dr. Strassberg, le sue considerazioni sono davvero preziose. In effetti rispecchiano perfettamente l'errato rapporto che molti di noi genitori hanno con i propri figli. I suoi consigli aiutano comunque ad aprire gli occhi e approcciarsi al problema in maniera piu' tollerante.


2 people like this
Posted by C
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 14, 2015 at 3:07 am

I totally disagree with your characterization of how people feel about mental disorders in Palo Alto, I just wanted to say your (below) description of PA is completely spot on.
Copied from Paly Grad '06 above:

"Everyone knows Palo Alto is ruthlessly competitive and yet people like to cloak it in therapeutic language about how everyone is equal and all choices are okay. The resulting cognitive dissonance caused me more stress as a teen than any amount of homework. Palo Alto culture is like the Little League game where there is no scoreboard and everyone gets a trophy, except everyone knows the score deep down and bases their entire self-worth on it."


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Posted by C
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 14, 2015 at 3:09 am

Oops. That first sentence is horrible - please imagine a "while" at the beginning of it so it reads "While I totally disagree with your characterization of how people feel about mental disorders in Palo Alto, I just wanted to say your (below) description of PA is completely spot on."


1 person likes this
Posted by Gwen Pontikes
a resident of another community
on Apr 15, 2015 at 8:14 am

Hi I am writing from Chicago. A group out of Stanford - are running an organization called Challenge Success. All teachers and administrators and parents should look into this organization. They have research and wonderful ideas about how to work through these issues. I had the pleasure of working with this organization at The Latin School of Chicago. We are a progressive school thanks to our MS director and US director and Headmaster. If everyone unites - we can try to help get our families back and help our children live richer and healthier lives. Please look into Challenge Success!

Best Regards,

Gwen Pontikes


11 people like this
Posted by Concerned parent
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 15, 2015 at 9:48 am

Hi Gwen,

Thanks for the pointer. Everyone here is aware of Challenge Success. Dr. Pope works right across the street from our district office. It is called the longest crosswalk for a reason - we might as well be on different planets. Our schools actively avoided any engagement with Challenge Success for about 5 years now. In fact the local dysfunction is so high in our schools that Stanford Education doesn't even send students here to intern. We are a case study in stress and high pressure tactics in teaching, and so far the experiment is going badly. Multiple suicides dozens of hospitalizations, and hundreds of kids on a watch list, and yet the high pressure tactics remain commonplace in our schools.

The Superintendant has done some small changes, but we have Principals battling the Union because some teachers don't want to have homework tracked online - visibility into the crushing homework loads is an issue here because our homework policy has gone unimplemented by staff for 3 years.

There are signs of political fallout too - a community awash in money has lost trust in the high pressure experiment and is starting to reject funding. We may soon start budget cuts and are on our way to becoming the wealthiest failed school in the state.

Please send help...


4 people like this
Posted by Shallow Alto
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Apr 28, 2015 at 11:25 am

I grew up in shallow Alto and the narcissistic, self entitled, dot-com, Nouveau rishe transplants have completely taken over. Palo Alto dad, you are an excellent example of this. I attended Pinewood high school and transferred back to Gunn to get a sense of reality. Of course this was in the early nineties before Fantasyland hit Palo Alto. Oh yeah, suicide came up but because of a wonderful support structure that this town once had it never came to fruition.In 1981 and 1982 the park foundation was founded near Page Mill Road by Xerox on the East Coast. This was the beginning of the end for intelligent minds in such a beautiful environment; now instead of a melting pot of intelligence and culture we have a hot pot of animosity and segregation. Preach on Dr, you and many others have helped students like myself and hundreds others to become successful and vibrant members of our society. Even if it's not in a Disneyland we call Palo Alto. Palo Alto Dad, you and several others in this posting are the precursors to why our children commit suicide. Look deep and seek help.
Bless you, doctor.


5 people like this
Posted by District Mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 29, 2015 at 9:55 am

@ Shallow Alto

It's simply not fair to accuse Palo Alto Dad of contributing to conditions that lead to teen suicide. The suggestions given by Dr. Strassberg are fine but inadequate. An example would be Dr. Strassberg's advice to "Get a pet." I do believe pets are therapeutic, soothing, and wonderful to have in many ways. I do think families should consider getting pets to help kids. But the problems plaguing young people require people in authority, adults at home and in the schools, to improve situations that young people are not in an empowered position to change. Not long after reading articles like this one about the suicides in Palo Alto, I watched the documentary Race to Nowhere. It was actually quite heartbreaking to watch the section about the 13-year-old Bay Area girl who killed herself. She seemed to have a good life with a supportive, responsive family, but she could not deal with her sudden, growing sense of failure in school. After reading Dr. Strassberg's article, it was especially heartbreaking to see the girl had a lovely pet dog. As I watched, I was thinking, "She had a dog, but it didn't help." The functional elements of her home life, including the dog, seemed to be in place. How she felt about herself, her options, the intellectual and emotional support available to her at school--whether her school was flexible enough to allow her to fail and to bounce back--seem(ed) like bigger questions.


7 people like this
Posted by MomwhoMovedtheFamily
a resident of another community
on Apr 30, 2015 at 7:04 am

We lived in a town in the northeast that was a pressure cooker similar to Palo Alto, though not quite as bad. Nonetheless, I could see where it was going. We did have teachers that bullied the smartest (gifted) students. Like PA, the district had gotten rid of the GATE program because "everyone is gifted". However, truly gifted kids do have different needs and ways of thinking. (I have another kid that does equally well in school but he is "very bright" -- there is a difference).

Anyway, after seeing where this was going...watching the HS kids next door getting picked up for "Zero Period" at 6:40 am (starts at 7:00am), bragging about #AP classes, and knowing about the "Race To Nowhere" which came out of California (anyone who hasn't seen this, google it, it's good!)....we decided to move to another state where the school district was rated just as highly, but where we felt we would have a better quality of life.

This decision has been great! We had to adjust, make new friends, etc. But the kids are happier and mom is happier! (it's hard on dad as he has to travel back/forth for work). But it is worth it. We all have so many hobbies here! Swimming, fishing, good weather, kayaking, sports, ETC! The great thing - there are so many things to do that there are always things to look forward to and BALANCE. (In the northeast, our life was a grind: school, sports, work, eat, sleep, repeat).

Don't you have fun things to do around Palo Alto? It's such a beautiful area in which to grow up. I think you all need to step back and reevaluate. Remember, you can get a 4.0, be involved in tons of activities and STILL not get into Stanford or other highly selective colleges. It's UNDERGRAD...and you have excellent state universities in your state (are they hard to get into for high achievers from PA?). If you can't do this, then I'd pick out where to move that will be more balanced. Your kid may shine there, rather than succumb to the pressures of Paly.

Good luck to you all!


7 people like this
Posted by MB
a resident of another community
on May 5, 2015 at 4:46 am

I live in a similar community in another state. After a high-performing middle school girl committed suicide, parents and teachers formed a mental health organization to help us all better understand suicide and how to prevent it. Since then, we pushed back the high school starting time 30 min. to where it was before our state started upping the instructional minutes and requirements. We've introduced mindfulness training for all elementary school students, and teach yoga in middle and high school phy. ed. classes. We have incorporated new suicide prevention guidelines and added questions about suicide to our At Risk survey, and coordinate between this mental health organization and our district's wellness committee. Change takes time. The pushback from parents who want more zero hour classes, and policy that allows any teacher to punish first graders by taking away recess if they don't get their homework completed and in on time, is powerful. Best practices and research get trumped by anxiety about "kids need to learn responsibility" and "we need rigor."
Where does the anxiety-driven perfectionism and obsession with Ivy League admission begin? I believe with the parents. The schools are reflecting their values. Teachers willing to collude in the madness are attracted to the school.
The "perfect girls" take out their anxiety by bullying, as do many of the boys. They especially bully kids with learning differences who attend Resource Room (the first R word gets changed to the R word by the anxious child projecting his/her issues onto the child with the learning disability). Push for cultural change and the truth comes out--"Let's face it, the kids who want zero hour are going somewhere with their lives" Yes, they actually talk that way.
Parents, you need to own this. Where is the evidence that your values don't lead to suicides, drop outs and burnouts, and overly anxious or depressed adults who have material success but are emotionally troubled and reliant on therapists and medications? Can you honestly say you are mentally and emotionally healthy and have model good mental/emotional health habits?
People can wake up before there are more suicides and damaged lives. But they have to be willing to let go of their irrational fears.


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Posted by Earl Kelly
a resident of another community
on May 25, 2015 at 12:12 pm

Excellent information.


1 person likes this
Posted by Adam Phillips
a resident of Southgate
on Oct 16, 2015 at 3:12 pm

I would like to recommend to all a book called Suicide Risk in the Bay Area: A Guide for Families, Physicians, Therapists, and Other Professionals. It is a valuable resource for parents and schools. Click here to see an article in the Weekly from October 15th, 2015: Web Link


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Posted by Another Mom
a resident of another community
on Dec 3, 2015 at 10:40 pm

Outstanding article!!! Bravo Doctor.

We are new to the Bay Area. We moved from Seattle roughly seven months ago. We do not live in Palo Alto but are in the Peninsula.

Our pre-teen son has been struggling with the move due to feeling as if he is minority and feeling isolated.

I worry about him and am practicing your key notes in your article. I'm also going to send your article to our Principle as I've heard nothing of our district taking healthy action towards teen suicide.

Your article should be our core values and should be implemented/practiced daily and shared with the world. This is not only happening in Palo Alto, but is Worldwide.

This is the first I've read regarding Palo Alto's Suicide support, so I'm not sure what progress has been made this far. But hopefully at the very least, your key notes/core values could become CA State wide within the schools and parents involvement, goals, expectations, etc...

Thank you so much. Your article is valuable.


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Posted by Amy Spiegel
a resident of another community
on Mar 19, 2016 at 8:51 pm

Great article. Thanks so much. Loved your son's comment.


4 people like this
Posted by But, but, but...
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 21, 2016 at 5:31 pm

Does this good doctor accept patients who have insurance? Who can't shell out $200 once or twice a week??


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