The students we work with seem like they’ve reached the pinnacle of success for a young person: they attend some of the most competitive and elite schools in the country, are academically successful, and when not in school are participating in sports or theater or band (or all three). It is easy to see their intelligence, commitment, and talents. It is much harder to see the work that goes into those successes, and the ways that their pursuit of external achievement might come at a cost to their internal wellbeing.
When we talk to students, we consistently hear about how much stress they feel, and how little they feel they can do about it. Students can’t turn to their peers – they’re all in the same boat, and can even compete about their stress, “bragging” about how little sleep they got or how long they worked on an assignment. They don’t want to disappoint their teachers or parents by revealing that they’re struggling or asking for support, and often it’s the perceived pressure from these adults that’s driving their stress in the first place. Overall, students feel like they need to project competence and confidence, no matter how they’re feeling inside or the amount of work it takes to get there.
In our prevention workshops, we invite students to do an iceberg activity and think about what they’re showing to the world, and what goes unseen. Students label an image of an iceberg, with the top of the iceberg representing all the things they project on the surface, and the bottom representing all the things happening underneath. In the image above, we’ve shared a compilation of real responses that we’ve received in our workshops.
As you can see, there’s A LOT happening under the surface. We know that without the foundation of social emotional wellness, whatever external success kids achieve are precarious – they can seem to be doing great to those around them, while internally they’re dealing with profound self-doubt, low self-esteem, and feelings of failure despite their achievements. That’s why it’s important that the adults in their lives take the time to foster open communication, make sure they know how much their social emotional development is valued, and notice and take action when things seem out of balance.
Want to learn how to implement strategies to support your child or student’s social emotional wellness? Attend an upcoming workshop!