The school and college board exams are around the corner. Capitalizing on that a sugary, fizzy, harmful for health, multinational soft drink manufacturer has recently released an ad campaign called “Release the pressure” where it appeals to parents to stop pressurizing their children to study harder and do better in exams. At the time of writing this blog, this ad on the company’s official YouTube channel had already clocked a million views, an indication of how successful the campaign has been. Many industry big wings and experts too have hailed the ad as “thought provoking” and “powerful”.
I beg to differ.
The intentions behind the ad are surely noble considering that National Crime Records Bureau reports show that exam pressure and pressure to perform are leading causes of depression and suicide amongst teenagers. What the campaign could have done better is that instead of asking parents to step back, release the pressure and let the children be, talk about how Parents could help their kids understand that stress is inevitable but the response to stress need not be. And that Life is all about coping with challenges thrown at them every day.
Look, the world is a tough, mean, nasty place and it is not going to get better anytime soon. So here are some ways in which Parents could help kids handle stress better:
Balancing Act – Do not overload the kids with multiple extracurricular activities. Keeping them busy always is not a productive way of coping with life’s challenges. Its ok for kids to be bored. Instead of keeping them out of your hair, you could plan more activities as a family. Maybe bond over meals and games and trekking expeditions in nature. You should restrict screen time for kids. Less of technology, less of TV, more of outdoor activities is good for their sleep. And kids who get enough sleep are likely to be less irritable and better able to handle stress.
Set an example – Stress, like smile, is contagious. If you as a Parent can’t handle your own stress, your kid will never learn to either. So the next time you are having a bad day, it’s ok to tell your kids why you are upset so long as you can put the situation in perspective. Your kids will also learn to communicate their feelings better. Sometimes, talking, listening and sharing is all that is needed to help a child. Thus, stress stops being a taboo word. Kids therefore begin to understand that stress (sometimes) happens.
Don’t Release the pressure – Stress is body’s response when it is forced to operate outside its comfort zone. Unfortunately, we as Parents don’t do enough to push our kids outside of their comfort zones rather we spare little effort in creating comfort zones for them. Parents must resist the temptation of jumping in and fixing things for their kids too soon. By doing this, parents try to release the pressure but inadvertently end up sending a message to their kids that says – I don’t think you can handle it, so let me. Instead, Parents should remind their children that it is all right to fail, to be uncertain, to be uncomfortable – it’s all a part of their learning, growth and development.
Warriors or Worriers? – Genetics research has shown that stress is not as simple as we have assumed yet it is also much more under our control than we imagine. Unlike long term stress, short term stress can help children perform better. The cure therefore isn’t necessarily less competition, sometimes it is more competition, but of the right kind.
Dopamine in our brains coaxes us to a reward and thrill seeking behavior. In other words, when we fall in love, satisfy that secret craving, lust for that fellow human, win at gambling, do drugs or alcohol, copious amounts of Dopamine is released in our brains. Soon our brains get addicted to it and force us to indulge in behaviors which will release more Dopamine.
There is a gene in our brains called COMT which plays a large part in why some kids excel under competitive pressure and others just wither away. COMT gene’s function is to remove the dopamine (stress induced or otherwise) from our pre-frontal cortex. Pre-frontal cortex is that part of the brain where we plan, make decisions, anticipate future consequences and resolve conflicts – in short, a sum-total of expression of our personalities.
There are 2 varieties of COMT gene: one that removes the dopamine fast and the other removes it slowly. Research has shown that under normal circumstances, people with slow dopamine removing COMT gene variant are better at reasoning, solving problems, figuring out complex stuff and determining future consequences. People with fast dopamine removing COMT gene variant, under normal circumstances are laid back and lackadaisical. To such people, everyday mundane tasks are boring and underwhelming, it doesn’t excite them enough to stimulate the sharpness of their mind which they are capable of. However, under stress the situation dramatically reverses itself. The person with the fast dopamine removing COMT gene variant performs better under stress. Therefore, kids who perform best in normal conditions may not be the same people who perform best under stress. Stress is good for some kids but those who are vulnerable to stress are at a disadvantage.
Remember, children do not think, act and handle stress like adults do. It’s our duty to help them identify, express their feelings borne out of stress and empower them to use positive remedial behavior.
Theodore Vail once said – Real difficulties can be overcome, it’s only the imaginary ones that are unconquerable.