By Pamela Mayers-Schoenberg
“Our kids are our future.” This is something I hear constantly as a parent of three children. Nowadays, the expectations by both parents and society do not permit our kids to just be kids. By burdening them with overfilled schedules, social and academic pressure and schoolwork that gives them anxiety, we are standing in their way from having fun. We need to let it be okay for them to rest and relax, before we smother their creativity and love of learning.
Last fall, my high school-aged daughter was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). She had anxiety-related tendencies that were extremely disruptive to her daily life. At first, she visited a psychiatrist and began medication. After some time passed and she felt stronger over the summer, she decided that she would stop taking her medication. But when school resumed, her studies overwhelmed her and she was again working non-stop. Then one day, she fainted. She hit her head and ended up with a concussion and amnesia. She was very confused and upset, wondering what had happened to her. At the end of the day, she panicked when the doctor explained (and I reiterated) that she needed to rest, both physically and cognitively. She looked at us and asked, “What is the date today?” She was worried about the upcoming deadlines of her college applications.
What is happening to our children?
The extra stress causes illness and the increased use of medication. “Everyone is doing it (regarding taking medication), one psychiatrist said to me. “She’ll be at a disadvantage if she doesn’t take it,” the therapist said regarding my daughter having less success if she wasn’t on medication.
My older son had some serious gastro-intestinal problems, headaches and nausea last year. After numerous medical tests with specialists, it was concluded that he has Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). He missed twenty-one days of school. This year, he feels better.
My youngest recently took the I.S.E.E. (Independent School Entrance Exam). He was so nervous and scared that he would not do as well as his peers. He is an amazing eleven-year-old who does not deserve this much pressure.
Is success that important? Is it more important than happiness? Shouldn’t we want both? Do pressure and anxiety produce excellence or difficulties? As parents who are guiding our future leaders, shouldn’t we teach them that happiness and success are equally desired? I believe that the two qualities do need to exist together.
Too much anxiety can cause a breakdown and children have no real way to deal with it. Some kids become too social, pushing their academics aside, while others work too hard and abandon their social lives. When they are younger, we prepare them for the road ahead. In the later years, we can’t always pave the road as they travel through life. We are torn between letting them figure it out for themselves and hoping they have the tools within themselves to carry on and become successful adults.
The science of brain development has provided concrete evidence that there is real power in play. Play is the vital activity that children use to learn and interact with their world, while gaining the mental, physical and social skills necessary to succeed in their adult lives. Play is the work of a child — they are preparing themselves for adult roles. Play also has important links to developing key skills that serve as a foundation for life-long success, including critical thinking, communication, problem solving and collaboration.
As a photographer and artist, an educator and parent, I have created the multi-media exhibit, “When Did It Stop Being Fun?” that examines the changes of children’s emotions through their journey of formal education through their photographs, drawings, a video and an interactive installation.
The activity of making this exhibition helped me understand my feelings and I believe that my process also helped the kids involved. “When Did It Stop Being Fun?” discusses why education was set up in the first place, and the necessity for a set schedule. It begins with young, happy children who show pride in their environment, and transitions to kids in higher grades who are filled with anguish.
I invite you to come, see, experience, review and consider your own thoughts on this subject.
“WHEN DID IT STOP BEING FUN?” opens Saturday, April 16th, with a reception from 6pm to 8pm, at dnj Gallery, located at 2525 Michigan Ave, Santa Monica, CA. http://www.dnjgallery.net
Pamela Mayers-Schoenberg received her BFA in both History and Photography from Washington University in St. Louis and an MFA in Studio Art/Photography from Mills College in Oakland, California. Mayers-Schoenberg has been involved with several Los Angeles institutions including the Barnsdall Municipal Art Gallery for which she worked for the education department and developed elementary school programs. While with the Los Angeles Center for Photographic Studies, she assisted in organizing exhibitions and workshops and handled grant writing. She worked in museum education programming at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Skirball Cultural Center and The Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena. She has been following kids and their development for years. She opened the dnj Gallery in 2007.