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'Perfection disorder' worries school district

By Stephen Betts | Nov 15, 2019

Rockland — A dramatic increase in anxiety by students who are trying to attain perfection is worrisome to Loren Andrews.

Andrews is in a position to assess the situation. He is not only the chairman of the Regional School Unit 13 Board but he is a clinical social worker and parent.

"I really see a generation of kids stressed out, absolutely stressed out, about grades and this and that," Andrews said. "It's just not right."

The student representative on the school board, Lily Judecki agreed during a Nov. 7 school board meeting.

"Most everybody I know at Oceanside has a pretty large amount of stress when it comes to school," Judecki said.

Andrews said the district needs to redefine success for students.

Instead of emphasizing getting perfect grades, students should be encouraged to do their best but focus on what they want to do in life and then to work toward that goal.

"We need to de-emphasize grades," he said.

Andrews said the rise of anxiety disorders coincides with the rise of use of social media.

He cited studies that show a dramatic increase in anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts that coincides with the introduction of smartphones and social media.

One was a 2019 Reuters article detailed the issue.

“It suggests that something is seriously wrong in the lives of young people and that whatever went wrong seemed to happen around 2012, or 2013,” said study coauthor Jean Twenge. She noted that this was around the time smartphones became common and social media moved from being optional to mandatory among youngsters.

“It’s difficult to think of any other event that began around that time, and then got stronger on until 2018,” Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University in California and author of the book “iGen,” told Reuters Health.

Smartphone use has been associated with poorer sleep quality and fewer face-to-face interactions, both of which are deemed essential for mental health, the researchers wrote in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

A Pew Research Center survey from 2018 of teen found that the number one problem they see among their peers was anxiety and depression. Anxiety and depression was cited by 70 percent of students. This exceeded bullying, drug addiction, drinking alcohol, poverty, teen pregnancy, and gangs.

Andrews said students are comparing themselves to the perceived accomplishments of other students on social media.

Andrews said building face-to-face relationships is a key to addressing the growing problem of anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. He said schools can work to develop strong relationships.

"People with strong relationships are less likely to be susceptible to the negative impacts of social median," the board chair said.

RSU 13 has been in the forefront of putting an emphasis on social emotional learning, he said.

Social and emotional learning is defined as the process through which people understand and manage motions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

The district is working toward that direction, he said, by creating different academies at the high school where student can focus on a particular academic track.

Oceanside High School's freshmen academy is highlighted on the Maine Department of Education's web site.

"At Oceanside High School in Rockland, a system has been established that supports students to build a foundation of success as they enter High School and then encourages them to challenge themselves and focus their education on individual passions," the administrators stated in their article.

The system has been in place for three years. Oceanside’s Freshman Academy consists of the freshmen grade-level core subject teachers, the social worker, the student support coordinator, administration, and guidance.

"Over the course of a few weeks, they discuss every single freshman student, tracking their grades, peer interactions, attendance, behavior referrals, and social-emotional strengths and challenges on a comprehensive spreadsheet.  This not only allows everyone to be on the same page about kids, but it builds close relationships between teachers and all of their students. They are able to see 'the whole student' through the picture painted at the Freshman Academy level," the article states.

“No students fall through the cracks,” an unnamed Oceanside High School administrator states in the education article.

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Comments (8)
Posted by: Janice B. MCLennan | Nov 16, 2019 17:41

There is no computer lab at the high school, just a few very old computers in the library.  All students have iPads.  No phones in school would be a start.

Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | Nov 16, 2019 10:26

Perhaps I missed something along the way.  When did being a "perfectionist " become a social disorder ?  Look at the people worldwide that have made a real difference, most were perfectionists and the thought that we should "De-emphasize grades", well I think you have been reading too many books by college psychology professors from California. " California" there's your clue shylock.  Amy i'm right there with you on the screen time.  If you want to de-emphasize something how about screen time in school.  Let's bring back pen & paper and teach kids how to read and "write".  Just look at the beautiful new computer lab at Oceanside.  Another question for Loren Andrews,  why are students allowed to bring their cell phones to school ?  Hopefully this story is not just another attempt to increase the number of "special Ed" students in RSU #13 schools

Posted by: James Clinton Leach | Nov 15, 2019 22:36

Amy Files spot on !

Posted by: Barry Douglas Morse | Nov 15, 2019 19:36

Many studies indicate high school grades are a better predictor of college success than SAT, ACT, or other test scores. Some stress is normal. At certain times, a lot of stress is normal. Teachers, administrators, and parents should help students understand stress, to welcome it at times as a motivator, and to mitigate it when it becomes counterproductive. I wonder how many teachers or parents teach those skills.

Posted by: Deborah Clarisse Morrison | Nov 15, 2019 11:23

Starts by saying we need to lower standards because kids are too stressed about grades then the whole rest of the story is about how it is the fault of cell phones and social media.  Keep the standards up and get rid of the phones - there's your answer! - sm

Posted by: Christine Simmonds | Nov 15, 2019 10:32

Loren Andrews is a brilliant social worker and a great human being. RSU 13 is lucky to have him on their side.

Posted by: Amy Files | Nov 15, 2019 09:54

If anxiety is an issue... and we know that this is likely connected to increased screen time and social media... then perhaps we shouldn't be giving children ipads in elementary school? Screen time is screen time. And I know some parents would like that their 5 or 6 year-old has as little screentime as possible -- but then they go to school and are given an ipad in the classroom. I find this very troubling. Screen time leads to dopamine release... this means that the more screen time a child has the more they will crave... why are we fueling this addiction at such a young age in our schools?

Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Nov 15, 2019 05:43

"Social and emotional learning is defined as the process through which people understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions."

We need the example to start at the top of our country.  It isn't only our young people who are stressed.  Glad to see that RSU 13 is being pro-active.  :)

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