Generation Stress? Expert has advice on raising resilient, successful kids


By Catherine Ivey Lee

Today’s students might be the smartest generation on record. Their IQs are higher, their GPAs are numerical masterpieces, and their resumes are bursting with achievement.

But they are also the most stressed-out generation in recent history, warned parenting expert Michele Borba during a recent talk at The Bishop’s School on “Raising Self-Reliant Kids to Strive and Survive.” WeCare, a consortium of six independent schools, including Bishop’s and La Jolla Country Day, sponsored the event.

“The American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics are saying we have never seen such high level of stress in our kids,” said Borba, an educational psychologist and author of 23 books on parenting. Having gotten into prestigious colleges, many of today’s best and brightest feel overwhelmed, anxious and depressed once there, Borba said.

Alarmed college counselors have dubbed them, “Generation Stress,” as well as “crispies” and “tea cups” — some students are burned out before college even begins while others break like china at the first failure they experience without a parent around.

It’s not just college students. In a survey at WeCare’s consortium schools, middle and high school students ranked “feeling pressure from their parents” and “time management” as their top worries, according to the group’s chair, Jill Skrezyna.

Why are kids struggling? Borba blames today’s pressure-filled and competitive culture in part. In addition, she said that despite their best intentions, today’s parents can make things worse by protecting their children from setbacks.

“Researchers are saying that what would really help our children above all else is not just to have that IQ and smartness, but the ability to be able to bounce back when the inevitable thing called a failing experience happens,” Borba said.

“If we rescue them along the way, we don’t build up what’s called psychological immunity. So when the real tough stuff happens the kid just falls apart,” she said.

Borba believes a better way for parents to help their children is to teach them skills to withstand life’s storms such as self-reliance, resilience, perseverance, even grit – a catchall characteristic being touted in this fall’s bestselling book “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character” by Paul Tough.

Borba’s advice for parents:

1) Start at home. Research shows that students with the highest self-esteem and strongest sense of character were raised by parents who showed unconditional love and acceptance, set firm, yet achievable expectations, and communicated openly and respectfully. “Kids say their No. 1 pressure is to not let their parents down,” Borba said. “They need to know, ‘I love you and I like you for who you are,’ she said. ‘I accept your strengths but I can also identify your weaknesses.’ ”

2) Build coping skills. Don’t rescue children from disappointments and failures. “Help them to recognize that ‘I can make it and I can survive it,’ ” she said.

3) How you praise matters. Citing research by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, Borba said telling kids they are smart or did a good job on a test is “actually one of the worst things you can do.” Praising outcomes teaches children that their intelligence and ability to succeed is fixed. By praising effort instead, children see the value of hard work, which will help them for life.

4) Say no. Today’s children are used to getting what they want. But delaying gratification builds determination and perseverance skills. If they don’t really need something, stretch out how long children can wait for something or make them put it as a goal, Borba said.

5) Help kids manage stress. Techniques such as deep breathing or yoga helps children get through stressful times, while being organized helps them avoid them. Teach students how to prioritize homework goals, to manage time and to cut back on activities. “Kids are desperate for time management skills. Help them,” she said.

Want to read more? Borba recommends:

•Her blog at

• ‘Mindset,’ by Carol Dweck