Rev. Adam Greene, the head of school for Episcopal School of Jacksonville (ESJ), was sipping scotch on a duck hunting trip with parents when one father asked him to identify the biggest problem the school faces with its students.
Pondering how to respond, Greene ultimately said two words starting with the letter “E” that the fathers in the room were not expecting to hear: entitlement and emptiness.
“This is not a popular thing to say, but I think it’s truthful,” said Greene, who addressed the Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra Beach about the issue Thursday, Oct. 26. “All the negative issues we see with our youth come from entitlement.”
Greene told the room of local business and community leaders at Marsh Landing Country Club that America’s new at-risk kids come from affluent families who don’t allow their children to pave their own way. He referred to these parents as “lawnmower parents,” meaning they go out in front of their children and “cut down tall weeds” to ultimately ensure they don’t experience failure. This situation, Greene explained, causes kids to become entitled, which he then said often leads to a disturbing result: emptiness, depression and anxiety.
Citing statistics from a 2015 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey, the ESJ head of school said 31 percent of students in Duval and St. Johns county report they have felt sad or hopeless (29 percent nationally). 19 percent, he said, have seriously considered attempting suicide (17 percent nationally), and 18.9 percent of respondents of the CDC’s survey in the area have attempted suicide one or more times in the last 12 months (8.6 percent nationally). The disturbing statistics continued, with high percentages of students in the area not participating in physical activity and using tobacco, drugs and alcohol.
Greene expanded upon the numbers and referenced Dr. Madeline Levine’s book, “The Price of Privilege,” which ultimately explains that “bright, charming and seemingly confident and socially skilled teenagers from affluent, loving families are experiencing epidemic rates of depression, substance abuse and anxiety disorders at rates higher than in any other socioeconomic group of American adolescents.”
The reverend also pointed to the iPhone as a factor contributing to this problem, referring to today’s kids as the “iGen” generation.
“This generation is connected but disconnected to the larger community,” said Greene, who noted that the pull to social media has proven to be stronger than the pull to addictive drugs.
To the relief of those in the room, he said this is not a hopeless situation, however. The answer? Greene said it starts with parents allowing their children to live their own lives.
“It’s not our game on Thursday,” he said. “It’s their game.”
The ESJ head of school also advises parents to model being generous and loving, instilling in children that it’s a privilege to give back and that there is something greater in this world than themselves. In addition, he said repetition of positive behavior is important for parents to display to their kids. Lastly, he noted that it’s crucial that parents instill grit in their children, enabling them to persevere in life and work toward long-term goals.
“We want to let them fail and encourage them to attack those things,” he said. “Every one of you learned the most about yourselves through failure. What if we don’t let our kids fail?”