Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Mercer Island and Suniya Luthar

Here are my big takeaways from the Luthar talk on Monday night:

When it comes to risky behavior like cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs, Mercer Island kids versus national averages are:

  • Better in 8th grade, but much worse by 12th grade than other schools
  • Boys are the main driver of the poor stats.

As to causes and solutions, you have to take all these statistics with a huge grain of salt, but for what it's worth, Luthar's data seems to show:

  • Boys benefit from good parental relationships and a strong sense of consequences for bad behavior.
  • Girls benefit from having close friends who don't criticize them.

"Overscheduling" is a myth: kids involved in back-to-back after school activities and academics in order to get into college are doing it because they want to, not because parents make them. The real issue? Kids turn to destructive behavior when they feel they are criticized for achievements beyond their reach.

The most disturbing results from her survey of Mercer Island compared the number of kids with significantly worse behavior than the average. Here, something terrible happens between 8th and 12th grade, because the number of kids who are way bad is much higher than in other communities.

Much of the time was spent interacting with the audience, asking for people's thoughts on the causes, but most of the comments were anecdotal and, I thought, basically wrong. For example: "Girls are judged by different standards than boys", which is no doubt true but why would that be any different here than anywhere else? 

She ended the talk by acknowledging that some of the research was funded by the National Institutes of Health, but then she added: "but believe me, they couldn't care less about this research".  If you want more research like this, she needs a donor, because the government is completely uninterested in helping communities like Mercer Island.  Meanwhile, she wants as many people as possible to fill her on-line survey:

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