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Susan Parmelee
Susan Parmelee

By Susan Parmelee

On Monday, April 16 at 6:45 p.m., the Wellness & Prevention Coalition is pleased to announce that Vicki Abeles, director of the award-winning documentary Race to Nowhere, will be here to show her film and answer questions in the Little Theater at San Clemente High School. Abeles made the film for very personal reasons:

“Like many parents, I witnessed strain and fatigue in my own children as they navigated days filled with school, homework, tutoring and extracurricular activities,” Abeles said. “Then, after months of watching our 12-year-old daughter spend long evenings battling homework assignments, studying for tests and suffering panic attacks in the middle of the night, my husband and I found her doubled over in pain and we rushed her to the emergency room. Her cheerful façade and determination to keep up had hidden her symptoms from us, her friends and her teachers. When she was diagnosed with a stress-induced illness, I was determined to do something.”

Although the film is highly acclaimed and has resulted in change in some communities, the physical and mental health diagnoses related to stress continues to rise at a staggering pace in many communities, including our own.

Recently, we have experienced the loss of several teens in our neighboring communities. The expectations to succeed made by society, parents and teachers was repeatedly cited as a cause in letters left behind by teenagers who died by suicide.
These tragedies remind us of the need for change. It is my hope that as a community we can make change and not just have discussions.

For parents, an important part of change involves understanding how to craft our expectations of our children’s future to best meet their abilities, temperament, and most importantly their passions. In my work with youth, I often see kids who were pushed so hard in sports, the arts or academics that they lost their love of their favorite activities. For teens to thrive, they need to engage every part of their developing brain and have opportunities to try new things. Elite sports, arts programs and overwhelming Advanced Placement schedules often cause teens to give up or burnout.

Overscheduling a child, even when they show great aptitude for an activity, may result in withdrawal, substance use and health problems. Allowing a child to participate in a recreational league for a sport, to balance an academic load so they are not doing homework past 10 p.m. and to enjoy time goofing off are all important to a child’s success. Try to remember how great you feel when at the end of the day you relish having done “nothing.” Downtime is an important part of well-being.

As parents, we should try to remember to model good self-care for our children and encourage good decision making in scheduling our own time. One of the most important questions we can ask our children is, “Did you do your best?” When a child says “yes,” we have succeeded.

Susan Parmelee is a mental health social worker and one of the founders of the Wellness & Prevention Center, San Clemente. She can be reached at

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