Thursday, May 7, 2015

Craziness in Our Society

A group called the 247 composite evaluates and rates high school football players across our country. They rank them overall, as well as by position, played. These 50 or so full-time recruiting reporters have no difficulty evaluating sophomores, juniors and seniors, and even rate them by giving those stars-five star, four star and/or three star in their rating system. Now of course, how do we know if these ratings are credible [Do these ratings measure what they say they measure] or are they reliable [Is there consistency over time]? How do we know if they are really measuring the elite high school football player in the land as  they say they are; how qualified are  these raters that  pass on these judgments ; and is there universal agreement among the 50 raters? In any event, this is the system that is employed.

An athlete with a Five-star rating would likely get an inordinate amount of interest from college football programs. These coaches and football recruiters sell and/or market their program to the young 16 and 17-year-old kids. Who cares about academic qualifications [Values] if you’re a five-star athlete? Young athletic teenagers then have the problem of selecting what team to play for over the next four years. The goal for most of these five-star players is making it to the big time or the NFL, and likely not about pursuing a degree to get that “special” job. These kids are wanted, desired and heavily recruited. Our society values football and for the college and Pro’s it’s big business. So what could be the problem about fawning over these young kids? For one thing, their character development will catch up   [Me, me, me; others are very unimportant; and I can do what I want, when I want and not have to worry about the consequences] and impact them, if not sooner, but later. Just look at all the recent player suspensions in the NFL.

Well, there’s a group of privileged kids from the Palo Alto, California area that are a cause of concern. From May 2009 through January 2010, five Palo Alto teenagers committed suicide. Well, you might say that’s not a big number. The manner in which these adolescents committed suicide, was by stepping in front of railroad trains. And don’t forget, that in this community-many have almost perfect SAT scores, take advanced placement classes and earn super grade-point averages. Even, at the national level, the suicide rate among all teenagers has risen over the last decade. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate changed from 6.74 to 8.15 per every 100,000 Americans between the ages of 10 and 24.

Among high school seniors, the usage of alcohol and drugs were reported to be: 70.6% alcohol usage, and 34.3% marijuana usage. However, there have been declines in alcohol use, by 9th, 10th,    and 12th-graders. However, the data suggests that marijuana use has remained stable, according to a 2014 survey. Currently, the majority of high school seniors did not think that occasional marijuana smoking is harmful with only 36.1% saying that regular use puts the user at great risk.

It’s safe to say that alcohol use is dropping; marijuana use remains stable, but suicide has increased among our youth. Possibly, and more likely today’s parents and society are contributors, but not the only contributors. Tiger moms have been characterized as being overprotective and overbearing [Helicopter parents-they hover]; micromanaging, directing and pushing their own parental achievement goals while rescuing and not permitting them the ability to fail. Even though many of these teens’ lives are ruled and controlled by adult parents, many of our young continue to act out through oppositional behaviors such as alcohol, marijuana and suicide.

 On one hand, we have a group of kids having difficulty deciding where to play the next level of football [What college football program will further my career best] and on the other hand, we have kids who worry about not necessarily which college to attend, but try to determine the odds of being admitted. Some of these academic minded students experience panic attacks, stomach disorders, stress, and anxiety even though they have outstanding SAT scores, and terrific GPA averages. Is it Stanford or bust [In recent admissions, Stanford admitted 5% of its local residents] or is it the NFL [If a player lasts more than 3 ½ years in the NFL, its unusual] or bust?

Regarding income inequality, we have some conflicting data. There are studies that suggest that after earning $75,000 per year, one’s level of happiness does not increase. However, there’s some apparently non rational findings such as: 1. Even though the wage gains since 2009 have essentially gone to the top 1%-the proportion of Americans who say they are thriving has actually increased 2. In a 2013 poll asking Americans to name the most important problems facing the country, only 5% cited income inequality or concerns about the poor or middle class and 3. The Gallup poll did find that 67% of Americans were dissatisfied with current income distribution.

Can one thrive even though they’re not in the top 1% of income-of course?  How can anyone dramatically change the amount of income earned that would then place them in the top 1% of income distribution-not very likely? It is clear that money alone above $75,000 does not result in happiness as there are many factors that contribute to mental well-being such as happiness, strength of character, good physical and mental health and good social relationships.

There are some that believe that one reason explains why people can deal effectively [The dissonance] with the inequalities of income. A recent study in Pasadena,  California found that when these subjects looked at products and people that were considered” cool” that sparked a pattern of brain activation in the medial prefrontal cortex-a part of the brain that’s involved in daydreaming, planning and ruminating- similar  to when individuals  received praise. The researchers concluded that one possible explanation is the tremendous amount of available consumer choices. This likely mitigates feelings of resentment, envy and outrage. In other words, they would say that because we have so many “cool” choices [consumer products] in all areas of our life that it allow us to distort reality. And as result, this unconscious distortion tricks most Americans into believing that they are reasonably content.

It may not matter if you can receive a paycheck from the NFL; go to Stanford to pursue an MBA and work on Wall Street, because all you need to do is find a way to buy all these “cool” consumer-products-get that latest Apple product, or purchase anything you want from Amazon. Apparently, these Palo Alto teenagers did not buy this explanation of becoming happy.

Source: the New York Times, April 12, 2015- Unequal, Yet Happy and Best, Brightest- and Saddest?

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