California Craze Killing Youth

Lexie Reinecke, Staff Writer

While attending camp on the East Coast last summer, I was accosted with questions about a place I didn’t know much about. Are the beaches nice? Do you go surfing everyday? Are you friends with the lifeguards?

Somehow, all the girls in my dorm seemed to think I lived in Orange County. I had to explain to them, very carefully, that “no,” I didn’t surf everyday, and I didn’t know any life guards. I had to explain that I was from Northern California.

Somehow, there’s this misconception that California is beach-beach-beach and not school-school-school. I had to tell my new friends that I did not have tales of waterside s’more roasting parties on Tuesday nights.

National pop culture is a bit off the mark. We’re branded as swimmers, sailors, surfers, divers, and people who like to romp around in nothing but bathing suits.

Katy Perry’s “California Girls” branded us as people who party in open air Jeeps, wear Daisy-Duke’s with bikini’s on top, and who “don’t mind sand in our stilettos.” 2Pac’s “California Love” proclaims that we know how to party, and that we “keep it rockin’!”

With “western” states such as Washington and Colorado legalizing marijuana, California has also been branded as a land of the lazy and laid back, like in G-Eazy’s song “California Culture.” The lyrics say, “I like to drink, I like to smoke, I like to chill and get high. In my California state of mind.”

This view of California is not only inaccurate, but comical to natives. Despite our stereotype, Californians are some of the most intensely motivated people in the country. Just across the bay we have Silicon Valley, home to tech giants such as Google, Apple, and Facebook. The Bay Area also has some of the most competitive colleges in the country, like UC Berkeley and Stanford.

Here in Lamorinda, we have some of the most successful, high-achieving people in America, and we also have their demonically driven children. This creates a “pressure-cooker environment”: a community in which immense stress is placed upon children to excel in sports, academics, and just about anything else that will help get them into college.

These high stress environments have gone so far in some regions, to drive students to take their own lives. According to Penninsula Press, four Palo Alto teens from Gunn and Palo Alto High Schools killed themselves in 2009, two of whom jumped in front of moving trains. Events like these have raised concerns about what intensely competitive communities are doing to the emotional health of their youth.

Only miles away from UC Berkeley, parents in Lamorinda include Cal graduates, as well as graduates of prestigious East Coast institutions such as Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and Dartmouth. Why are these overachievers concentrated in our area? Whatever the reason, the clustering of such highly academically successful people seem to foster every escalating expectations for their sons and daughters.

Even though schools attempt to combat these problems with therapeutic electives like yoga or wood tech or art, in many cases, when parents are paying $400 an hour for private college counselors and SAT prep courses, and students are constantly comparing themselves to friends in a peer group the super successful, a few minutes of deep breathing and stretching isn’t enough.

“So, what is California really like?”

I’ll have to get back to you after my 10 hours of homework tonight.