I was recording kids on their efforts in the Presidential Physical Fitness awards (remember that thing?) I had a group of kids ready to run the mile. Right before we were about to start, students came to me to tell me why running would be hard for them. One student told me their ankle felt weird. Another told me they run with music and they didn’t have their headphones with them. Another said their back hurt from playing with friends. Finally, one girl told me she had Runner’s Asthma. She said she had difficulty breathing when she runs. (Which, I might argue, is the situation of every runner.) Even with all these ailments, they did the mile.
The CDC says up to one in 5 kids experience a mental disorder. “Mental disorder” is defined by “all mental disorders that can be diagnosed and begin in childhood (for example, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Tourette syndrome, behavior disorders, mood and anxiety disorders, autism spectrum disorders, substance use disorders, etc.)” One in 5 is a lot. This list of possible disorders is a lot. Apparently much money is spent on the treatment of these disorders as well – $247 billion per year in medical bills, special education and juvenile justice.
The CDC also uses the term “experiences” a mental disorder, suggesting the disorder can be something that is temporary. However long the disorder lasts, the report says those dealing with these disorders have other issues that arise with them – trouble socially, learning in school, and long term relationships. There are usually other health problems too, such as diabetes and asthma, and mental problems as adults.
This is where I sound like a jerk.
Going back running the mile. It’s hard to teach a population of kids that talk of their ailments rather than their abilities. All of the students who told me their ailments either didn’t want to run because of the ailment, or were explaining why their running wouldn’t be very good. This situation goes beyond this mile and these students. Kids tell me of many reasons why they can’t achieve; all of the following are responses from students. “I won’t do well on this test because I have test anxiety.” “I can’t run hard in practice because I have acid reflux.” “I can’t deliver a speech to the class because I get head rushes.” “I wasn’t paying attention in class because of my ADHD.” (My ADHD, the ownership of it, is both empowering and despairing.) Please understand I’m not doubting these as issues (perhaps, with some I am doubting) – I just don’t think they have to stop achievement. In short, I don’t want kids to see themselves as broken.
I take heart in remembering that all the kids did the mile that day. Most ran the whole way, some ran and walked. But they did it. I don’t want children to feel they can’t achieve. I don’t want them to stop themselves from trying because of a host of problems they have. I want them to do what they can, know what they can do. And still try.
Still they run.