“A top student, your classmate, has thrown himself in front of a train.” A somber teacher read the statement to the student body containing all too familiar words. It was November. A few days after homecoming and about a month before college applications were due.

In the last nine months, five high school students and graduates had ended their lives. Johanna, a high school junior lamented, “I have organized two memorial services for my friends and I am only 15 years old.”

This is Silicon Valley, the birthplace of the tech explosion.  Yet in this bustling world of cool gadgets and bright ideas the teen suicide rate is four times the national average.

These schools, transformed by the tech boom, feed some of the best universities in the nation, including nearby Stanford and UC Berkeley. Known for excellence in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), they provide opportunities to cultivate successful kids that most parents only dream about.

Smart, successful kids

The pace and the cost of living in the San Francisco Bay Area keeps climbing. But parents continue to sacrifice so they can give their teens every possible opportunity to succeed.

The competition is tough. Kids are placed into “tracks” in math and science and English. These tracks become a big part of their social identity.

Teams of students compete nationally and consistently place in the top 10 percent in biology, math, and robotics. The school musicals are voted the best youth productions in the San Francisco Bay Area. And that has nothing to say of the prizewinning apps and inventions created by individual students.

Amid all these high achievements from successful kids,  suicide casts a long, undeniable shadow.

I know what this pressure feels like. Raised and educated in the San Francisco Bay Area, I grew up with it. It drove me to do well in school and work hard in my career.

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Is it worth it?

But as I read the news of another suicide I started to wonder, is it worth it? And what about my kids? I have always pushed them to succeed, but have I been pushing my kids too hard?

God created us to live in relationship and community. Something within us longs for acceptance. I had always looked for that acceptance through my career. As I looked over the names of teens who had recently taken their own lives, God began to challenge my thinking. What I needed to do was look beyond good grades, Ivy League acceptances, stellar resumes, and prestigious titles. I needed God’s perspective on success.

Reporters asked Mother Teresa if she was a success working with the poorest of the poor. She responded, “God does not require that we be successful, only that we be faithful.” Perhaps the best career choice for my kids is to be in the integrity business—showing honesty, kindness, respect, and being others-centered. These are qualities that God values and rewards. “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).

Real self-esteem

God does not always reward us in this lifetime with the type of success that I might imagine. I need to be okay with this. Jesus is more interested in the development of the moral character of His followers. I can strive for achievement, but I cannot let achievement be the measure of my value. Psalm 139 says, “For you formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” God places great value on us simply because we are His.

My teens need to see that their value isn’t tied to their grades or what school accepts them. I need to encourage them to follow God’s design and purpose for their lives and not insist they conform to a specific formula for success.

Jesus promised, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). Why should the burden that we put on our kids be any heavier?

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