NBA player Jeremy Lin, Christian counselor share hope for Silicon Valley teens

by Tobin Perry, |
Charlotte Hornets guard Jeremy Lin (7) fights Toronto Raptors forward Patrick Patterson (54) for the rebound during a game at Time Warner Cable Arena. | Sam Sharpe/USA TODAY Sports

PALO ALTO, Calif. (Christian Examiner)—According to an NBA player and a Christian counselor familiar with the high-pressure world of California high schools, there's hope for Silicon Valley students—and their families—mired in an always-present suicide crisis.

I realized that even though there was pressure to be great, I had to make a personal choice not to define myself by my success and accomplishments.

If anyone should know the pressures that come with high school life in one of the most competitive and high-achieving communities in the United States, it's Jeremy Lin. The Harvard-educated NBA guard attended Palo Alto High School, on the outskirts of California's Silicon Valley.

That's why, when Lin read the recent cover story in the Atlantic detailing the academic pressures of area students that have often led to depression and even suicide, he chimed in with a heavily-shared Facebook post explaining his own struggles with extreme stress as a teenager.

"My thought process was that every homework assignment, every project, every test could be the difference. The difference between a great college and a mediocre college. The difference between success and failure. The difference between happiness and misery," Lin wrote in a post that has been shared nearly 2,000 times.

The committed evangelical Christian went on to share the memory of waking up on Sunday nights covered in sweat from nightmares that he had just failed a test.

The Atlantic article centered on suicide clusters in the intensely competitive world of Silicon Valley high schools. According to the article, suicide clusters are "defined as multiple deaths in close succession and proximity." Though they feed specifically off of viral news via social media, the magazine suggests it's the high pressure students feel in the area that make them particularly vulnerable.

The article reports that the two public high schools in the Palo Alto Unified School District—Henry M. Gunn High School and Palo Alto High School—have 10-year suicide rates that are four to five times the national average. According to a 2013-14 survey of Palo Alto High School students, 12 percent of students had seriously considered suicide.

Home of some of the world's largest high-tech companies and thousands of startup companies, Silicon Valley includes parts of or most of Santa Clara County, San Mateo County and Alameda County, according to Wikipedia. It's also home to Stanford University.

Debbie Steele, a Bay-area counselor who teaches Christian counseling at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif., didn't seem surprised by the kind of high pressure and resulting suicidal tendencies discussed in the article. She has seen it in her own practice. She also knows Silicon Valley isn't the only place in the country with teens struggling to come to terms with high-achiever stress. It's largely an American problem.

Often, parents don't recognize the high-pressure problem and are often major contributors to the pressure, she says.

"They're often doing the things they know to do as a parent, basically whatever their culture has taught them to do in raising kids," Steele said. "They're really blind to any kind of idea that it may be coming from their expectations They're thinking, 'Well, all my expectations are for you because I want you to be successful. I want you to be able to reach your potential in life.'"

Steele urges parents to focus on developing a stronger relationship with their children and break habits that lead to negativity.

"What is happening in your relationship with them?" Steele asks parents. "Do they feel supported? Do they feel attached? Do they feel connected? Do they feel alone because they don't feel like they can come to you?"

Ultimately, she says, want stronger bonds with their overwhelmed children—and for them to be closer to God. When youth feel as if they have a stable, trust-filled relationship with their parents and their Creator, they are much more apt to develop healthy thoughts and attitudes about themselves and their future.

Lin shared on Facebook about how the suicide of a friend in high school helped him turn the corner toward a healthier perspective about academic achievement. After that experience, he began to notice how many people around him were burying pain instead of dealing with it.

"As each year of high school passed by," he wrote on his Facebook page, "I realized that even though there was pressure to be great, I had to make a personal choice not to define myself by my success and accomplishments. I learned through my brother, my pastor and my friends that my identity and my worth were in more than my grades."

While Lin still chases big dreams, he writes, "I know that success and failure are both fleeting."