We are stressing them out. And they’re going to burnout or breakdown before they even finish the journey!
My son is an excellent student. He is a unique 10th grader. He is conscientious, he has excellent time-management skills, he has good social skills, he does chores without being asked… He’s too good to be true! But this comes at a price. In addition to all of these wonderful things, he spends hours redoing school assignments to get a higher grade and stresses over what major he should choose two years from now so he can choose the right college in enough time to apply and get a great scholarship. He worries he’s not good enough or smart enough or won’t be successful enough. When I asked him what he wanted for Christmas he said nothing, just college money. Woah! Slow down mister! You have your entire life to worry about the big stuff. How about just being a kid? And yet, he’s not alone. His friends are the same way. It’s a blessing and a curse to be a smart kid, and I’m wondering if ignorance really is bliss. There are many high achieving students who are stressing themselves out. And we as a society are encouraging it.
I once knew a high school student whose parent worked at a very prestigious university which would allow the student to attend for free. Even so, the student pushed herself to take multiple advanced classes and get high honors as well as volunteer hours so she could get a scholarship. Why? She didn’t need a scholarship. She said she wanted to prove to herself she could. My son’s middle school science teacher told the class what he teaches now in 7th grade is what he learned freshman year of college. 4th graders are learning geometry. Kindergartners who didn’t learn to read in preschool are behind.
Why are we doing this? Why are we pushing and pushing and insisting they know more and more? I know what you are going to say. Because we need to compete with other countries, yada yada. But at what cost? Playing a sport and pushing to win, practice and games every night of the week, a different sport every season. High academics and volunteer hours and student leadership. Plus, they have to score at certain levels so the school gets accreditation and funding. It’s building and building and building and they’re not sleeping or eating right. Pushing harder in sports but not given the right education about nutrition and what a body needs to maintain that level of intensity. Or weight training without safety training. Or pushing themselves without teaching life balance…
How do you feel every day? How stressful is your job? Are you stressed? Are you tired? I’m sure you are. We all are. As a society, the pressures we are dealing with are more intense than ever. So what do you do to unwind? To relax? Do you watch TV, read for leisure, exercise, hang with friends, drink, eat, nap? Have you learned in your life that your body needs rest and a break from the pressure? Most of us have learned that and most of us know our limits and say I’m done, I’m just gonna sit here and veg for a while. But as we are teaching our children about competition and responsibility and what it takes to succeed, are we also teaching them how to set healthy boundaries, life/ work balance and self-care? I’m afraid we are not. I’m afraid we are pushing our kids to do more and be more than they can handle.
I am not suggesting complacency or lethargy or apathy. But come on, how about some balance? There is no way any of us would tolerate the schedules and work and pressure these kids handle every day. We’d balk. But they can’t. Because we have trained them to believe they have to do this to succeed. But do they? Do they really? Is it worth it in the long run? I’m not so sure. We told our son we’d rather he be a C-student and happy than an A-student and miserable. He said, really? We said yes. When these teens are shutting down, quitting, getting injured, getting sick, pushing back, getting anxious or depressed or suicidal…at some point we have to realize that they are KIDS, and being a kid just isn’t fun anymore. I think it’s time we as parents and educators and community members encourage downtime and balance. The whole idea of putting more recess back into the school day is fundamental to helping students realize they can’t keep pushing themselves without allowing themselves some breaks. We as adults know this because we as a society have more stress and high blood pressure than ever before and wait until a crisis before addressing the problem. I’d like to see us as a community be more proactive about teaching overall physical and mental health. It’s a sad day when I have to tell my teenager to stop doing homework, that’s enough. But if I have to push him to get a B instead of an A to save his mental health, I’m not afraid to do it. Perfection is an illusion.