With a deep sigh, we turn our innocent, middle school graduates over to high schools who will prepare them for colleges that don’t exist. You can translate that as heavy homework loads, AP courses, honors classes, multiple extra-curricular activities, and the stretch for the highest GPA possible. I have watched my own daughters stay up endless hours and fall asleep at their desks exhausted from their day of classes, extra-curriculars, and an occasional youth group event if time permits. Summertime is often filled with long lists of books to be consumed that are required reading prior to the beginning of the next school year. I have listened to countless teens talk about holding down jobs, padding their resumes, and trying to figure out HOW to get into their preferred STATE school. While many still strive to go to the Ivy’s and prestigious institutions, it has become a stress getting into the University of Georgia.
Flash forward to the ivory towers of university life. Most students try to plan their schedules to accommodate sleeping late, working out during the week, and if possible avoiding Friday courses. They take four, maybe five classes, a week and have time for Greek life, dorm life, and partying. What happened to the endless hours of work in preparation for college? The long list of books to be read over the summer for the coming semester? The eight to nine hard core subjects being taken concurrently? The sense that there is no time for themselves?
Well…as you can see from a chart prepared by the electronic magazine The Atlantic (9-3-12)… that is not what college is about and it has nothing to do with what happens in most undergraduate schools. Here is a big secret kept from students- they will get into college and most likely it is a college they are going to really like. Plus, they will get more sleep!
It would be disingenuous to say that college does not require hard effort and produce stress at times but it is disproportionate to what high schools purport to be preparing students to anticipate. A better focus might be on how to handle freedom while balancing leisure time and school work.
High schools are selling what they think parents are buying- a guarantee to the best college possible instead of helping children find the right match for who they are and what they want to do. And colleges are fanning the flames and promoting this pressure in order to get the best possible candidates.
The high school years should be about friends, sports, clubs, youth groups, summers off, and of course, school work. But these are different times. Last year, my wife and I were informed by the private school our youngest child attends, that tenth graders would now be invited to college orientation sessions. As parents, we responded politely that the only expectations we had for our 15 year old, was that she focus on her classes, play sports if she wanted to, engage and debate youth group politics, hang out with her friends and worry about boys. We asked to be removed from the invite list. The school honored the request and our daughter thanked us.
A few years ago, a film The Race to Nowhere made the rounds. Though it had its flaws, it highlighted some very important realities. I was most struck by what a high school girl shared with an audience gathered to hear about teen stress. She said that the most horrifying question high school students are asked is AND? You have a 4.0 GPA and? You are doing ten hours a week of community services AND?
There are high schools that are purposeful about the way they teach students to study, balance time, manage projects, and develop self-discipline. I wish that was the norm, but it is more likely that your child will attend a school that employs pressure and fear tactics to motivate its students less they be relegated to the dungeons of a two year college in rural Slovakia (okay- a slight exaggeration!)
We have to be careful about slinging around words like RIGOR, CHALLENGING, COMPETITIVE, and HEAVY COURSE LOAD when discussing college preparation. I am not sure that parents and educators quite understand the stress it causes. It is no wonder that cheating, eating disorders, and depression are more widespread than most can fathom.
As parents, we need to set boundaries for ourselves, our children, and our schools such as:
- Choose the right high school for your child’s needs which might be a deviation from your original plan.
- Actively review your child’s class load, sports, youth group, and work commitments.
- Monitor the language used in school environments.
- Continually take the pulse of your teenager’s outlook and perspective by having open conversations and listening to their concerns and frustrations.
- Become familiar with the signs of depression and eating disorders.
- Let them live their own lives and have their own dreams. The college or career path chosen by your child is not a badge of honor or shame that you wear.
- Assist them in developing time and cash management skills. Discuss the dangers of alcohol abuse and potential hazing brought about by lax college town and university oversight. These are the important life skills that that should be discussed in high school but are often overlooked.
- And finally, make sure you model that behavior by taking the time to show up at sporting events, programs, and plays without a cell phone in hand. Being available, being aware, and being an advocate are important ingredients for maintaining the sanity of a high school student.
If you can provide that perspective, your child will thank you when she is calling you from the college gym at 4pm before she heads off for a latte and her evening yoga class. You can view this blog and many more of Stan Beiner’s writings by visiting him at http://www.stanbeiner.blogspot.com