There was a three page article in the Sunday (1/26/14) Orange County Register by Jessica Terrell entitled “Driven to Cheat” about the recent cheating scandal at a local high school and others. The article focuses on the extreme pressure that students at top high schools feel that finds them “loading up on advanced placement classes, applying to more than a dozen colleges, and studying until 2 a.m. nightly.” We might well be there.
I don’t spend time worrying about a major cheating incident, but I do worry about the pressure our kids feel. And that pressure leads them to take heavy workloads, belong to numerous clubs, fulfill leadership positions, play on varsity and club teams, and be the best at everything including making straight A’s. This has really hit home to me as I have been writing letters of recommendation and school reports. And often the kids who aren’t doing this much feel like something is wrong with them.
The world has changed since I was in high school before there were honors and Advanced Placement classes, when you could attend a university without reaching such high math and science levels, and when a 4.0 GPA was so rare there was no one in your class who had one. We had one in my class…one. He was the valedictorian and we were amazed and oohed and ahhed about it.
But we have to remember that kids aren’t that much different than they were back in the day. They are still teenagers with the same (roughly) timeline of development with the same 24 hours in a day and the same needs for downtime, sleep and recreation. And I know that all of this pressure does not come just from parents or even from you. Our society and the kids themselves are doing a pretty good job of applying crazy high expectations. And this filters down to all of our students whether they are on this track or not.
The best thing I can say to you is be aware of it. Listen and watch your kids and encourage them that they are not their GPA (an artificial construct if I’ve ever seen one) and they are more than their list of activities. The grades and accomplishments fall away when a kid begins to crumble under the pressure or starts to evidence mental health issues. Depression and anxiety can be overwhelming and everything can grind to a halt.
I don’t want any of our kids thinking that they have to be perfect and be everything in order to succeed in this life. What they need to do is figure out who they are, what they want to do, how to get there, and that it’s okay to change your mind, too. It’s our job (it’s been yours for 17 or 18 years and mine for just 4) to help them get the skills to do so. And they are maturing by leaps and bounds. I can tell just by listening to them talk and remembering what 14 looked and sounded like.