It’s back to school time…. and teens tend to travel in packs. Since I have one of my own, I hear countless complaints about school (from others and my own): “I hate school”, “My parents make me take honors classes and I hate it”, “I have no time for anything”, “I’m going to be in so much trouble for getting anything less than an A on my test”, “I have to get good grades so I can have a social life”…. and on and on.
How did our society get to the point of high school aged kids frenzied and spending their days mired in stress, with the singular goal of getting into the “right” college? Our children have quit living for today, and started looking only at their futures. Every decision carefully weighed against how it might “look” on a college application. Social lives, childhoods, and all the fun parts of being a teenager are becoming a relic of the past – being replaced with the ultra-competitive Tiger Mother movement.
Parents and these new narcissistic social media platforms are largely to blame. We’ve become very good at vicariously living through our children. We want better for them – even if we have a perfectly happy life. Go to any sports event or PTA meeting and you’ll see what I mean. Parents passion from the sidelines quickly turns ugly, and parents refer to their children and selves in plural form (“we’re going into second grade”). We’ve also mastered the humblebrag on our social media outlets – “ugh, I just have no idea how I’m going to pay for little Susie’s Prestigious School tuition!”
My theory of how this came to be, is that we are the results of the highest divorce rates and dual working parents generation yet. I’m talking to you Gen X and early Millennials. We are the latch-key generation, and somehow we’re making up for all the games our parents were too busy to attend, by hovering so lowly that our kids are crumbling under the pressure of our intense gaze. Humans are complicated creatures, and unresolved issues manifest themselves in mysterious ways.
We have to let go. There is no right way for any one student. Honor the individuality of your child, and for Pete’s sake – STOP DOING THEIR PROJECTS FOR THEM. We’re wiring our children with a paralyzing fear of failure. Teach them to fail – it’s difficult to know that your kid will fail and you see it coming. Remember, those lessons are just as valuable as the successes, probably more so. They need to learn to fail to truly appreciate the feeling of success.
The stress some of these kids are putting themselves under is taking its toll. It has become life or death frightening. In my region of the world (an alpha-dominated area close to Washington D.C. ) suicide rates are up – causing a very permanent solution to a temporary and self-fabricated problem. According to the Center for Disease Control, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people between 15-24. Teens brains aren’t fully developed yet, and they often have poor decision-making skills. If you do nothing else with this post tell your kids you love them, and that suicide is never the answer. Ever. Don’t push them into a mold that they aren’t meant to fit. Let go to allow them the room to find their own way – it’s often someone you will adore and would never expect.
Let’s say you had your heart set on your child going to Stanford. But, they come home and tell you they want a gap year, and have no intention of immediately applying to a college. Or, that they want to work, and pursue an untraditional online education – or no higher education at all. Before you react: Pause. Breathe. Honor your child’s individuality. They care more about your opinion than you can imagine. Support them, and be a safe place for them to share their dreams of who they are becoming. If they want to do something other than the traditional college route, suggest that they keep moving forward in their education while they figure out who they are – and love them every step of the way.
“No one should part with their individuality and become that of another.“
– William Ellery Channing