Life in the Fast Lane

Give kids a break on academic expectations

By Angela Switzer

The bell rings and your child quickly makes her way to the door and heads to an office located a couple blocks away from her high school.  bigstock-Stressed-teenage-girl-doing-he-30061988Here she will meet one-on-one with her math tutor for forty minutes before quickly changing and joining her teammates for Cross Country practice.  At 5:00pm, she heads home, takes a shower, eats a quick dinner and then heads upstairs to start studying.  With an academic schedule that consists of four AP classes, she has hours of homework ahead of her before she even starts to study for her two tests.  Yawning and trying not to panic, she opens the textbook.

This scene is not uncommon for many of our young adults today. With teenagers in the U.S. generally overscheduled and overworked, it might be worth considering for a moment how your teen is faring.

The extremely competitive nature of college admissions these days dictates to students early on that they must work hard if they wish to gain entrance to a good school.  We all want our children to succeed in life and have a rewarding career.  But the cost of this pursuit has its price.

These days, grade point averages are paramount, SAT prep classes and private tutors are the norm. There is the added pressure for kids to take part in extra-curricular activities, regardless of interest (looks good on the resume) and to join community service organizations (also looks good on the resume).  Our teens may even mold their everyday lives around their college applications.

Overachievers in this environment are able to work hard, stay up all night studying and learn how to jump through the necessary hoops.  However, their test scores may not be an accurate reflection of their intellect. On the other hand, students with less organizational skills, but deeper insight may be out of luck when it comes to good grades.

In their 2009 documentary, Race to Nowhere, parents Jessica Congdon and Vicki Ables, expose the weight of expectations and stress placed on our young people today in high school and argue that our children are stressed out with little time to be a kid.  Some teens even suffer physical ailments brought on by this stress. Increasingly, mental health professionals are seeing teens that are burnt out, stressed out and have trouble finding joy in their world.

As a result of these higher academic expectations, cheating in secondary schools across the nation is on the rise.  Here in Oregon, Mollie Galloway, an assistant professor of education and counseling at Lewis and Clark College, conducted research finding that 93 percent of students at a group of Oregon high schools had cheated in one way or another.  Many of those students when asked, said cheating is the only way they can keep up with their work.  Galloway says, “it’s cheat or be cheated.”

How do you distinguish between a high achieving child and an overachiever, you may wonder?   High achieving is certainly an admirable trait, while overachieving can be detrimental to one’s character.  The problem lies in the obsession with attaining perfect scores at all cost.  Few overachievers accept failure as part of the learning process. High achievers, on the other hand, see failure as just another opportunity for growing and learning.  Many overachievers feel good about themselves only when they get a perfect score.  Generally, high achievers’ self-worth is not attached to their accomplishments; they don’t need outside validation to feel good.

It’s important for our children to know that they are valued for their unique qualities and not for their GPA’s.  We as parents can emphasize that value by encouraging their strengths and not putting pressure on them to perform.  What’s right for one kid may be totally wrong for another.  Remember, the world needs young people with varying interests and vocations.  Make sure that the pressure you place on your child is more about building good character and developing values, rather than scholastic achievement.

Stress Busters for Teens:

  1. Make sure your teen is getting enough sleep.  Nine hours on average is recommended.
  2. Encourage study breaks to rejuvenate the mind.
  3. Institute regular family dinner times.
  4. Encourage free time on the weekends for hanging out with friends.
  5. Don’t interrogate your teen about homework or tests.
  6. Help your overscheduled teen pare down and prioritize.
  7. Offer support and understanding.

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