In the last couple weeks, amidst the pressure of finals and end of semester projects, I keep hearing parents talking about stressed out teens, as they tiptoe around trying not to give rise to another battle. Why are teens unleashing on their parents? They are overwhelmed, overloaded, and sleep-deprived, ceaselessly striving to prove their worth as measured on the next report card. Is this what youth is supposed to be about: late nights of homework, sacrificing face-to-face social time, pursuit of hobbies and passions, and precious sleep just to beat the curve on an AP test? What’s the point?!
When I recall my years at La Jolla High School, I remember most the first day of school in 9th grade, when then Principal, Jim Tarvin, stood on stage in the auditorium and in front of a doe-faced crowd of gawky 14-15 year olds, spoke sternly about the need to get serious now about getting into a 4-year college. Now, I’m not saying it isn’t a good idea to encourage high-school freshman to see their end goal of getting into colleges; however, the message conveyed that day was that there was a fierce competition between classmates and with ourselves to not fail. It was fear then that guided me through my high school years, accompanied by anxiety, body-dysmorphia, and an unhealthy obsession with “fat-free” dieting. And when I got accepted to UC Berkeley for college, it was not the achievement I celebrated but rather the loss in not being admitted to Stanford University, which symbolized true success, as measured by the US News and World Report’s Top Colleges rankings.
It pains me to see beautiful, young teens staring off like sleepless zombies, emotions pulled taut like extended bows just waiting to snap, because their lives are so tightly stacked with responsibilities and nearly impossible expectations. The worst part is that these expectations are not their own; they don’t reflect each individual’s unique gifts, talents, interests, and wonders. These are the expectations set forth by mainstream anxieties perpetuated by the media and teachers and principals, who are afraid of rankings and test scores and how they will affect their jobs and school funding.
As you review your child’s semester grades and enjoy a short respite in the freshness of a new semester, I encourage you to take a moment to celebrate the gifts your child embodies: kindness, creativity, sense of humor, philanthropy, playfulness. Step away from the hype about Common Core, APs, college acceptance rates, and GPAs, and have a light-hearted talk with your child about what he/she finds interesting in the world. You might discover that the child you see as an Ivy League hopeful, is really cut out to be a creative arts college student or young entrepreneur. And it’s our responsibility to make sure that he/she gets through high school with the confidence and awareness to pursue that quiet dream.