By Stan Beiner
At The Epstein School, a private K-8 program, we prepare students to excel in high school and beyond. If we do not maintain standards of academic excellence, we would not have the opportunity to fulfill our other mission which is creating well-balanced individuals who will continue in the traditions of our people.
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 listened to countless teens talk about holding down jobs, staying up endless hours, falling asleep at their desks, padding their resumes, and trying to figure out HOW to get into their preferred STATE school.
Flash forward to the “perils” of university life where most students try to plan their schedules around sleeping late, working out, and avoiding Friday classes. They take four- five courses a week and have time for Greek life, dorm life, and partying. Plus, they enjoy breaks that are devoid of prerequisite work. How does this parallel the endless hours of high school work exacted upon students? The long list of summer reading books ?
The eight to nine hard core subjects being taken concurrently? The sense that there is no time for themselves? According to research done by the Atlantic, an online magazine, on an average, college students sleep 8 hours, study/attend class 3.5 hours, participate in sports/leisure 4 hours, with the balance devoted to travel, grooming, eating and work.
It would be disingenuous to say that college work 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.
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.
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.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog