Letting High School Students Take Ownership of Their Journey

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The pressure to perform in high school these day is intense.

Kids are warned by parents and teachers that their grades matter from day one. Many of them are pushed to take as many Honors and AP classes as their schedule will allow. They start sitting for national standardized tests their sophomore year, which is intended to prepare them for SAT and ACT tests that most high school students now take multiple times, in order to achieve a score that will be competitive for selective colleges.

They are also instructed to get involved in numerous activities starting their first year.

Play a sport – or two!

Join a few clubs – and become an officer!

Do community service projects!

Try out for the play!

Participate in student government!

Work a part-time job!

Travel on a mission trip to another country!

Oh, and in your “spare” time, make a bunch of friends and find a date to the school dance that’s coming up soon.

Is it any wonder that our high school students feel stressed out with the heavy burden of expectations placed upon them, and their mental health is fragile?

It’s time that we as parents take a step back and look at the part we play in this four-year pressure cooker experience that high school has become.

Here are some questions to ponder surrounding your child and their high school journey.

What are the ultimate goals of a high school education?

Of course we all want our student to pass their classes and graduate from high school. But do we want them to push themselves and excel academically so that they can get into to the “best” universities? Are they willing to undergo chronic sleep deprivation in hopes of perfect grades and top test scores? Is it even realistic to expect a student to get an A in all their classes, including Honors, Advanced Placement, or International Baccalaureate courses?

What role should extracurricular activities play?

Many kids enter high school playing a sport they love, and they want to continue. Is the goal for them to be part of a school team, work hard, and have fun with teammates? Or are they wanting to push themselves even further and compete on a traveling club team, with the hope of getting a college athletic scholarship? Are you willing to spend a lot of money and sacrifice a great deal of family time for this experience?

Is your student truly passionate about joining multiple clubs or activities? Do they have the time and interest in attending frequent membership meetings and participating in fundraising events? Are they wanting, or feeling pressure to “pad their resume?”

How involved should high school parents be with guiding class and activity selections?

The push to be a well-rounded, stand-out college applicant comes from various places -parents, teachers, friends, and our competitive culture. We may not even be aware of things we’ve been saying for years that can influence our kids and result in feelings of performance anxiety.

Sometimes well-meaning adults can push a student down a path that isn’t right for them. Too many kids finish high school thinking that a university is the only option moving forward, when a different experience like community college, trade school, or the military might be a better fit for them.

We need to listen carefully to what our kids are saying about options for classes and activities during high school, and we need to let them be the guide in how they navigate their unique path. Parents should absolutely offer input and advice, but if a student is pushing back and is expressing feeling overwhelmed, we need to respect their emotional and mental health limits.

How important is your student’s mental health?

The typical high school student today experiences much more stress than we did while in high school. They are dealing with a highly competitive world and navigating the minefields of social media and 24/7 entertainment temptations.

Research shows that “three quarters (75%) of American high schoolers (and half of middle schoolers) described themselves as “often or always feeling stressed” by schoolwork.

Seven out of ten teens in the U.S. (between 13 and 17 years old) have named anxiety or depression as a major problem among their peers in the community.

While the college admissions scandal of 2019 illuminated the extremes that overinvolved parents will go to orchestrate a “better” future for their high school students, we all can take the lessons learned and apply them to our own situations.

It can be challenging to jump off this bandwagon of hyper competitiveness when it seems like most families around you are onboard, but high school is when students should begin to take much more control over their academic and extracurricular journey.

Having a powerful sense of self-efficacy and ownership in how their future plays out, results in happier and mentally healthier young adults.


Reference

Helping Students Cope with Stress in the 2021 School Year …, https://theimagineproject.org/helping-students-cope-with-stress-in-the-2021-school-year/.

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