Maybe it’s revisionist.
But I don’t remember being stressed out as much as my teenage students seem to be. I mean, when I was in high school, there were these things called “D’s” that allowed you to pass a class with a 60. Sure, they brought your GPA down but you could easily balance that out with the “A” in Athletics or Art you knew was coming. Sports had seasons that began/ended with a week off or so in between those seasons. Oh, and you played the sports because they were fun. You didn’t play on a “select” team to get into tournaments to get seen by scouts. If you weren’t in a club, you got to stay in homeroom for club period, which was twice per month (which, me & Molly Martin managed to create “Homeroom Club” for four consecutive years). There were two kids in my graduating class that had better than a 4.0 GPA because they took some advanced placement classes. We had time to get part-time jobs–in fact, in my circle of friends it was expected by our parents. Getting into college was expected in my circle, too. But there wasn’t an emphasis on GREAT schools. You just took the ACT, let the numbers narrow your options or open other doors, and made decisions accordingly.
And our parents weren’t stressed out by our teenage years, either. They didn’t live vicariously through us. My mom barked at the D in biology (seemingly ignorant of the A in Athletics) but signed the report card anyway. She might’ve said something like, “Well, they’re your grades and if you want to go through life digging ditches, that’s your business.” And she NEVER knew what grades were coming home until the six weeks grading period ended. They only started sending fail notices home at the 3-week mark after I graduated. Our parents showed up at our games and a few dads helped out with practices and such, but private coaches? Our private coaching lessons were home run derby games with tennis balls & aluminum bats. We were in clubs because the topic interested us or the teacher asked us. Or we weren’t. We had jobs when we got old enough because our parents weren’t going to let us sit around all weekend and do nothing. Nobody in our class knew what their class rank was until the last six weeks when they announced the top 10 and all that. Everybody I knew got into college. Some went. Some didn’t. But parents didn’t even know whether or not we’d even signed up to take the ACT, much less when the date was or sign us up for some classes to do better on it. My mom didn’t know I’d gotten my automatic acceptance letter to Auburn except for the fact that I left it on the table and she was about to throw away the trash and read it first (this was three days after I’d opened it and already told all my friends).
This isn’t to say that we didn’t have age-appropriate stress. Sure, there were some tests we knew we needed to buckle down on our we would fail the class and not be eligible for sports. There were dating issues and break-ups and all the drama that goes with that. There were hassles with parents and bosses. Cars broke down and you had to pay that running the stop sign ticket and insurance was due and you had to grab some more hours. There was the new Bible study you were going to that added to your “to do” list. Sometimes you overcommitted to help with the homecoming float and forgot you had to work and forgot you told your parents you’d help out with driving your sister’s friends to the movie (and get them tickets since you worked at the theatre and could get them free & some free popcorn). There were big games won and lost. There were band competitions where they did better or worse than expected. There were college options you couldn’t afford but desperately wanted to attend so you started figuring out ways to make that happen. It wasn’t all roses in suburban Birmingham, Alabama. But it was, overall, pretty comfy.
But what I see these days, highlighted by last night, is that everybody’s stressed.
Teens are stressed because of overcommitment to everything to get their future squared away. In fact, in the last two months I’ve been working with teenagers again full-time, I’ve seen four that have been to doctors thinking that they might have food allergies or vitamin deficiencies only to discover the cause of their physical issues was stress-related.
Parents are stressed because they are managing their kids schedules and grade–they check them on-line daily–and driving and repeating the process with one or two other kids. Then they contribute to the kid’s stress by reminding them of how important the “now” is to their future happiness. I mean, don’t you know that if you don’t do well on the PSAT you won’t get early acceptance to college and you’ll have to wait a year for the SAT and all the good spots will get taken by the top 10% of the class and then you won’t get a good job and live in the suburbs, so you better buckle down and move up 23 spots in class rank so you can get into the top-10 and just in case you better join two more clubs that don’t interest you but will look good on your resume?
And teachers don’t help with trying to convince kids that making the robot work is more important than anything else you’ve ever done in your life and the competition is this weekend. Coaches don’t help with “voluntary” summer workouts that last 9 weeks. Band directors skirt the “8 hour extracurricular rule” by exploiting a loophole and have kids in parking lots until they lose daylight. Yearbooks are such high quality they require nearly 40 hour work-weeks by 40 people for 25 weeks. School newspapers are awesome…looking like Rolling Stone magazine…which takes hours of work.
But last night, my daughter got home from her 7PM ending meeting, my wife got home from her 7PM ending job, my other daughter got home from her 7PM ending dance class, and I got home from my job responsibilities that ended close to 7PM.
All of us.
In one room.
At the same time.
And all anybody wanted to do was decompress. We did it in various ways. Spent some time together. Laughed some. But then some read. Some got on line. Some got caught up on DVR’d shows. Some went to bed.
What scares me is that Friday nights used to be a time when you wanted a break from the hum-drum routines of life and wanted to go out and do something special.
And it hit me that what we were doing was precisely that.
And it hit me that I don’t have any solutions, either.
Resolved: Work on some.