Much has been written on the pressure teenagers are feeling today, and I’m certain if you ask the students in your community they would agree. Academics, Athletics, and Relationship Pressures are consuming our teenagers. It’s important as Parents and Youth Leaders are trying to give students the “best of” life that we take a step back and recognize what kinds of pressures teenagers are under, and how we can help them cope.
I hear so many parents say things like These kids have everything today. This is the best time of their life. They have no idea what kinds of pressure life is getting ready to hand them. And in one fail swoop, we’ve nullified the idea that being a teenager today is different than when we grew up. The obstacles students face today are constant, real, and they have both good and bad consequences.
It’s almost silly to try and write a blog about academic pressure in the middle of the summer. Parents might think They get off for three months, how in the world can my student have academic pressure? But remember, academics includes all the resume building they’re trying to do this summer as well.
There was a day when a kid could grow up and explore the world with the eyes of a child. They had the ability to explore, dream, and create with little sense of the consequence of failure. Today, the world spins in a totally different direction.
As we put together our KIVU Gap Year program, we’ve been doing some inside research on students heading to college. Our program boasts of 100% of our students enrolled in college after they finish the KIVU Gap Year, and we’re interested in helping students that have their sites set on Tier 1 Universities. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Brown are the schools I’m constantly asking to help us understand what kind of students they are looking for.
The admissions officers at these schools sound like a broken record filled with useful information. They comment on students like this:
Every Kid that applies to our school has a 4.0 or higher
Every Kid has a resume filled with extra curricular activities
Every Kid has some sort of service included in their application
Every Kid has started a business or a non-profit idea to help their community
In other words: Every application looks exactly the same.
So the question I try and ask is What actually separates students to be able to have a chance to walk through the front door at a high level University?
To be a student in High School, and have a vision for achievement means you don’t have any room for error. You have to take the right classes, score well on the AP tests, and if there’s even a blemish on your record, teenagers feel like their world is crashing in around them. So for those who are academically savvy, they have an intense pressure to perform at the highest levels.
I often ask myself, I wonder if there’s a place in the world for students who just want to explore? Maybe their grades aren’t the only test we can use for achievement? Maybe there should be another way to get a student the help they need. Of course, our system says A’s pave the way. But what of the students who are creative and think outside the box, where are they supposed to succeed?
The intensity of Academic performance is unrelenting. It doesn’t mean they can’t rise to the occasion, but it does mean there’s a pressure to succeed and achieve in an ever more competitive environment. (I could write a book about how students feel this, so I’ll stop here for the sake of space.)
Athletic pressure obviously applies to those students who are physically active, but can bleed over to students who are content sitting on the couch all day as well. First we’ll deal with the Athletes.
Parents today have this notion that athletics can provide. Sports provides life lessons, physical activities, and if our kids work hard enough; they’ll be able to get a scholarship to College or maybe even make a career out of it. I’m watching parents spend an inordinate amount of money on traveling baseball teams, traveling soccer teams, and athletic camps that cost a fortune. All for the purpose of making sure their kid gets seen in the right way by the right people with the right opportunity to “make it.”
Now let’s be honest here.
Some kids were born to play football, basketball, or soccer. They just have the gift of speed, the necessary skill set, and the coordination to achieve. But some kids just have the skills to have fun and play. Some kids are driven to be professional athletes, and others are content with the church softball league.
When I go to watch kids play high school sports, I’m more than appalled at the behavior of the parents watching. Without exception, I’ve not been to a high school sporting event without some adult who thinks their kid is playing the World Championship.
Believe me, I understand teaching students the character traits of working hard, and being devoted. I believe in the competitive nature of life. But this has turned ridiculous. The pressure kids feel to perform well bleeds into their psyche about who really cares for them. They get pats on the back when they win, and often are left to deal with the losses on their own. REMEMBER, they’re just kids.
And for the teenager who seems unmotivated, the pressure put on his friends repels him from ever wanting to get involved. Some of the reasons our kids look lazy is because they’re smart enough not to engage in a world where every single mistake is going to cost them the belief that someone cares. It’s just too much.
We’ve got to go back to a place where kids can be kids. Or else what?? Are we going to have sponsors paying high schools for competitive programs. (as you laugh, google that one.)
It’s no secret that adolescence is the time when relationships start taking a different shape. Friendships become more important than they were in Elementary school, and boys start looking at girls in a different way. (and vice versa) Many of the faith communities use phrases like “Relationship above Religion” and to a teenager that makes perfect sense. They don’t understand the mantras used in religiosity, and they long to connect with someone, ANYONE.
The Pressure comes in part by the Social Media world we’ve created as a culture to stay in Constant Contact. There’s a culture of online relationships that requires students to update, post, re-post, like, return texts, and email?? what in the world is email anymore.
The speed at which students have to balance all of this is crucial. One missed text, and their friends think there is something wrong. One missed post, and a student may be un-wantingly soliciting some kind of online communication failure. It’s absolutely CRAZY. And then mix in all the pressures that you and I felt when we were growing up, and you have a ticking time bomb of anxiety waiting to blow.
When we mix all these pressures together, it’s no wonder students want to retreat in their room and play video games all day. After all, it’s the only place in the world they feel totally under control. Ask a student what they want to do for the summer and they’ll say, “RELAX.”
Much of my work is done in the summer, and I can attest to this need to just breathe. The old way of dealing with students, mainly Keep em busy and you’ll keep em out of trouble Is wearing down the way students approach life. We did a GREAT job at keeping them busy, now it’s time to help remind them they are Human Beings, not Human Doings.
When was the last time your student had a chance to just “BE.”
In our faith world, God calls it imperative to take time out and rest. But here in America, we’re just not wired that way. We keep pushing, searching, working, and producing until all the gas is out of the proverbial tank.
Today’s lesson: Let’s learn how to give our students some breathing room to explore who they are. There’s plenty of life to live under pressure. Maybe it’s time to revert back to kids just being kids.