I sat with a group of parents recently at a senior banquet. As some photos flashed up on the screen, I could see some of my friends’ eyes well with tears and a few dads patting each other on the back.
“I can’t believe it’s all over,” one mom said.
“I just don’t want it to end,” said another.
And the only thing that swirled in my brain was, “I can’t wait for my son to get out of this place.”
All high school experiences are not the same.
Let me start by saying I know I should be sad that this part of his life is over. I know I’m supposed to be lamenting over elementary school photos and celebrating his achievements and regaling in the last four years.
But the truth is, I don’t think I’m the only parent who is happy high school is finished. It’s not the most positive experience for a lot of kids.
Sure, there were great moments. I saw my son achieve some terrific milestones in music, sports, and academics. He had a teacher who encouraged him to find his passions and a few great friends who supported him along the way.
But mostly, it was hard on him and on me.
Why is high school so hard on our teenagers?
High school just isn’t the same as when we were kids. It’s more dangerous and demanding. Here are my top reasons why I’m not sad high school is over for my teen:
The thing I hated the most about high school was how stressed it made my son.
While he claimed that I did not pressure him, he said he felt it in all of his classes, mostly from his peers. There was constant chatter about getting into college, taking the hardest classes, and “building a resume.”
He constantly heard words like “rigor” and “challenging” when it came to academics and needed to justify his selection of grade-level classes to department heads who seemed to be disappointed when he didn’t elect to take every honors class.
It’s not just hyperbole. The National Center for Education Statistics reviewed recent high school transcripts and found that high school seniors were taking an average of 27.2 credits, a big increase from the 23.6 credits that was common among seniors in 1990. What’s more, 13 percent of students undergo a rigorous course schedule, compared to just 5 percent in 1990. Even gym class is now more focused on literary skills than movement.
It’s also not enough to have a great GPA. Today’s teens also need to fill every waking hour with some activity, from playing sports to being in special interest clubs, volunteering for countless hours of community service, and mastering a musical instrument or language. It’s too much for their developing bodies and teenage brains.
By the time my son started applying to colleges, he was convinced that he would not get into a single one. And if he did, we couldn’t afford it.
He completely stressed himself out and it was difficult to get him out of that negative thinking.
Our neighbor’s college-aged son was home for Spring Break a few weeks back. I asked him how life was going at the small university he was attending, and he replied: “It’s great! So much better and less stressful than high school.”
He went on to explain that while the coursework was hard, it was more to his interest and he enjoyed his classmates so much more even though they were very different from his high school friends.
I watched as some of the tension in my son melted.
Related: Our Teens Are Completely Stressed Out: Here Are 7 Simple Ways to Help
Finding the right people
Let’s be honest, we can’t expect to force 2,500 kids into a school, randomly assign them classes, and then expect them to find lifelong friends who will support them.
Each year, my son would dejectedly come home after the first day of school and tell me how none of his friends were in his classes. I always encouraged him to try and make new ones, but the cliques in his school were strong, and trying to break in just didn’t seem worth it to him.
He did not like the pressure he felt to go over-the-top on homecoming dances, proms and other events, so he often chose not to participate.
He seemed to have enough friends, but he said that it was hard to make close friends at his school. It can be tough to reach out to someone else whose nose is always in their phone or talking to someone else. And teachers have so much on their plates that it can be hard for them to facilitate these sorts of relationships.
Even though my son was active, high school was a lonely place for my teenager, and I’m hopeful college will open new doors for him.
Related: Dear Teen: Sometimes You Don’t Find Your People in High School
Sorry, but this one is true. Many helicopter-type parents are ruining the high school experience for other kids.
Whether it is on the sports field, social media, or school events, many parents are obsessed with ensuring their kid gets whatever they feel they deserve.
For example, so many parents were dropping things off to their kids–ranging from Starbucks and Jimmy John’s sandwiches to books and sports gear–that our principal had to have a hard and fast rule that parents were no longer allowed to come to campus during the school day because it became so disruptive. He also was trying to tighten up security.
One day my son’s contact lens popped out, and his eye was red. He asked if I could drop off his glasses. As I walked into school and headed to the nurses office, I watched another parent berate the school secretary because she could not drop off something she thought her daughter needed for class. The mom continued for at least ten more minutes until the principal walked out and took her into his office. It was a form of verbal abuse like I had never seen before.
Parents seem entirely overly invested in the performance of their high schoolers, and when things don’t work out, they are willing to lash out at everyone and anyone in their path.
High school is a fishbowl.
Between the cameras at school, on every corner, and the ones their peers have incessantly on, high school is like living in a fish bowl where every move is documented.
There are people who love to catch teenagers on their Ring doorbells and then shame them on social media (yes, quite often they are doing something wrong, but social media shaming is disturbing and can ruin a teen’s life forever.)
There are students who share unflattering photos of others on anonymous social media accounts.
There is horrible harassment and bullying occurring on text chains and Snaps and Twitter every single day.
Most parents live in fear that their teen will be documented doing something dumb that changes the trajectory of their life.
When I was in high school, if I did something stupid, I knew it would blow over in a few days. Now, kids are constantly under a microscope with very little room for error. Every flaw, every misstep, every idiosyncrasy is magnified and on constant display to the world.
They don’t get enough sleep
There are so many reasons high schoolers don’t get enough sleep, and it’s definitely impacting their physical and mental well-being.
I blame much of it on their phones, but it’s also their workload. Many kids go to school for eight hours, attend a practice or activity, and then come home to do a few hours of homework. Many also have a part-time job.
We don’t encourage balance for our high schoolers, and their sleep is suffering because of it.
Related: Teens Have Bad Sleep Habits, But It’s Not All Their Fault
I’m proud even though I’m not sad high school is over.
Graduating high school is a significant achievement, and I’m proud of my son and his classmates.
I know that all the drama, mistakes, and issues he faced in high school were a learning experience, and it will serve him well in the next chapter, but that doesn’t mean that I’m sad that it’s over.
I’ll miss my son when he goes to college next year, but I won’t miss high school.
If your teen had a positive experience, I am thrilled for you.
For the rest of you who feel like me–and I know you are out there- I simply say solidarity.
And peace out.
Parenting teens and tweens is hard, but you don’t have to do it alone. Here are some other posts parents found useful.
Don’t Let Fear of an Empty Nest Ruin the Beautiful Moments You Have Now
More Than 15 Fun And Unique High School Graduation Party Ideas
I Refuse To Let My Teen Burn Out from Academic Pressure
Six Simple Ways to Support Your High School Junior During This Crazy Year
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