I’m not even sure how the conversation started, but one day my eighth-grade boy announced he would be taking all AP classes his freshman year of high school.
He stated this to us with such determination and in a way that seemed almost non-negotiable. His plan was set. He had made up his mind amidst the countless voices surrounding him in our current academic culture that pushes kids to raise the bar higher and higher, sooner then later, faster than ever.
He’s smart and motivated and extremely committed to being the very best he can be. And I’m so proud of his dedication to being a good student and I’m impressed with his ability to challenge himself and think about his future, because I know there are kids out there who don’t. I know there are kids who struggle with academics and motivation and independence. I’m grateful he is who he is and I praise his efforts and hard work in everything he does.
But I also know what happens to kids who are placed under so much pressure to perform.
I understand the stress and anxiety that can come from a world that tells you to work harder, move faster, do better, and I cannot allow that to take my son down a path that gives him no room for him to be a kid.
Somewhere along the way, we’ve allowed the adult world to infiltrate our kids’ worlds and we continue to let it gain momentum every day. Every area of their lives has been impacted with a relentless push to live beyond their years, to push higher goals and stretch themselves so thin they snap from the stress of it all.
Whether it’s the sports programs that have grown to levels of training and competition that consumes the athlete’s time and attention, or it’s the often-threatening landscape of college admissions that seeps into every high school student’s academic world, taunting them with unreachable numbers of GPAs and SAT/ACT scores. It’s astonishing to me that a 4.0 GPA isn’t “good enough” anymore.
What used to be the highest level of performance that was once considered “perfect” isn’t good enough and our kids are constantly surrounded by this message every day. Those kids who have the desire and motivation to do their best have been given a “best” that is beyond their grasp. What a terrible set up for failure, for fatigue, and for a painful and overwhelming way to experience adolescence.
Our teens simply aren’t allowed to be kids anymore and it’s affecting their mental health in alarming ways.
I’ve seen it firsthand, working with teens. I’ve listened to kids tell me they struggle with panic attacks and ongoing anxiety because they just can’t manage their AP classes and extracurriculars well enough to get straight A’s. They are constantly pushing themselves to hit those sky-high magical numbers to get into those mountain-top colleges that they feel compelled to sacrifice their childhood for.
I’ve seen teen athletes under so much pressure they fall apart if they don’t perform at the level they are expected to in competition. They are consumed by their training and progress, their ability to reach the level of athleticism that is once again, beyond their years. I often wonder if there’s any fun in the sport with that kind of intensity.
I wonder if our kids are actually having fun at all during their teen years?
From Middle school through High school, the momentum builds and builds until our kids burn out or even worse, break.
And as parents it is so hard to know how much is too much? It would be one thing if all this pressure was coming from us, and I know for some kids that is the case. But more often than not, it isn’t coming from a teen’s parents these days. It really is the kids who are driving all of this, and we’re just sort of standing there watching a little bit stunned and confused and scared.
We’re trying to figure out if we should intervene and if so, how exactly. You don’t want to hold them back and you want to support their goals and dreams. But if all these efforts are wrecking them emotionally and physically, there has to be a point where we step in and protect them.
There is a point where we have to remind our teenage kids that they are just that, KIDS.
I’d hate for my teenage son to look back and wish he had a childhood.
Sure, he is extremely determined to hit those high numbers and take those hard classes and participate in those competitive sports, because that’s in his natural drive. I love that he wants all those things. It’s important to try hard and get good grades and train hard and have challenging athletic competitions too.
All of that matters.
But he has his whole life to chase big goals. What he won’t ever get is the opportunity to just be a kid again. So, it’s also up to me to save at least some part of his childhood. It’s up to all of us.
Many of our teenagers are in crisis due to this narrative they keep hearing about how they have to have the highest grades, play all the sports, join all the clubs, do all the volunteer hours, get the perfect test scores and go to the certain schools to be a “success.”
It’s time that we as parents start changing the story. We need to be the louder voice in their heads. They need to hear that it’s okay to be a kid for just a little bit longer.
We need to step in and open up room so they can make space in their lives for self-care, for age-appropriate fun, and for much-needed rest. We need to make sure that they are hanging out with friends, enjoying their life in this moment and doing those things that teenagers should be doing. You know, the goofy, silly, stupid kid things.
And yes, we need to be doing this even if that means closing doors to AP classes, competitive sports, or anything else that is detrimental to their health.
Because If there is one thing our kids could learn about being an adult, it’s realizing how quickly time goes and how precious these teen years really are.
This is a contributed post by Christine Carter. She writes at TheMomCafe.com, where she hopes to encourage mothers everywhere through her humor, inspiration, and faith. Her work is published on several various online publications and she is the author of “Help and Hope While You’re Healing: A woman’s guide toward wellness while recovering from injury, surgery, or illness.” and “Follow Jesus: A Christian Teen’s Guide to Navigating the Online World”. Both sold on Amazon.