Parents need to be aware of the heavy expectations that are heaped upon high school kids today. I have 3 High School children and I have been worried about all that is required of them. I’ve had to step back and look at what is most important for them as they grow from young adults to adults. All parents ought to pay attention to this, so that they can help their teens be mentally and physically healthy as they grow into adults.
Here are the basic expectations of High School kids today:
- They must attend school for 8 hours with a short lunch and no other breaks. (This is actually illegal in the work place. In the workplace, companies are required to give employees a 15 minute break for every 4 hours and a half hour lunch for every 8 hours worked.)
- They are then expected to stay after school a few days a week participating in sports and extracurricular activities.
- After that, they’re usually expected to have some sort of music practice.
- Later on they probably have to go to a part time job.
- After that, they typically have 2 to 4 hours of homework. If they are taking AP classes, they can expect 2 hours of homework per night for each AP class.
- In addition they are expected to be preparing for SAT’s or ACT’s. This typically involves taking a class and studying an extra 5 hours a week.
- People also expect teens to be home for family dinners, talk to their parents, date, go to dances, hang out with friends, and do chores at home. Some teens are expected to attend weekly Church services and mid-week Church youth activities as well.
- Despite all of these expectations teens aren’t considered good enough unless they are cheery, well adjusted, smart, hard-working, and serviceable.
Between school and homework alone, we are expecting our high school students to work what would be the equivalent of one full time job and one part time job. When all of the extras are added in, high school kids are basically expected to work two full time jobs.
This isn’t even reasonable. No adult can manage that sort of schedule for long periods of time without suffering in their family relationships and risking their mental health.
Palo Alto, California, one of the wealthiest areas in the nation, has had the tragedy of cluster suicide among teens twice in the last decade. Academic stress and teens not spending enough time with their parents has been discussed as two of the possible reasons for this.
Author Hanna Rosen describes the situation a freshmen girl from Palo Alto found herself in before she attempted suicide:
“In 2001, during her freshman year, Chiu decided to try out for water polo, because she’d been a ‘water baby’ and was still a pretty good swimmer and anyway couldn’t compete with the soccer kids who’d been playing since they were 6. She was also a Girl Scout and played trombone in the school jazz band, and then she got chosen for a role in a historical play, working closely with a teacher she loved. When the water-polo season ended, she joined the swim team. Most school days, she would swim from 6 to 7 a.m. After school she’d go to swim practice, then to play rehearsal until 7 p.m., then home to study. Wedged in somehow were two band practices a week, plus her Girl Scout meeting. Her parents were proud, but she began to focus on how it was dark every morning when she left her house, and dark when she came home at night. The words she used at the time to talk about how she was feeling were so mundane that you could be forgiven for glossing right over them—stressed, tired—but when she went on runs on the weekends, she’d often start to sob. ‘I was exhausted to the bone,’ she said. ‘I remember just not being happy about anything, and I just couldn’t make it slow down. And I thought there would never be any escape.’” (HANNA ROSIN, The Silicon Valley Suicides, The Atlantic, Dec 2015)
Rosen reports her discussion with child psychologist, Madeline Levine, who practices in the Bay Area. She reports that:
“the teenagers have no sense of agency. They still complain bitterly about all the same things, but they feel they have no choice. Many have also fallen prey to… a ‘mass delusion’ that there is but one path to a successful life, and that it is very narrow. Adolescents no longer typically identify parents or peers as the greatest source of their stress…. They point to school. But that itself may suggest a submission of sorts—the unquestioned adoption of parental norms.” (HANNA ROSIN, The Silicon Valley Suicides, The Atlantic, Dec 2015)
Parents need to take note of the time pressure their teens are under and guard their children’s time and health more closely.
For our children we have determined that while school and grades, church activities and part time jobs are important, the most important thing they can do with their time is to spend it with family. They will be leaving home and we want them to have happy and close relationships with us and their siblings. When the pressure is high at school, we insist that they skimp on their homework and instead spend that time talking and playing games with the family. While we make Sunday worship important, we let them know that extra-curricular church activities are optional. They can instead take that time to study or help around the home if they feel that is a more productive use of their time. The results have been good. They have been able to keep their GPA’s high, but with less stress.
The solution may be different for different families and different teens, but as parents, with high school’s already demanding 10 to 12 hours of our kid’s time, we must be sure to protect the health of our children.