I’ve been thinking a lot about the pressures on modern teens: to be “All in” for everything, and make it look easy. Back in the day, we did our school work and we maybe did a sport, or some other extra-curricular. We did it because we liked it, not because we felt like we had to. Unless you were one of the stars in a particular sport or activity, there was no pressure to do it. We participated to be a part of something.We didn’t start worrying about college applications in
eighth ninth grade! We didn’t feel that if we weren’t 100% committed to each thing we did, that we would fail in the big picture. Weekends were time for friends and family, winter and spring break was a time to go away, if you were really lucky, or to hang out with your friends more.
The pressure for kids to achieve and climb begins really early these days. They compete younger, and harder. They begin believing that their worth is tied up in all those bars they must get over, long before we ever considered that possibility. Today, teens begin thinking about AP courses from the minute they arrive at high school. Their parents start signing them up for more, more, more long before then. As parents, we drive; we push; we cheer; we cajole. We try not to feel guilty when our kids don’t seem to love all the things they’re doing, because it’s “so important” that they do all of it, and do it well. The competition to be a good parent is only outdone by the pressure to be a super star kid. You can’t just be “in” anymore, you need to be all in.
Last night I went to “Sports night” for the umpteenth time in eight years— since my oldest started high school. I’ve heard it all. I know the rules about attending practice, the strict zero tolerance for drugs and alcohol (never gonna be an issue with Little Man), the desire for parents to step up and volunteer, and the never ending chase for the elusive varsity letter. I’m approaching the final go, with my youngest, who’s a junior this year. This kid, my Little Guy, is one of the kindest, sweetest kids I know. He truly doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. He wants to fit in; he cares what other people think; he works so hard at school, as well as Cross Country and Track, but he’s not one of the alphas. He’s not that kid who’s gonna be a the super star at either.
So he does all the other stuff. He shows up; he works hard; he does his best. He wants to make varsity, but assures me it’s “never going to happen.” He does his best, and that is enough for me. The coaches tell us that this is enough to make varsity, and I perk up. “Your child doesn’t have to be the fastest, but they have to do their best.” Words to cheer and encourage my boy, I think as I listen. He can do that. He can work hard and do his best, and still letter. I felt relieved and happy, thinking about how to go home and help him feel good about his goals and efforts.
Then I heard something that I’ve heard before, but heard more clearly last night, and my heart sank… again. “If your kid is really serious, they’ll be here for spring break.” Ouch. The coach went on to explain that spring break is a very important time for the athletes, and not being there, says that they “aren’t really interested in being a serious athlete.” Big serious ouch. My heart dropped to my toes. I didn’t hear much else, and I left feeling discouraged for my boy, who works as hard as he can. But the message was clear: We’re not all in.
We’re not going to be here for spring break. We’re going where the sun is. We’re spending time as a family: to laugh, and play, and rest. We’re not talking about school, or sports, or any of the other things that make our days stressful. So my kid’s chances of getting a letter just went down, down— spring break may be the deal breaker. I felt sad for him, and I felt sad for us. I heard what the coaches said, and I could see their point. I get it. They’re not repeat State Champs for no reason. But, we’re not jumping through that hoop. So my boy swallows one more bitter pill, and we try to enjoy our vacation, and not think about the consequences.
It’s no wonder that our kids are all pushed so far, and feel so much pressure. They jump through academic hoops; they jump through the “what else do you do” hoops. And it never really seems to be enough. They worry about APs, GPAs, SATs, ACTs, PRs, and how to shine in a sea of shiny, while the bar just gets higher and higher. Some kids take it in stride, while others struggle to compete. It’s no wonder that as parents we feel guilty and stressed and pushed to help them get there. The world demands it. College admissions are tougher than ever, the competition tighter than ever. My boy will keep working hard; he’ll do his best. I’ll do my best to not help him not buy into stuff that makes him feel like he’s not good enough. I’ll remind him that his best is enough. I’ll continue volunteering, because I believe in it. But seriously, the bar is just too fucking high. TOO. HIGH. What more people? Seriously. Where does it end?
Do you have kids on the wheel? What are your thoughts? Is it easy for your kid? Or do they struggle to keep up? How do you keep up? Or are you staying out of the fray all together? Share your thoughts. Hit like. Jump in.
Check out Tales From the Motherland on Facebook, and show some love.