Our youth today are often under so much pressure to achieve, but at what cost? They are constantly being bombarded with messages of building their resumes, creating these stellar college essays and participating in SAT and ACT test prep courses in order to obtain the “perfect” test score. This type of pressure starts even before some kids hit elementary school! Many parents today put a lot of emphasis, effort, and planning into helping their children achieve more than just good grades, in an effort to secure their placement in what they considered a “prestigious” college. Some are even willing to lie, bribe and cheat to ensure their kid gets into these Ivy League schools. What are we doing to our children? What messages are we sending this generation of young people? In an article published in the Az K-12 Homeroom column called “Centered: Education Insights from Arizona K12 Center Leaders,” the executive director of the Arizona K12 Center writes, “I was shocked, though not surprised, to learn of the lying and bribery that some parents used to get their kids into some of America’s top-tier schools…they thought it was necessary to cheat and game the system just to attend a certain kind of university…Now more than ever, it’s important that we all take stock of our own actions as educators and citizens. Are we behaving in a way that aligns with our personal value systems? We’re living in precarious times, and our children are watching.”
Even our middle school students can quickly begin to feel the same type of pressure because 8th graders can take the SAT’s in the form of PSAT’s in the hopes that it will better prepare them for fitting into the college of their dreams. Add this with the many teen battles arising from simple hormones, grade performance pressures and tons of extra-curricular, competitive activities and you have a ticking time bomb and a recipe for disaster. You really have to wonder if the pressure to achieve, at all levels of school, especially high school, is really worth the stress it places on our scholars. With every level to have our children succeed, by any means necessary, it seems like adults dive deeper into unrealistic expectations and unhealthy and even illegal practices.
Is all this really worth the stress it places on our young people?
It is only normal for parents to want their children to do well. However, there still needs to be a healthy, practical, balance and a good dose of reality; it’s never okay to engage in criminal activities for the sake of college entry. There are plenty of amazing public schools, all over this country, for kids to find a school that meets their needs. We can also all agree that college is not for everyone, and that’s okay too. In today’s flailing economy, even those with college degrees are not able to find suitable work, and college by no means seems to indicate success later in life. Moreover, the pressure on students to get good grades for the sheer sake of college seems counter-intuitive when we tell our children to work and study in areas that they are both passionate in and capable of doing well. When we apply all this pressure on our high school students, we are really setting them up to fail. They become so lost in the process; they begin to lose their sense of self-worth, and what they actually want for their future. There are many pathways to success and many career opportunities. A traditional 4-year college is not the only avenue or bridge to success.
As parents and educators, we should advise and guide our children. However, it is vitally important to keep all options and doors open for them. Truth be told, our young people have no real idea of what they want to do or be when they “grow up,” and graduate. Even though it may be hard sometimes for our kids to see all the different opportunities this world has to offer, as parents and educators, it is up to us to assist our young people in unlocking and utilizing their talents, passion and drive as a barometer for helping them make choices. College is absolutely beneficial, but it should not be the sole focus and only barometer of success during high school.
If the pressure to achieve, do more, and become more at a young age is too great, our youth will absolutely crack from the pressure. In some cases, as we see in the national news, some parents have also allowed the pressure to impact their integrity and morals.
Rebecca Sauerbrunn, American soccer player and Olympic gold medalist, once said, “Success doesn’t motivate me as much as integrity does. Everyone loses. I enjoy the pressure of showing up every single day, being focused, putting forth my best effort, getting the best out of my teammates, and enjoying the journey.” Our young people need to be able to enjoy the road and journey to their dreams without being flooded with unhealthy messages of this “all or nothing” culture.