Have I Got a Job for YOU!!

What if I told you that I have a job for you?  Here’s the description of the hours:  you’ll work 8am-3pm with one 10 minute break in the morning and you’ll have 30 minutes to eat lunch.  You got off early, which is great!  You will, however,  have at least 3-5 hours of work to do at home each day (often more) and it will be due on one of the next two days.   By the way, this job pays nothing.

Welcome back to school!  The above paragraph, unfortunately, describes exactly what most kids face during their four years in high school.  This scenario doesn’t include time for any extracurricular responsibilities,  personal interests, family gatherings,  or self-care.  With that much work to do, how can anyone squeeze in anything else?

In my office last week, I saw one 17 year old who had dropped out of school, one girl who was struggling with anxiety and sleep disturbances generated by managing homework, a high school junior who was having difficulty sleeping due to stress, and one young man who admitted that he was struggling with deep depression and had entertained thoughts of suicide over the summer, in part because he was struggling to do his summer homework. He also revealed that he was already way behind in two classes in addition to having not done his summer assignment. By the way, school started the week before last . . . on Wednesday.

As a mom, I was always frustrated, angry, and saddened by my kids’ lives and our family time being hijacked by homework.  As a therapist, I see how detrimental the stereotypical high school expectations are on our youths’ development and sense of well being.   With so many hours of after school time needed to slog through and complete assignments, how can our kids have the energy or time to pursue other interests or contribute to their communities or help make dinner which they then might be able to eat with their families?

Some students may be able to juggle all the expectations of 7 different classes, show up for sport practices (some before and some after school, thereby extending the school day in both directions!) and competitions, and still have time for a job or an extracurricular interest or, possibly some down time with friends. Unfortunately, though, many kids can’t handle the pressure of what turns into a 10-11+ hour work day.  In my opinion, they shouldn’t have to.

Where did all these expectations come from?  What is the point of it?  What justifies this kind of pressure we put on our adolescents who are already struggling with a myriad of other issues?  Beyond that, how many of us adults would sign up for meeting those kind of expectations and working that many hours?  Just to sweeten the deal, consider that teens in our culture have very little control over what they study.  There’s an expected curriculum for them to follow whether or not they are interested.  Hopefully we adults are paid for our time and it’s even better for us if we are working at a job we enjoy and chose!

It’s easy to see all the problems and not as easy to find solutions to what has become the societal and academic norm in our high schools.  My local high school once screened The Race to Nowhere, a bold choice in my opinion.  http://www.racetonowhere.com Unfortunately no change resulted from the ensuing conversation or concerns raised by the parents in the audience.  It would be risky to do something differently than what has been done in the past and than what is being done in neighboring high schools.  Change is hard.  And it’s risky.

As a therapist, I posit that not changing also incurs risk and that a cookie cutter set of expectations serves a part, but not all, of a community.  What happens to those who can’t keep up?  How do they end up feeling about themselves? The time required to meet the expectations of most schools devalues what is gained by a teenager taking on  the responsibilities of a job or having time for fun with friends and family, or doing practically anything else besides school work.

While I don’t have all the answers, I encourage the parents of the kids in my caseload to advocate for their child.  I also ask them to consider the stress their student is under to determine the best course of action for their individual child.  Most teens need some help organizing and prioritizing at some point.  They might need help learning how to manage their time and they definitely will benefit from learning how to have reasonable expectations of themselves when they are trying their best.  Despite being the product of public education and sending my kids to public schools, I find I sometimes have to make the strong suggestion to parents that they seek a solution in a private high school that could better support their child.

For myself, I have to say I wouldn’t want this job.  I wouldn’t want those hours or the stress of having to navigate the expectations and requirements of 6+ different classes and teachers in today’s culture.  We have labor laws that limit hours of work for employees but nothing to protect our children from the hours of school work expected of them in most public institutions.

If your son or daughter is suffering from the stress brought on by academics, family changes, or social pressures, please give me a call to set up an appointment.