What’s the real pay-off from high school stress?

Last week my son graduated from high school. It was a bittersweet time of wrapping up more than a dozen years of relationships, routines and rudiments — of critical thinking, self-expression, focus and freedom. Along with some significant academic and performing arts achievements, the real learning and accomplishment may have come from several signature missteps that now line the pockets of his judgment. Trying and failing gave him enduring perspective on his talents, capabilities and shortcomings (or learning styles, as we call them these days).

From college applications to acceptance, to exams and final performances, senior year is no breeze for today’s high schoolers. They have a lot to deliver and deliver on to prepare for college and make their getaway from high school. They are physically and often even intellectually adult but still lack judgment, perspective and risk assessment. For today’s parents, watching our kids evolve into adulthood is stressful; watching our kids’ actions and choices and trying NOT to hover, helicopter and harass, acutely so.

High school should be a time of trial and error without fear of the future, when the understanding of future obligations is vague and out there on the horizon. Instead many teenagers are slaves their to GPAs and conventional measures of achievement, to chasing the Race to Nowhere, the groundbreaking documentary that depicts the over scheduled, media saturated, material world in which our children operate. I fear the consequences of so many pressures to conform, to manage their GPA’s, master the APs, hold everything in and try to power through. Too early in life, they are getting too familiar with chronic stress. They are learning to love it for what it ‘helps’ them accomplish and feeling that without it they are nowhere.

My husband and I sat up way too many nights this spring, wondering and worrying about my son’s future, sometimes while he finally settled down to do his work in the middle of the night, other times when he was out honing his social skills while we wished he was studying. Sure, it was stressful for me, but as they say ‘better me than him.’ Keeping an eye on things enough to make sure your kids don’t entirely screw up is stressful, but perhaps better for them than not letting them flounder and fall from time to time. A healthy dose of failure, self-correction and trying a few different paths might build their resilience and serve them more handily than another AP course.

As we said goodbye to high school we all felt a great weight lifting. Our son was exuberant- he delivered a clean finish, and with a strong sense of (self) accomplishment, was yearning to move on. My husband and I look forward to college and in loco parentis. In the end, the kids that keep us wondering and worrying may have the stronger coping skills and more developed sense of self to take to college.

Jan Bruce, meQuilibrium CEO and Founder

Key Thought

High school should be a time of trial and error without fear of the future