DEAR KELLY: I’m so stressed out I feel like I’m going to crack any day. I feel so much pressure as a junior. My parents remind me probably five times or more a week that this is the most important year in my life and that my entire future depends on how I do right now. So I’ve pretty much hated every minute of this year. My parents check the school loop daily and I can’t make any slip-ups on a quiz or on a test without them freaking out and sending me a text like the one I got yesterday that said, “We saw your AP USHistory test score from last week. Really??? Did you study the way we suggested? Apparently not. Great colleges want students with great grades. Time to grow up and take school seriously.”
Kelly, my history test score was a 78 percent. Is that really that bad? And I studied all weekend, made flashcards, did quizlet tests and met with a study group. I tried so hard and the class average was only a 76 percent. When I told my parents this, they commented that perhaps this means I’m just average. Am I wrong, or is this just bad? I got an A-minus last semester but right now my grade is a B-minus, and they are freaking out. I know I’ll get it up and it won’t be a B-minus all semester, but right now because of that test it’s a bad grade.
When I tell my parents that I’m stressed, they go into a whole talk about how I’d better get ready because college is stressful and medical school is stressful and buying a house is stressful, etc. Honestly, all my APs or my clubs or tutoring others doesn’t really stress me out – my parents do. I’ve tried to talk to them but they won’t listen. How do you tell your parents that they are the problem and it’s not you or your lack of effort?
DN In EG
DEAR DN: Well done. I hope a lot of parents read your letter. What you said is so important and hopefully you open some eyes to the power of what too much pressure can do. How sad that you will remember your junior year in high school as such a negative time in your life when it should be a time of fun and learning, not only in school but also in life. School and grades are important, but having free time to hang out with friends or go do something fun is important as well.
I apologize on behalf of my generation to your generation. We are doing you a tremendous disservice to you with all the expectations and pressures we have put on you. Why isn’t a 4.0 GPA good enough anymore? Why have we raised the bar so high that we are creating such stressed-out teenagers? It is completely unfair what we are doing to our high school students.
Why have we lost the perspective that a balanced teen can be as successful as a teenager with an incredible GPA? Something is wrong that our society values the test score and the GPA more than we value the person or the work ethic. As a product of a state college and a terrible standardized test taker, I’m here to tell you that success does not come from where you go to college, it comes from who you are inside and what you are willing to work for.
Is it normal for your parents to want the best for you or for you to do well in school? Yes. But there is a big difference in advising and guiding your children (healthy pressure) and putting so much pressure on them that they feel emotionally pushed to the brink and completely stressed out (unhealthy pressure). This kind of stress is harmful and can wreak havoc on your mind, body and spirit. Your parents seem to be struggling with that line and the pressure they are putting on you is unhealthy and downright dangerous.
Some parents assume that a “good job” means guaranteed happiness, and that a good job can only be found with a degree from a prestigious college. This is not the case. Happiness comes from doing what you love and having time to enjoy life outside your work.
If your parents are not listening, try writing them a letter. Tell them that you are feeling so stressed out it is unhealthy. Share that you understand their concerns for your future and wanting you to go to a “good college,” but that you are doing your best and that has to be good enough. Reassure them that your grades do matter and your past report cards have reflected this.
Let them know that you want to learn and enjoy school without their negative slant on not being good enough or working hard enough.
If they can’t provide you with support or encouragement, then you need another adult to intervene. Perhaps an elder in your family or someone from your church or even another set of parents your parents respect. If none of those seems an option, talk with your school counselors and perhaps they can have all three of you in to talk about how you are feeling and how you can be strengthened by them instead of feeling weakened by their mean and belittling comments.
Please talk with someone before you crack. If you can go see a professional counselor, please do. When you start to feel overwhelmed, take a break. Go on a walk, shoot baskets, listen to music or do some yoga. Find a way to release the stress so it doesn’t eat away at you. Think about stress like trash – we all generate it but if you don’t dispose of it properly, it will pile up and overtake your life.
Give yourself props for all you have accomplished. Lean into your strengths and make time to have fun and enjoy the rest of high school.
Write to Kelly Richardson at Teen Talk, The Sacramento Bee, P.O. Box 15880, Sacramento, CA 95852, or email krichardson@ sacbee.com.