Get a big cup of coffee, or a big glass of wine and settle in. I have a lot of reading for you to do today. Below are two links from this month's Boston Magazine. A great issue for parents of teens. One of them is about sending off your newly minted college freshman with some tips from me, and the other is an excellent, first hand reflection article about the pressure for parents to think their teen needs to be the best at everything. The third link is about how teens choose to handle this pressure that parents often exert from the New York Times. All of these work in concert with this blog that I wrote in 2012, but is really timeless.
"I come from a family that gets disappointed and chews me out for B's or B+'s and even A-'s. I've been told that the only way to be successful is through academic excellence. I'm sick of the expectations to be a perfect kid. Change your unrealistic expectations and take the My Kid Is An Honor Student bumper sticker off your minivan."20 year old non-ADD Adderall user.
The New York Times (see link below) did an eye-opening article citing the number of high school and college students without ADD that are using drugs like Adderall, Concerta, and Ritalin. Kids with ADD who have been prescribed these drugs have found a great market niche. Sell their own prescribed ADD medication to kids looking for either a cheap high, or like to use the amphetamine like high or energy boost to get through homework faster and with a higher degree of success. What parents see from their teen is a renewed sense of dedication and ability to concentrate from their students, and applaud their successes, blinded to the reality that this is being achieved through a drug high. Remember these are kids NOT DIAGNOSED with ADD, but have felt a pressure to meet the high expectations from parents, teachers, and community. Read the article for a full explanation of the dangers of using these drugs which are not prescribed for the many kids using them. If your teen is prescribed such a drug, do not give them the responsibility for the bottle. You dose it out and maintain control of the bottle. There is too much temptation out there for selling their pills to other students.
First off, let me say that not all kids are "A" students, nor should they be. Academic achievement is getting a bad rep. Making honor roll every term, does not assure success as an adult. There are many very successful people who were high school or college drop outs whose "A's" came from their passions in other areas, but did not show up on their report cards. People like Peter Jennings, Rachel Ray, Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonalds, billionaire Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Airlines, Milton Hershey, founder of Hershey Chocolates, Joyce Hall, founder of Hallmark cards. And the list goes on.(Google successful people who didn't graduate and you will be amazed at the list) This is not to say, you should not have high expectations of your kids. But they should be realistic expectations. If you have a son or daughter who is engaged fully in their life, with a passion like sports, or theater, or computers, or cartooning, or film making or is a budding musician who wants to spend every waking moment making music, that is a good thing. That drive and passion will translate to the real world in a meaningful way. If in addition to a non-academic interest they have many friends and an active social life. That too is a good thing and will translate to the real world in a meaningful way. If in addition to a passion, and friends, they have a job, that will translate to the real world in a meaningful way, And if they do well enough in school, and are actually interested in what they are learning, how amazing that is and how important that will be as they head out into a very complex and complicated world. Getting on honor roll to make you happy should not be the goal. Getting on honor roll because it is a goal they have for themselves is the real work.
Some years back I was doing some work for a prestigious private school. One weekend party binge was particularly upsetting to the school community. A student whose parents were away for the weekend, had a party at her house. The party got out of control, and hundreds of kids showed up at this house. Not only did they party hearty with alcohol, but these "A" students completely trashed this house, leaving no lampshade unturned. The damage to this beautiful house was beyond belief. How could these well-educated, smart, goal-driven kids do this? When the kids who were caught were asked, here is what they answered: " Our parents expect us to the "best little boys and girls" in the world. They want us to get good grades, be the best athlete or singer or actor or artist, be active in the school, do community service, do it all!" And we do! But guess what, trashing this house was our way of saying "f##k you, we are not perfect!
Your kids feel the pressure of your expectations, and because they love you want to please you. But of course there is a cost. If taking a drug that is not meant for them will get the job done, then so be it! Parents, this is time for a reality check. Ask your successful grade A student why they get the grades. If they say, "because I know it will make you happy", then give them an F, cause that is the wrong answer. If they answer "cause I really love school, and I love what I am learning," give them an "A", cause they deserve it. When your friends ask you,'Hey how is Sally doing?" and you answer by giving them a rundown of Sally's honor roll report card and SAT scores, give yourself an "F". If you answer by saying: "you know she seems really happy, has great friends, loves soccer, and seems to be enjoying her classes," give yourself an "A". Of course we take pride in ourselves when our kids do well, and feel disappointed and maybe even embarrassed when our kids don't do well. But truly, I would rather have a kid who struggles, but has a lot of other good things in their life besides academics that build their confidence and self-esteem, than a kid who feels pressure to strive for the A by taking drugs that will make them work even harder, and diminishes the joys of working hard and achievement to just getting the job done.
When the final report cards come in this week. Whether you are elated or if you are disappointed, the question should be the same. "How have our expectations of you impacted this report card?" In the long run, the kids who become successful adults are the ones who have something in their life that motivates them, interests them, and gives them joy. But that shouldn't be you!