If you have a child, I have a book you need to read – and I don’t say that lightly. If you interact with a child, I have a book for you to read. While technically it’s about stressed out high school students, it has messages for parents of kids of all ages.
When your child gets home from school, do you ask him how the test went? Do you schedule activities to make sure your kids get the best opportunities and aren’t bored? Do your kids have the same definition of success that you do (go ahead, ask)?
Last night, our school district brought in Denise Clark Pope who wrote Doing School: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed-Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students. She spoke for slightly over an hour and then took audience questions.
It was powerful. Like I need to reevaluate how I do almost everything with my wee ones powerful. The statistics she quoted were really scary. The level of cheating because kids feel there is no alternative, the tiny minority that feels that homework is actually useful, the kids who check out because trying and failing is too painful, the schools where the average hours of sleep across the entire student body is under five.
And it’s happening everywhere.
Kids need to get good grades and be involved in lots of activities. That way they can get into a good college. Then they need to study hard so they can graduate and get a good (read: high paying) job. Then they have to work tons of hours so they can someday be happy. And that’s what being successful means.
God help me if the wee ones grow up thinking that this is success. While having enough money to live definitely reduces stress, working hard at a job you dislike can create more stress and unhappiness than being completely broke. I want the wee ones to love what they do in life — and by life I mean so much more than the hours they spend at work. I want them to feel fulfilled. I want them to have meaning in their lives. And I want them to take the time they need in order to find it.
I went to Northwestern. I was that kid who took all the AP classes in high school and did tons of extra-curricular activities and had the leadership roles you’re “supposed to” have. I got to school, and I didn’t know how to fail and I was afraid to try.
I was lucky that I finally got it when at Northwestern. I figured out how to enjoy what I did (it took me all of eight weeks to drop the high pressure program I started and find a better fit of a major) and spend time with friends and things I loved. I have friends who never figured it out, and many of them still aren’t happy today. While there are times that I am stressed out by work, it isn’t drugery that I detest, and it isn’t the only thing in my life.
So how do I make sure the wee ones figure this out before I did? How do I get them to be resilient and creative and questioning and self-seeking? Denise Clark Pope walks through all this in her book, which is a really easy read. And I need to go read it again because there’s so much more to get out of it.
While kids should be presented with opportunities with extra-curricular activities, as parents we need to limit it. They need downtime to play and figure out things on their own. And as parents, we need to step back and let them. And that’s the lesson that’s the hardest one for me. But if I don’t let the wee ones fail safely now (and that means I won’t be running to school with a forgotten lunch or assignment), they’ll never learn how to fail and then bounce back with a creative solution.
There is so much more in this book, so many lessons for us as parents. And when the wee ones get home from school when there’s a test? I’ll be asking if they felt the test was a fair test of their knowledge, if they felt they learned something from it. It’s the learning experience I want to create joy in, not the grade I want them to fear.
And the wee ones? Nope, they won’t be going to Northwestern. I want them to find a school that’s a good fit for them. They’ll end up in the right place in life regardless of what school they attend, and the studies bear that out. I was afraid to ask the questions to find a good fit, but I was lucky that it worked out. Had I known now what I had known then, I probably would have gone down an entirely different path. I don’t want the wee ones to have that question someday.
And I don’t think you do, either. Doing School will help you develop the child you want to raise. And the emphasis is that it’s not too late. You can reel in the college senior or start with the two year old. Thank you, Denise.
This Q&A sums it up so much better than I have. But if you read one book this year, just one, make it one that counts for years to come.