We think of childhood as a simple time –fancy free, no worries, necessities provided without effort.
But Vicki Abeles sees childhood differently.
She produced a 2009 video titled, “Race to Nowhere,” that told stories of students who were burned out and overworked by the pressure-cooker education culture. She featured her son, Zak, in the video and in her column on the subject, published Sept. 26, 2014, in USA Today.
In decades past, the philosophy was that a busy child stayed out of trouble. Many education systems stressed rigor, lots of homework, even busy work to keep kids’ minds on one thing: school.
That evolved a bit, as kids got into sports, music, drama, debate and other excellent extracurricular activities. It was thought then that those things helped balance a student’s life.
Today, as we see our education system documented as hardly the best in the world, we have created kids that are overworked, overstressed and still not achieving what they should.
“In some places across the country, the frantic pace of modern life has even trickled down to kindergarten, where students are already bringing home piles of homework,” Abeles writes.
She says young people nationwide suffer from alarming rates of anxiety, sleep loss and depression. She quotes a survey by the American Psychological Association that one in four teens reported feeling extreme levels of stress during the school year.
Teens may not seem stressed to you. Of course, there are normal stresses for teens, including boy-girl relationships, having to look good to your peers, wearing the “right” clothes etc. But, if you have or know a teenager, does his or her stress level seem abnormal? If the teen is open to talking to you frankly, ask him or her about it.
We need an education system that makes kids not just learn, but WANT to learn. Just as we adults need a work-life balance, kids need a school-life balance. Sure, school is their job. But it should not be their life.
They should be able to easily mix academic demands, extracurricular activities and free time to hang with friends, date (if they are old enough) or just do what they want. After all, they are only kids once.
Sometimes, kids find their life calling by having the freedom to do what they want.
They should certainly learn that some structure is important. We can’t raise children to believe that they can ALWAYS do what they want, no matter what. A job requires some commitment to structure that the employer requires. Higher education requires some structure to get a degree.
But making kids a slave to structure at an early age will probably hurt them more than help them. It might cause them to develop mental, even physical injuries that could stay with them for life. What kind of waste of potential would that be?
While students need to learn some structure, they also should learn that there are ways to make a life that may not require the structure we are teaching them. It may require a different, more enjoyable kind of structure. For a look at one such lifestyle, visit www.bign.com/pbilodeau.
If you are over a certain age, you learned the importance of structure in life. As a teen, you may have even rebelled at such structure. More than likely, you got over your rebellion and got “structured” again. Abeles believes today’s kids are over-structured. If you have a teen, or know one, you might want to cut them some slack.
Instead of making sure every minute of the day, and night, is tied up with some activity, give them some time to be them. You may be pleasantly surprised at not only how they use that time, but also how it could make them much better adults.