This post: Dear Mom and Dad, I Really AM Trying… Love, Your Teenager
My oldest daughter was a freshman in high school at the time. It was the second semester and, like a lot of other high school kids I knew, she took on far more than she probably should have…
She was juggling school (including advanced classes), mounds of homework, a part-time job just so she could make a few bucks on the side, and an unrelenting schedule of cheerleading practices and competitions. And, somewhere in the middle of all that, she was squeezing in time to hang out with her friends, spend time with family, and occasionally volunteering (because her counselor told her she had to “round out her resume” for future college applications).
It was A LOT.
Being a newbie high school mom, I remember thinking how insane it all seemed.
Dear Mom and Dad, I Really Am Trying… Love, Your Teenager
I found myself thinking, “Why are we pushing these kids so hard? What is the end goal? Doesn’t their mental health and well-being matter? Why are we holding our kids to a higher standard than most adults could ever achieve?”
Still, much to my surprise, my girl seemed to be handling it all pretty well. In fact, all her friends seemed to be handling it well, too. They got out of bed each morning (more like crawled), sat in classes for hours, went to their sports practice or after-school club or some other extra-curricular activity, worked at their job for a couple of hours, and then came home and hit the books for two, three, four or more hours to get all their homework done. Then, the next day, they got up and did it all again.
As the weeks and months passed by, I could see the exhaustion in my daughter’s eyes. I could see the energy draining out of her body and her enthusiasm waning.
She was having a harder time getting up in the morning. She was falling asleep with her computer on her lap and a pen in her hand. She started skipping practices because she didn’t feel well and going in late to school just to grab a few more minutes of sleep.
As much as I tried to talk to her about her unrelenting schedule and convince her that she needed to re-evaluate her priorities, she kept pushing herself.
She saw all her friends doing it and she was being fed the notion that this is what she needed to do to build a stellar college resume. So, despite the obvious signs that she couldn’t keep up this pace forever, she kept going.
Until one day, she crumbled…
She had been up for hours studying for a test she had the next day. I had gone to bed hours earlier and happened to see her light on in her bedroom when I got up to get a glass of water.
I peeked into her room to check on her and tell her that enough was enough and that it was time to close the books and get to bed.
That’s when I saw my girl’s hands over her face… she was crying. Before I could say a word… the floodgates opened.
Through her tears and sobbing she said,
“I really am trying, mom. I really do want to do my best. I want you to be proud of me, I want to get good grades, get into a good college, get an internship, hold down a part-time job, and be a good friend and daughter.
But it’s all too much. The constant pressure, the competition, the lack of sleep. And that’s just the half of it. I don’t even know who I am anymore… all I do is work, all I do is study, all I do is add another thing to my calendar. I never have time for myself anymore. I’m exhausted. I’m sick of trying. And, I’m starting to wonder if any of this really matters.”
It was the wake-up call I needed. My girl was breaking before my very eyes. With each passing day, she was getting closer to hitting a concrete wall that would force her to stop in her tracks, whether she liked it or not.
That’s when I decided enough really was enough. it was time for a drastic change in my daughter’s life.
Oh, parents, our kids really ARE trying. But sometimes, it all gets to be too much…
Constantly keeping up with school, homework, quizzes, tests, assignments, and projects all while desperately trying to hold their GPA so they can get into a “good” college.
Keeping up with late-night practices and extra-curriculars and then coming home and trying to get three hours of homework done.
Dealing with the daily struggles of friend politics and far too much drama, navigating romantic relationships, and the constant pressure, competition, and perils of social media.
Trying so hard to please us, to make us proud, to win that trophy or award, to land that internship or scholarship, and give us the “bragging rights” they think will make us love them more.
And, it carries over to the weekends… more studying, more sports, more games, more pressure, more to-dos, more chores, more lack of sleep.
The pressure on them is intense. Being a teenager in today’s world is so hard and we need to recognize that.
With my daughter, I did everything possible to take the pressure off of her. I stopped nagging her about cleaning her bedroom. If she got around to it every two weeks, I was good with that. I stopped piling on household chores when she had big tests to study for that week. I stopped bugging her about why she wasn’t going out with friends on a Friday night… I knew she just needed time to chill out and be alone. I stopped forcing her to do things with the family when she was stressed. I asked gently. If she said “no,” at least she knew I wanted her with me.
I ran errands for her, made her lunch, helped her study, and encouraged her to take breaks.
Together, we talked about her schedule. She quit her part-time job, gave up competitive cheerleading, and focused on doing more things on weekends that brought her joy – hanging out with friends, hiking, watching Netflix, and thrifting.
I gave my daughter the “out” she so desperately needed. I gave her my approval to throw her hands up to the world and say, “Nope… I’m not doing this anymore.”
Far too many teens are struggling. It’s time we take the pressure off of them and remove (the best we can) the burden so many of them carry. It’s time we let them be young and carefree. It’s time we fully understand the implications of what the constant pressure is doing to them physically, emotionally and mentally.
Let’s tell them “Bs” and “Cs” are okay, that ONE sport or extra-curricular activity is fine, that it’s okay if they don’t get into a Division 1 school, that they don’t have to take all those high-pressure advanced classes and AP courses, that taking a gap year or choosing a different route other than college is really okay, and that summer should be a time to hang out with friends and make memories.
Please, let’s give our kids the freedom to be teenagers, parents. They’ll be shouldering the burden of adult life soon enough…