Checking in with students about their goals and how they feel they are doing is crucial to help them maintain their mental health.
Hundreds of students are suffering silently, because of they have perceptions of how they should be performing. They are questioning if they can maintain their current level of performance. The stress of the past two years has impacted their performance level and they don’t know why they are having troubles.
Parents of students who are pleasers may believe their children are happy and enjoying learning, because they are seeing great grades and glowing reports from the teacher, but these students are hanging onto secrets that create undo stress. Touching base with students is crucial, especially if they have been in challenging programs since elementary school.
The push for academic excellence can begin to wear on students. Though they continue to perform, it is under tremendous stress that they get the grades and maintain an unreasonable level of performance. At some point, the pressure will get so intense that students begin under-performing, or worse, end their lives.
The stress created by the unnatural separation of teens from their peers during the past two years has had a direct negative impact on their performance. They don’t realize how the prefrontal cortex in their brains are drained of blood flow during stressed periods. Their stress was intensified due to the length of time they were experience fear related to the media presentation about Covid. When a person is under stress, the prefrontal cortex shifts its purpose to survival and the fight or flight response is ignited. That sends the flood to places that will allow us to get the heck out. Unfortunately, students don’t know this and they begin to experience depression because they just can’t perform at their previous levels.
I encourage all parents and teachers to share the neuroscience that impacts their performance. Then ask them if they have noticed more difficulty with concentrating and performing as they had prior to 2020.
I receive an incredible number of calls from parents of sophomores who suddenly lose their zest for performing at precious levels. These students begin to become belligerent, demonstrate negative behaviors, and rebel in a variety of socially unacceptable ways that leave their parents and teachers confused.
The questions I ask these students is, “What are you afraid of? What has blocked you from maintaining the performance you once demonstrated?”
The answers vary very little. They all come down to, “I just can’t think I can do this anymore.”
What they are referring to is not being able to continue this level of performance for another two years and then again in college.
I am not concerned with the “C” student who is okay with not being perfect. They seem to be happier and out perform their straight “A” classmates once they enter the work force. They are not exhausted from having to be perfect. They understand that it is fine that they make mistakes and are open to what that can reveal to them.
The fear of getting anything less than an “A” creates adds even more stress to overly anxious students and takes the joy out of learning. Instead of embracing the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them, they fear the mistakes will indicate they aren’t as smart as everyone thinks they are. These students need to be “let off the hook.”
Take time this week to ask your children the following questions:
- How do you feel you are doing in school?
- Do you think I expect you to do everything perfectly?
- Do you worry you won’t get into a college that I think you should go to?
- Are you afraid something bad will happen if you don’t get straight “A’s”?
- What do you worry about?
- What interests you?
- Are you trying to get into a college because you want to please me?
- If you had your choice what would like to learn about?
- If you could do any type of work, what would it be?
When my students shared that they worried about not being able to continue doing so much work for the rest of the high school and then college years, I reassured them that they didn’t have to take all Advanced Placement classes to get into a college that would be right for them. Once I told them that, they relaxed, changed their classes for the next semester, gave themselves a break, and became rejuvenated. Some decided that a junior college would be better fit for them, because it would reduce the pressure, while others felt they could handle something more rigorous after they had a break.
Many students claimed that it was expected that they would go to the same college their parents went to even though it wasn’t a good fit for them.
One student decided in kindergarten that he would go to USC. He dressed in the school colors and rooted for the football team. When he applied to schools, he only sent in one application, and that was to go to USC. When the letter of declination arrived, he was devastated. Academically, it was not a good fit for him. He was devastated because he had spent year after year being tutored so he could qualify for this school. He went into a deep depression. He had to go to work where he gained on the job training. This lead him to change his focus of study and eventually got into a school that would prepare him to take on more responsibility with the company. The best part is that the company paid for his education. He is now in a supervisory capacity doing financially better than some of his peers who are now paying off huge debts.
A young man I tutored during middle school, was
A question we need two ask ourselves is “Are our children placing this pressure on themselves just to please us?” We may not know it unless we ask. They need reassurance that they will get into the school that is right for them. They also need to know that there are benefits to learning on the job and waiting to go to college if it benefits them.
Too many students are trying to get into colleges that will leave them with huge debt and not offer the guarantees a college education once promised, while creating undo stress and anxiety in them.
Parents and educational institutions need to recognize that the future is not going to be served by the beliefs of the past. Our world is changing exponentially on a daily basis. Straight “A” students who can pass tests, but will they be prepared for a world that needs creative thinking and problem solving. The questions and problems they need to answer won’t have answers on Google. We all need to rethink the concept of “everyone goes to college,’ take the pressure off of students, allow them to live carefree lives until they have to enter the working world.
Talk to your children and protect their mental health.