Last week, my wife and I took our son to his preschool orientation. Not surprisingly, the event was age appropriate. Ten minutes of remarks (for the parents) followed by 90 minutes of playground time (for the kids).
What I kept thinking the entire time was just how pure school is at his age. There’s no talk of GPAs or test scores. No stress about which AP classes are offered. No concern over whether or not he’s choosing activities that will stand out on his college application. And when fellow families asked me what I did for a living, nobody saw it as an opportunity to get college admissions advice for their two-year-old. It’s preschool. It’s new. It’s exciting. It’s fun. And as we were driving home, my son said, “I miss my school.”
Sadly, I wonder at what point in his schooling he’ll stop missing it when he’s not there. Or even worse, maybe even start dreading it.
I realize my preliminarily relaxed preschool experience isn’t the same for everyone. But for most parents, this is the relative calm before the future storm. Not tomorrow, not next year, but eventually, the talk and concern and competition will turn towards getting into college. Those messages are bound to seep in no matter how much of Pop’s calming Collegewise influence he’ll be able to stand.
Life won’t be like the preschool playground, and I’m all for kids learning how to work hard, how to take responsibility and how to handle occasional stress. High school can be a good teaching ground for these skills. But if teenagers are continuously seeing and hearing messages that one upcoming grade, test, or admissions decision will somehow carry lasting weight to their future, it’s no wonder so many kids end up either anxious, sleep-deprived, or at the other end, disengaged from their educations.
Parents, if you have the same concerns for your own kids, no matter what age they are today, try to remember just how many of those high stakes you and your kids hear about are actually artificial. Yes, entrance to an AP class, a test score, and a GPA all carry some weight. They come with some consequences. But almost all of that influence is short-term. Your teenager will not be behind the curve of life at 30 because of one academic outcome when he was 16.
High school (and life) will not be as carefree as preschool is. But it’s best not to be affected by artificial stakes.