School just started for my two high school boys and already they’re completely exhausted. One of them even comes home and falls asleep with his shoes on almost the minute he walks through the door. This year my advice to both of them is not to work too hard. Here’s why:
There’s more to life than school.
These boys are busy. They play sports, do scouts, are active in their church youth group and even go to a seminary class at 6 a.m. before school every day. I like that they do all of these things because I want them to be well-rounded. But I don’t want them to get so overscheduled and stressed out that they can’t function. If they have to cut a few corners in school to have time for other things, I’m OK with that.
Efficiency is good.
I used to get mad at my 17-year-old so often for being lazy. He rarely does more than the bare minimum, and sometimes he doesn’t even do that. But I realized recently that he’s onto something: efficiency. Why put more effort into something than you absolutely have to? You have more energy for the things you value if you barely skim over the things you don’t. So it’s OK with me if my sons take easier classes, if their homework doesn’t always get done, or if their projects aren’t always their best work. As a result of this efficiency, they have more time for other endeavors. It’s impossible to do it all, so they have to prioritize and sometimes that means letting some things slide.
Homework is a small percentage of your grade.
Last year my 15-year-old realized that all the homework he had to do every day only added up to a small percentage of his grade. He was staying up late stressing over work that wasn’t even going to benefit him very much. So he started doing less of his homework and he ended up with A’s and B’s anyway.
We all need balance.
We’re all trying to chase the elusive ideal of balance in our lives. High schoolers especially could benefit from this. There have been many reports of kids becoming anxious and depressed and even committing suicide because of the pressures they feel to be the perfect student. Life is a balancing act of work, play and rest and high school is as good a time as any to start learning how to prioritize and have a balance.
Community college is a great option.
My boys have a certain university they want to go to, but it’s kind of hard to get into right out of high school. If they go to community college for a year first, it will be much easier for them to get in as a transfer student. I’d rather them enjoy their high school experience and go to the university a little later, than to have them stress themselves out trying to get into a school that, despite their best efforts, they still may not be accepted to right away.
Life is meant to be enjoyed.
We all want to be happy. Expecting our kids to do nothing but work their butts off as teenagers sets them up for a life of misery. Along with teaching them the value of work, we should teach them to practice self care, serve others, have hobbies, and be happy. If taking advanced courses and excelling in school makes them happy, that’s fantastic. But if they’d rather spend some of their time doing other things, that’s OK too.
We are training them for the real world.
Whether we want to admit it or not, our high schoolers are practically adults. In a few short years (or even less than a year) our babies will be out on their own. Now is the time to teach them valuable life skills and let them make their own choices and decisions while they’re still in the safety our homes. Let’s be realistic though about what it’s like in the real world. Adults need a good work ethic and responsibility, but to be honest, if there’s something I don’t want to be doing as an adult, I don’t do it more than is absolutely necessary. Yes, I work hard and spend a lot of time on unpleasant tasks, but I’ve also learned to add enjoyable things into my life and to limit the unpleasantness to only what is unavoidable. High school is a perfect time to let our kids choose what they will and won’t do in order to have that balance in their lives as well.
While our kids are living in our houses we still have the responsibility to teach them. I have the right to encourage good behavior and to enforce consequences for excessive laziness or disrespect. But as long as they are maintaining a decent level of responsibility, we should let them have a little freedom to do less and stress less. More than anything, I want to set my teenage boys up for a life of happiness and joy as good, productive members of society. They can achieve that by learning balance now and not stressing so much about high school. They’ll have enough to worry about when they have to start paying their own bills.