Under-Scheduling My Anxious Teen Made Her A Much Better Student

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two high school girls looking at notebooks in hallway

My freshman daughter came home from school yesterday and let me know that her teacher pulled her aside. “She wants me to move up to honors next year. Or maybe take the AP class,” she told me. “She said she thought I could do well in it.”

“Well, that’s a compliment,” I responded. “But, what do you think?”

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She looked crestfallen.

“I just don’t know how I can fit it in because everyone complains about how much extra work honors is. I mean, I just feel like I’m already doing so much reading for my other classes and I liked having one class I didn’t have to stress about. And next year I have driving school and soccer and the other advanced classes. I have to volunteer for Key Club and I want to babysit to have spending money and...”

She went on and on for a few minutes.

Just because our kids are capable of taking a challenge, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing for them at the time.

“I guess we have our answer then,” I told her. “You're pretty busy already, so you don’t have to add to your schedule. Plus, you don’t even like that subject anyway, so it probably won’t be as much fun for you.”

“But what about challenging myself?” she asked. “Like, are colleges going to be down on me because I didn’t take all honors classes?”

I looked at my young daughter and for the first time in a long while she appeared small to me instead of the young woman she is becoming — more like when she was a scared toddler about to get in trouble.

And I thought, how much more challenged does she have to be? She lived through a pandemic, remote schooling, and being isolated from the only life she’s ever known.

She is challenged to get enough sleep every night after long school days.

She is challenged to find downtime because she chose to participate in a high school sport.

She is challenged to find balance in a stress-filled trek to get into a college.

She is challenged by peer pressure and social media.

We need to take a more holistic approach when helping our teens schedule their time.

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While I LOVED the fact that this teacher was encouraging my daughter, she didn’t know that at that moment all she felt was pressure from the world around her.

Do more. Work harder. Take the challenge.

It’s not this teacher’s fault. It’s her job to see the potential in kids, and she has taught my child well this year. But my teenager’s response underscored what I think is a pervasive problem.

I think we have to start looking at our kids in a more holistic manner and choosing our words a little differently.

Last year, my daughter (with our input) made a conscious choice not to take all honors classes in her first year of high school.

As parents, we told her she should challenge herself in the subjects that she cared about the most, which in her case is math and science, and then decide one-off in the other areas.

This is the path we are taking for all three of my kids.

She has said several times it was the best decision she’s ever made, and her grades have backed it up during this crazy pandemic time. She is a diligent student, but not every subject comes easy to her, and she’s adjusted well to the high school routine.

But I saw her anxiety first-hand when discussing her schedule for next year, and with course selection coming up, she was a pressure cooker.

If I’ve learned in the last few years, it’s that not everything our tweens and teens do needs to be challenging or rigorous, or competitive.

Most of us don’t thrive in that kind of environment, and for sure our kids don’t.

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So, I told my daughter I thought she should take the grade-level course again the next year. She challenged herself in other areas, and I thought she found a good balance this year in her course selection.

I also assured her that she will get into a great college no matter what. It’s important to remind our kids of that over and over again to counter the messages they are hearing from the outside world.

It’s the educators’ and coaches’ and activity leaders’ jobs to build our kids up and push them to their limits, but it’s our job as parents to also let them know that they don’t have to do this with every single thing they do. At the end of the day, it’s our job as parents to look at the big picture, but I think as a whole we should be changing the conversations we have with our teens.

I’m glad that my child has teachers that believe in her potential, but I’m also glad my daughter recognizes she has limits.

It’s tough to find the balance in teaching our kids to push themselves to reach their potential without burning out or breaking down.

We need to start putting our kids’ mental health first, and then teach them how to decide what they can handle.

Because if your kid can’t sleep because of stress or starts hurting themselves to cope with anxiety or something worse yet, that “challenging” course they felt they should take or team we pushed them to join or added responsibility they weren’t ready for may not be worth it.

I absolutely want my kids to challenge themselves, but I hope they learn to care about their well-being more than anything else.

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Whitney Fleming is a freelance writer, blogger, and social media consultant..

This article was originally published at Parenting Teens and Tweens. Reprinted with permission from the author.