I have been teaching high school for more than 20 years. I started way back in the early 2000s, before technology was ubiquitous and when students didn’t need to be connected at all times. It’s strange, both being an active participant in change and viewing it as an outsider.
I often tell my students I do not envy this era of their lives; mistakes are memorialized in viral videos, the definition of success is multifaceted and complicated, the lessons are digital, and people expect them to be able to do everything, all the time, as perfectly as possible.
I took some time in my classes this month to ask my students what they wish their parents knew about them, their lives, and their struggles. (I currently teach two 12th grade AP literature courses and two 10th grade English courses.) This is how they responded:
Senior year is tough.
“It’s so hard trying to navigate senior year and the college application at the same time.” There is so much pressure. Pressure to do well in school. Pressure to do well in sports. Pressure to participate in family obligations. Pressure to complete and submit college applications. Pressure to be accepted. The list is endless, and the seniors in high school are feeling it.
This pressure, especially the pressure of applying to college, comes in waves. Some students prepare for early decision deadlines in November. For others, the regular deadlines come in January. And for still others, not having a deadline or a desire to go to college means even more pressure. They need a break from the questions, comments, and nagging that parents may sometimes exhibit in their own attempts to help their senior along.
Time management is not (always) the problem.
“It is not always procrastination that digs you in a hole.” These students are right — even the most organized students cannot plan for when multiple teachers in multiple classes assign a big project/test/quiz on the same date. That, in addition to working an after-school job, playing a sport, or participating in an extracurricular activity, makes each and every day busy.
With each year of high school comes more responsibility and more work. Having a messy room is not a result of laziness or poor time management; it’s a result of prioritizing schoolwork, friendships, and family above picking up dirty laundry.
“I wish my parents understood that having my workload means I’m going to have to stay up late to do it.” Sleeping in does not mean they were up to no good the night before; it just means they are tired from everything they do throughout the week to keep themselves afloat.
No one wins the comparison game.
“Stop comparing your children to other kids.” This helps no one. Each student is different. Each sibling is different. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of, “If this kid can do it, why is it so hard for my kid?” But that really helps no one.
To put it simply, “I’m already really stressed out and trying my best, so stop telling me to work harder or compare me to other kids.” It makes them feel bad about themselves. The same way I try not to compare myself to other mothers, I try not to compare my kids to other kids. It’s a great way to make a child feel less than, and it really hurts their sense of value.
Admit when you’re wrong.
Parenting is challenging. Making mistakes is embarrassing. Making mistakes while parenting is awful. Modeling accountability is awesome. When you make a mistake, in life, in parenting, in anything, owning up to it will do so much more to “right your wrong” than anything else you can do.
Before I became a mom, I always did my best to own my mistakes in my classroom. If I lost my temper, I tried to apologize before those students left my room. I can’t always control my initial reaction, but I can make amends when I’ve done something wrong.
Mistakes will be made.
Adolescence is full of hormones, conflicts, and first times. “This is a time of great change.” Even “good kids” make bad choices. But it’s important to understand that high school students, even though they seem like mini-adults, are still kids with developing brains.
Even as an adult, I make bad choices. I try to remind myself and my students that one bad choice does not define anyone. There is always a time and a place to recover and grow. Each failure, whether it’s academic or not, is a time to learn, not a time to wallow. Teenagers do not need to be reminded of their shortcomings on a regular basis. We, as adults and parents, need to let go of the mistakes and allow our children to move on from them in a healthy way.
And just a reminder to any parents who need it:
Your children love you, they need you, and you are important to them, even if they cannot always articulate it.
“Just because I don’t spend as much time at home as I did when I was a kid doesn’t mean I love you any less. I actually think about you and Dad a lot. I recognize your struggles, hardships, and dedication. I always have and always will look up to you. I love you both and I am forever grateful for your sacrifices and love.”
Thank you to my students for helping me with this piece — their contributions informed not only my writing, but my perspective and understanding of their lives.