Saturday, September 8, 2012

Let Them Me Little

As I age, I am discovering that my views about certain things are changing. Within the past few weeks I have found myself developing a very sound opinion regarding our youth and the rate at which society is expecting them to mature.

While teaching middle school over the past couple of decades, I have seen a major shift in the expectations that we are inflicting upon teenagers. We flood them with images of young models with perfect skin, waistlines that are atypically tiny, and pounds of makeup. The fashion industry is creating clothing for girls that has become more and more revealing with messages written in very inappropriate areas. All of these things have helped reinforce the idea in our young girls that such things are okay and what you want to do if you plan to "fit in" with your peers.

More shocking to me, the teacher, is the amount of pressure that we are putting on our teenagers regarding college and careers. True, I graduated from high school quite a while ago, but I can remember taking the ACT a single time, and that was when I was a senior. That score, whatever if was, got submitted to the one or two colleges that I selected. My transcript that accompanied that college application did not contain ANY college credit. Instead, I attended the typical 4 years of college and lived the typical college "experience" for that time period.

In contrast, my son, who is a college freshman, entered college with 21 hours of credit that he had obtained through dual credit and night classes. My daughter, who is a high school junior, is already enrolled in classes that will, if she is successful, glean her 15 college credit hours. While the parent in me appreciates the fact that these hours are being achieved in such a way as to put less financial burden on me, I find myself contemplating the emotional toil that it is taking on her. I remember junior and senior year as two of the better years of my high school experience. I was on the college "track", so I did take classes that were a bit harder than those of some of my peers, but I still had plenty of time to be in choir and perform in the many concerts that we held. I recall being in a senior talent show, participating in Future Homemakers of America, and even several 4H events. I also recall enjoying those things. The time that my daughter is putting into these classes is keeping her so busy that she is not able to truly relax and enjoy many of the things that she loves. While she is still an active BETA Club member and cross country participant, the energy and enthusiasm with which she does these activities is diminished, largely due to the fact that she is mentally exhausted from the stress of her class load.

I talked with her about the schedule and whether she wanted to change it, but she almost feels like she is obligated to continue. I think that a great deal of this is because she is so focused on the "expectations" that have been placed on students like her in recent years. Students are taking the ACT earlier and earlier and school districts across the country are intent on getting those college and AP classes started as soon as possible. As a junior in high school, she is already focusing on her chances at college acceptance and scholarships. "I don't want a dropped class on my transcript," she said.

While thinking the whole thing over, I remembered a country song, "Let them be little," by Billy Dean. Maybe it's just the melancholy mother in me....... but the words of that song are becoming more and more a part of my personal mantra.

Let them be little 'cause they're only that way for a while
Give them hope, give them praise, give them love every day
Let them cry, let them giggle, let them sleep in the middle
Oh just let them be little

So innocent, a precious soul, you turn around
It's time to let them go

So let them be little 'cause they're only that way for a while

Maybe it is time for society to step back and rethink this. Is it too late for us, as a society, to change things and just let our children be "little" for a little while longer?

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