I recently asked a group of 8th grade girls what was causing them the most stress in their lives, and I think you will be surprised by their answers. It wasn’t girl drama, getting along with their parents, or even their looming entry into high school. No, the real culprit was college!
Bella: “I feel like I have to choose my whole life already; there’s this pressure to take HS classes based on your career path. So if you want to be an accountant you should take certain math classes. It’s like you have to base everything you do in HS on what college you want to go to and what you want to do with your life. I feel behind already and I haven’t even started! I’m going to look at some colleges over spring break.”
Ali: “I feel stressed out from being told I should take mostly honors classes in 9th grade or I won’t be able to take better classes the rest of HS. My teachers are all telling me what to take all four years of HS and I haven’t even started! I have no idea what I want to do in college or life. I just want to focus on next semester, not my whole life!”
Jen: “I had to register last week for my classes for HS and I felt pressure to pick classes that are based on what the college I want to go to will require. I have no idea where I want to go or even if I want to go to college yet. I hate having to think that far ahead.”
I’m with them; it’s ridiculous. These are not rich girls from private schools whining about Ivy League Universities. They’re middle class girls from public schools who are reflecting the mounting pressure placed on young people these days.
There is a cultural myth being perpetuated amongst youth that by the time you are a senior in high school and for sure by the time you are graduating college you should have your whole life planned out and your career path settled. Girls entering college feel behind if they haven’t committed to a major yet, and the pressure and angst builds every week that goes by.
I encourage girls to interview every adult they know and to read biographies of interesting people in order to glean each person’s life path, mistakes and failures and all. Young people believe that adults went from point A at age 18 directly to point Z where they are now in a straight, direct line, and that’s just not true for the vast majority of adults. People tend to zigzag their way to their calling, replete with ups and downs, self-doubt, missteps, twists and turns, as well as victories. It’s a process that can’t be predicted or forced.
Middle school should be way richer than just high school prep, and high school should be far more than just college prep. Value social-emotional skill building, trying out new interests, developing street smarts and people skills, and for sure allow down time to daydream and reflect. I want girls like Bella, Ali, and Jen to enjoy the journey and not be so stressed out by such a far-off destination.