When is enough, enough? By Felina Silver Robinson
Pressure: a constraining or compelling force or influence: the social pressures of city life; financial pressure.
Each of us, adult and children alike, face daily pressures. It’s not easy for any of us. But imagine the struggle of an undeveloped adolescent mind swarming with hundreds of thoughts through their academic day. Did I get it right? How can I stand up and talk in front of all of my peers when I can’t even talk to my best friend? Do they make fun of me when I’m not looking? Why don’t they like me? Why does my teacher pick on me all the time? Why can’t I talk to my teacher? Why do they give us so much homework? Will my parents be mad at me if I can’t get everything done? Will my teacher punish me if I can’t finish the work? Everyone of these questions are ones that I’ve heard first hand from my own children, their friends, or children that I’ve listened to during other school related activities. We’ve all been there. It just seems that it might be harder now than it use to be. Expectations are so much higher now because not only has life changed so much, but curriculum as well as the expectations of teachers and the Board of Education. In the New York Times article “Expecting the Best Yields Results in Massachusetts” it is stated that “If Massachusetts were a country, its eighth graders would rank second in the world in science, behind only Singapore”. If you think that’s something what do you think about the fact that Massachusetts eighth graders also did well in mathematics, coming in sixth, behind Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan. The United States as a whole came in 10th in science and 9th in math, with scores that were above the international average. If you were a school aged child at this time, wouldn’t you feel a lot of pressure to keep up? Not every child across the board is good at math or science. In fact, I know that my three youngest children struggle a lot with math. They all love science though and work hard to do their best at it. Is there best good enough though? It seems that there is more emphasis within the school systems to push forward the children that are strong in Math and any other area of academics. But not enough effort is spent on children that are not as good. There is a nice one hour math tutoring program where high school students come and “help” with math. But the help that is given isn’t necessarily the help that is needed. Many parents don’t have the finances to send their children to private tutors so they fall through the cracks.
The biggest pressure I find is “homework”. Every child from 6th – 8th grade is swimming in homework. 6th graders suffer the most because they are the least ready. In 5th grade they spend so little time doing homework that by the time they reach 6th grade, they are shocked by all that must be done. The day is a long one for all kids, but once homework comes into the picture everything changes. Each kid has at least 5 subjects of homework, with an expectation of no less than 30 minutes for each subject. So that is at least 2.5 hours of homework every day. However, the majority of assignments take at least 1 hour to complete. Most children don’t want to leave things undone because they know it will have to made up somewhere down the line. So then the 2.5 hours of homework turns into the realistic amount of 5 hours. When you think about the fact that our kids have a 6.5 hour school day coupled with 5 hours of homework, mixed in with a school play practice here, and a sports activity there, and don’t forget enrichment classes. Where is the time to socialize or just have some breathing space? Often when a child needs help or didn’t get to finish the homework, they are punished by having to stay indoors and there goes the only real time they may have had to socialize for the day.
So our kids end up coming home tired, overworked, picked on and frustrated because there was not enough time to have any worthwhile fun. Add all of this up over time and you get kids with emotional breakdowns, kids who feel like they just can’t take it anymore, kids who feel they have no friends because they are always being picked on an no one ever does anything about it. This often leads to kids wanting and feeling the need to “commit suicide”. The recent article about the 3 Teen Suicides in Newton. Really floored me and I realized that I really don’t want that too happen to any of my children. Heck, it shouldn’t happen to anyones children. So what are we going to do to fight this battle? What can we do? Reading about what you can do, what you can say, and how to understand what our children are feeling can really help. But more than that, letting our children know that they are not alone and there is someone around that understands what they are feeling and going through really helps. Boston Children’s Hospital circulated the following information: Suicide and Teens, Just so you know, children all over the world are feeling the stresses of homework. Read: Homework overload is stressing our children who need more time to chill-out and relax. We need to arm our children and ourselves with ways to deal with all of life’s pressures so that we are prepared to face all that life has in store for us. I found another article helpful titled: “Resolving Student-Teacher Conflicts“. This article helps your child build the necessary skills to feel comfortable approaching an adult that they may not be so comfortable trusting or relying in. Everyone faces and interacts with people everyday that makes them uneasy and causes them to be fearful. Having the right tools to help them work through their feelings are key to having successful relationships throughout their lives. I find it best to face problems head on as they arise for it becomes emotionally dangerous to hold onto things that cause fear or pain.
I will say one more thing about homework, which is my personal resolution to the homework issue. We are all aware of the fact that homework is used as a method of testing what our children are being taught in the classroom as well as an extension of what there isn’t enough time to finish teaching in the daily classroom. My feeling is that since there are 5-6 subjects in elementary school, that homework is rotated so that there are never more than two subjects of homework per evening and never more than 45 minutes worth of work per subject. Reading of course would continue to happy nightly, but within reason. For example: Monday’s and Thursday’s – Science and Social Studies, Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s – English and Math and Friday’s – Health and Spanish.
Aside from the regular pressures, then there is the peer pressure thing. If you’re different, the kids are always going to let you know about it. No matter how much time you spend on anti-bullying, it’s always going to happen and their going to be afraid to tattle on the bullies. If you’re a cool different, all is well and the kids will shake your hand or hug you. If it’s a bad or awkward different than kids just come out and tell you about it and they don’t care if it hurts your feelings, and they will pick, pick and pick on you and at you. Please make sure that you always check in with your kids about bullying. Read: How to talk to your kids about bullying.
We need our children to be as well rounded and level headed as possible. If they are overwrought due to stress and other things then they aren’t really the children we know and love. We see aside of them that we shouldn’t have to see. Children are supposed to be given an opportunity to live as children until they are meant to face young adulthood, which is truly once they reach high school. High School prepares our children for College life and that is another story altogether. They are children once and should not grow up not knowing what being a child is. Don’t hold them back from what they are ready to face, but don’t push them forward unprepared.
I leave you with a last note. What you can’t handle on your own, reach out for a helping hand. Those with knowledge and experience are always willing to share it. But often don’t know their services or expertise are required. The child you help today may be the adult that ends up helping someone else tomorrow.