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By Priscilla L. Vail, M.A.T.
In high school and beyond, kids reach for two simultaneous and contradictory goals: anonymity and fame. Beyond native intelligence, academic success requires a ready supply of basic skills, organization, the ability to juggle facts and vocabulary from many disciplines, a relatively quiet place to do homework, enough food and sleep, and some free time to ruminate on new information, concepts, and connections. In today's culture many of these are missing before the student even enters ninth grade. Parents need to be aware of these needs and supply them as fully as reality allows.
After-school jobs, athletic practices, and play rehearsals (not to mention learning arcane hobbies for the college application process) teach kids that there isn't enough time. The corollary of this is to reward them for skimming the surface of their work in order to check it off the list. The emotional price tag of skimming is the discounting of deep enjoyment and immersion. Kids who pay this price feel hurried and inadequate.
If average kids fall into these traps, what about those who struggle? Some drop out physically, emotionally, or intellectually. Others, preferring wickedness to invisibility, who hang around to see the action but won't risk competing, are particularly vulnerable to drugs and booze. Still others, fearful and lonely, craving closeness and intimacy, gravitate to sex and gangs. The English poet Stevie Smith says, "I was too far out all my life and not waving but drowning."
Parents of this age group, you need spine, humor, a clear sense of your own values, and a willingness to be temporarily unpopular. You also need to build into family time ample opportunities to enjoy your kid and let that contagion do its benevolent job.
In the words of the poet ee cummings, "I would rather learn from one bird how to sing than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance."
Hold fast to what you know and believe. Be of joyful voice.
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