When Festive Feels Like Overwhelmed

December is festive for some, stressful for others, and a little bit of both for most students.

There is a ramp-up in tests, papers and projects due before the holidays. At the same time, sports, play practice, jobs and more, continue in full swing as before. Add to that the expectation that kids leave time for family holiday gatherings and gift shopping, as well as college applications for those seniors who are applying regular decision, and it’s understandable that our kids may be a bit fragile this time of year.

And who can blame them? There isn’t a lot of downtime for our high schoolers these days. Students say they are feeling the pressure of needing to do well in school while also excelling in extracurricular activities in order to be attractive to colleges.

Despite these very real pressures, as parents, there are things we can do to help our students keep things in perspective:

  • Emphasize the need for balance. Our students need to know that while we want them to work hard in school and engage in a meaningful activity or two, we also want them to enjoy their high school years (safely!).

    Remind them that they will still be able to go to college if their grades are not perfect and that they do not need to be involved in multiple activities just to pad their resumes. 
     

  • Encourage them to find something they love to do. That passion will be shared with colleges, many of which will be happy to hear about it, even if it is not a varsity sport, lead in the play or as a class officer.

    Not everyone is an academic superstar and there is a lot to be said for learning to find a balance between working to the best of your ability and leaving some room for other activities and downtime. There are certainly many adults who have not learned this; it often catches up at some point.

    Some of our kids need help in finding that activity that they love and may need a push to try something through a club, volunteering or a solo project that inspires them. Spending time in an activity they love will often give them the energy needed to hang in there with schoolwork that may be less enticing. And it will help them grow as a person and feel good about themselves.
     

  • Stay supportive. Keep in mind, as you get together with relatives and friends over the holidays, that some seniors will be beaming with pride having already been accepted to their dream school, while others still have months of uncertainty and angst ahead. 

    Still others have barely begun the process and are unsure if college is the right step for them at all. It’s good to remind these students that not everyone is ready to go off to a 4-year college right after high school. (That is okay – they just need another solid plan in place.)

    Juniors feel the stress of their older classmates and many are now getting back PSAT scores and ramping up on their own college planning process. Your child knows this year is very important and feels the pressure to do well in all areas – school, testing and extracurriculars.

    Try to find time when you and your child are both feeling relaxed to ask how they are doing and how you can help support them.
     

  • Encourage down time.  Plenty of sleep, along with time to relax, laugh and enjoy being a teen goes a long way toward making everything else fall into place. If your teen is too tightly scheduled, something may need to go.

Finally, do be on the lookout for more serious signs that your child is dealing with a level of anxiety or depression that may require professional help. Winter and its associated decrease in sunshine can sometimes be a contributing factor (consider a vitamin D supplement if your doctor agrees).

All the best for a wonderful holiday season for you and your family!
 

Conversations to Avoid at the Holiday Meal

For students, Thanksgiving and the upcoming December holidays can be a nice break and a time to relax with extended family.

But it can also be stressful for seniors, as they may have already applied to schools and are waiting to hear – or have not yet applied and have that hanging over them.

As some kids are starting to hear that they are accepted (or not) to their dream school, it can raise the stress level even higher. Keep that in mind as the relatives assemble. You may need to ask Uncle Fred to leave the subject of college out of his questions for your teen if the tension level is high.

It’s important to talk to your child and let them know that it will all work out fine, even if they don’t get into a school(s) that they had their heart set on. Try not to let yourself get too attached either to the idea of a particular school. That will come across to your child and will make it even harder if things do not go their way.

We need to encourage our kids to work as hard as they can in school, spend time on making decisions to apply to schools that are a good fit, and then know that it will all work out for the best.

It may be helpful (when the time is right) to share a story about yourself or another who didn’t get their first choice in buying a house, in landing a job, or getting accepted into the school of their choice, but … who looked back later, only to realize that their second was a better fit.

If your child gets disappointing news, it is good to empathize and let them have a chance to be sad. Then they may need some support to begin feeling good about Plan B. There are numerous great schools that will be a good fit for all our kids and it will be easier once your child begins to get excited about the next school on the list.

Most important, our kids should hear loud and clear that a rejection letter is not a commentary on them as a person. It is an opinion based on a paper record of their achievements. As wonderful as we all know our children to be, they simply may not have been what a particular school was looking for to round out its class in the coming year.

This is a good time to let our kids know that we think they are great, no matter where they go to college or whatever they choose to do after high school.

All the best for an enjoyable, healthy and relaxing break this week!

What I Wish I Knew as a High School Junior

Dear High School Junior,

Congratulations. You’ve worked hard to get here and the end of high school is just about in sight.

But it’s a busy year, and if you plan to attend college, it’s an important one. With that in mind, I want to share a few tips to make sure you get off on the right foot.

  1. Work harder at school this year. Your junior year grades will be what colleges see as you apply next fall. You can still have fun, of course, but doing your best this year really matters.
     
  2. Participate in class, even if it doesn’t come naturally. Come this spring, you will be advised to ask two academic teachers to write your college recommendation letters. Those letters will be much more personal and favorable if your teacher has gotten to know you through your contributions to class discussions. Speaking up in class will get easier as you practice, and you will need this skill in college and in the workplace.
     
  3. Stay after school for extra help or to attend review sessions before a quiz or test. This will almost always make you better prepared. And, again, it will give your teacher a chance to get to know you and your work ethic.
     
  4. Work on your study skills, time management, and overall organization. You will need to be proficient in these areas to be a successful student in high school and college. If these areas are difficult, ask your parent(s) to help you find some support, either at school or by hiring an academic coach.
     
  5. Make sure you are involved in some activities outside of class.  When it comes time to write your essays and participate in campus interviews, you’ll want to be able to point to things you have done in addition to your academics. Volunteering, part-time jobs, clubs, sports, the arts, etc., are all valuable in this way. Plus, they can be fun and help you realize your strengths and interests. You do not need to add more activities if you are already involved in meaningful ways.
     
  6. Decide on your test prep plan. Most of you just took the PSAT. You can arrange to also take a practice ACT and compare the results. Pick one and then decide on your test prep plan. (If you receive accommodations for school testing, talk to school counselors to make sure you have them for these tests too.)
     
  7. Be vigilant about your presence on Social Media. Schools have access to this and yes, scholarships and even acceptances have been rescinded based on what they have seen on social channels. In short, if you wouldn’t want your grandmother or a future employer to see it, don’t put it out there!  
     
  8. Plan to visit some college campuses this fall to do some window shopping. Do your best to visit local schools of different sizes and locations (city vs suburban/rural). It is best to see schools that are realistic for you to attend so that you don’t fall in love with a school that is not an option for you.
     
  9. Sign up to be on the mailing list of colleges that you are interested in. That is the first step in showing your interest. Then make sure you open the emails of the schools you care about (yes, colleges track that!).
     
  10. Keep an open mind as you put together a list of potential colleges. There are many colleges you may not have heard of that may be a great fit for you. Don’t narrow the field too soon. Do some research – you will be there for four years (at least) – and make sure it's a good fit!

 
All my best for a great junior year!