Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Silent Majority of Teens

Written by Tonia Berman and Susan Sherman
When did we become a performance-based society?   It is one thing to be judged by performance in the workplace, whether it be working in the medical field or at Subway.  But now children, especially teenagers, are measured in all aspects of their life by their output.   Parents, teachers, college counselors, coaches, peers, etc. are all casting judgment on children every day, sending the message they should be achieving higher standards at a more efficient pace.  "It's all about time management," we tell them.  Should the primary focus of a 15- year- old's life be managing time or experiencing it?
These kids are working so much harder than the preceding generation.  How much more can they be expected to give?  They must constantly perform at the highest level. To begin with, academically there are the standardized tests, the CST's, the IB tests, the  SATS, and the classroom tests.  Then there are the  extracurricular activities, often a financial requirement to maintain a job, community service hours and athletics.  Where on the list is there time to discuss feelings of happiness, sadness, mixed emotions?   Just to feel at all?  To share thoughts, dreams, hopes, fears?   Emotions don't fit into any these categories.  In the quest to be the perfect child, the perfect college candidate, the perfect employee, the perfect everything, do feelings even make the top ten list?
This generation has lead to a group of students who think they are expected to appear problem-free, as it is in alignment with the perfectionist illusion each person feels pressured to portray.  It makes sense that teens would work to fit the mold for the public at large, but why do many of them feel unable to share their feelings with their closest friends?  Perhaps they don't want to be a burden, for the little free time they do spend together is supposed to be fun, not for sharing their deepest thoughts.  Do they fear people wouldn't want to be their friends anymore?  It seems as if holding up the mask has become so familiar, it is all they know.  It is easier to play a role, and they do it so well, then to let down their guard and expose their true selves.  Will people still respect them if they learn of their flaws? 
The irony of this dilemma is that although each student feels isolated and unique living inside his/her hidden self, the majority of the students are living under a similar pretense.  I believe it is driven by our performance-based society.  Not only will revealing one's inner being break the illusion of perfection, but it will disrupt the brain pathways and interfere with personal productivity.  Reflection takes time, and we did not budget for this process when we starting over-scheduling our children at the age of two.  Although it is easy for me to recognize this flaw in the system, I am a part of it, and I must admit to the role that I played in its creation.
An I.S. senior recently said to me: "I now realize that I have to make my personal happiness my number one priority.  Without it, all of this work, the IB Diploma, getting into a good college, has no meaning."  I told the student that to come to this epiphany at this early point in life is phenomenal; some people never get there.  A person may appear successful, but it is all irrelevant if he/she isn't happy inside.  For most people, one aspect of personal contentment is validation.  In order to feel supported and validated, feelings need to be shared.  For S. and J. (read "S. Writes about her Secret") writing in this blog was but the first step.  For anyone who has a tendency to withhold sharing feelings, talking with a TLC peer mentor, a teacher, or an I.S. counselor are all, of course, other options. 

Our message to all students: You must make time for the most important thing in life... you.  Know that you may be among the silent majority of teens who have yet to learn the art of communication.  Rather than living a robotic life with the emphasis on productivity and performance, consider making self-expression and personal contentment life priorities.  Although there is a place for time management in the life of a teenager, living life should set the precedent.
Dedicated to: Lauren, Jillian, Meghan, and Chasen:  We know that we are not perfect, and we do not expect you to be, either.  May you find happiness and contentment, wherever you go, whatever you do.  You always make us proud.


  1. Performing...for me I took performing to a different level in my life...I should have received an Academy Award. I was taught that my feelings were irrelevant, my opinion didn't matter, my grades were not good enough, etc. The hurt and pain stayed stuffed inside of me for decades while I smiled, laughed and showed to the world "The Perfect Life".

    I gave myself no time to think because if I did the pain would be too great ~ just stuff that too. Later in life after masquerading unable to even tell friends which restaurant I would prefer for fear that they too would not want to hear my opinion / I was worthless these friends started saying "why don't you start expressing your opinion!

    That was only the beginning of a now "Former Secret Keeper"! I am now aware with "true" friends that I DO have value and that they will listen to me whether I am being goofy, dreaming or need to share a fear... I am not judged....I am unbelievable weight is off my shoulders. I am truly content and happy with this freedom of feelings!!!

  2. I admire the fact that you can relate to students on a personal level, regardless of the disparity in your generations.

    It bothers me how we're expected to be these perfect, overachieving, intelligent students and yet we're treated as if we're naive by our parents and even some teachers. Because being older with more experience gives you the entitlement of being wiser and look down upon a naive and younger generation. How can we be treated as such and yet at the same time have so much expected of us performance wise?

  3. Speak your mind and stand up for what you believe in, even if it means standing alone!

  4. After another night of relentless I.S. homework, I thought I should do a little reflection.

    I wonder, as the clock reaches 10:30 at night, and I attempt to finish the math problem that I have redone for about the 5th time, why all of sudden I feel so exhausted, burned out, and defeated. After all, it is not that late. I did not just go through a scarring battle with a History or English essay, and I pretty much finished all of my regular homework. So why the hard feelings? If I look at my “typical” day, I would notice that I did not have really any stressful exams or presentations. But if I analyze my day more carefully I would notice that I was attentive for approximately 6 ½ hours of the day before arriving home. Fortunately, I did not have anything pressing to do afterschool and after snacking and finishing up a few random things I get started on my regular homework at about 4. From that point on, I stopped a couple minutes to eat, go to the bathroom etc. and if you sum up the hours of more intense concentration, I basically did another 6 hours of focused work before I hit the wall. To sum it all up, I basically did a 12.5 hour shift, after waking up at 6 in the morning and working with breaks until 10:30 at night.

    That amount of time among the other limitless amounts of variables in a teen’s life is why I feel the way I do. And we wonder why teenagers tend to be so unhappy. Just think about it. On an “average” no major stress day, I could be doing approximately 6 hours of extra homework on top of my school work. That is without extra-curricular activities, searing projects, spending time with friends, doing something fun or relaxing, or even attempting to be a more available family member. Not to mention trying to look into the future, clean up my room, listen to music, reflect upon my experiences, or even take a walk outside; any those normal activities that every human being should have the right to engage in on a regular basis. I have noticed that sometimes school is easier than being at home. In that way, there are fewer temptations, and frankly things to keep you more occupied with easier tasks than having to stare down an I.B. commentary.

    And these revelations are frankly just scratching the surface. What about maintaining friendships? Deciding upon a college? Taking ACT’s, SAT’s? Keeping up all those extra-curriculars which deep down in inside hopefully provide a more fulfilling sense of satisfaction, than the late sleep-deprived nights merit. Or what about simply feeling? Yes, those time-inefficient emotions that tend to stack up over the days, like old newspapers, even when you are not looking, do eventually need to be addressed. And for me, I when I have half a second to think, I reminisce that I really am going through high school, that infamous period of everyone’s life that seems to be the topic of every Disney channel series. It really is that important. It constitutes the steps leading into adulthood, however shaky they may be. And that really is something to look into. Not simply what one wants to do in their future, but what one is going through now, this very instant, as the role of the notorious teenager. The teenage years are hard enough on their own without school, friends, and one’s FUTURE being piled in on top. Teenagers should really start realizing what they are going through at this very instant although sometimes we are way too close to notice it. Start living now, in the moment, with the emotions, and perhaps one can develop a little appreciation, a little more of a meaningful impression of life, or at least a little enjoyment about what we are living through in these life-changing years.

  5. Students are bombarded with conflicting advice and information: This is the year that really counts, so do what it takes to get above a 4.0. Everyone has perfect grades, what really matters is being interesting. You need to have SATs in the 2100 range to even be considered for that school. High SAT’s aren’t enough. Schools are looking for extracurriculars, and participating isn’t enough-you need to be the president and winning gold medals, nationally if possible. Do what you love, colleges will see that and be impressed. Most colleges want at least 600 hours of community service by the time you apply. Schools don’t want to see filler activities or volunteering on your application. It’s important that you fill every space for honors and activities on the common application. It’s not enough to get your homework done, you should be proactive on starting essays, projects and test studying or you’ll get behind. You need to take those extra practice SATs, four hours on Saturdays isn’t enough. And do the practice problems too-the more you do the higher you score. Put in more hours at the studio, if you don’t get a leading role, into that summer intensive, what will you put on college applications? Sleep. You look tired. How are you going to get into college if you’re hospitalized for stress? Sleep. At home-not it class. Organize your papers the night before, there’s no excuse for leaving work at home. Those are easy points, and if you want straight A’s you need the easy points. Smile. You want them to like you don’t you? Don’t look so upset, welcome to the real world. You have to do things you don’t like. You have to do things that are hard. You have to learn to manage stress. You can’t just freak out when things don’t go your way. This is just preparing you for life. College is going to be even harder, and then you have to get a job. What are you going to major in? Decide. Now. Colleges want to know. It matters. Focus! When you go to interview, you need to know what you will bring to the college, to the program you’ll be majoring in. There are 5000 applicants with better grades, better SATs, better extracurriculars, and more awards. Stand out! Hold it together. If you stop now it’s all for nothing. These are the best years of your life. You are a teenager, you’re young, you’re beautiful. Be happy.

  6. It is so fantastic that a teacher has actually developed an eye to see into the incredibly complicated and filled up world of the teenage mind. It's really easy to lose who we are in all this school work and life stuff. It's also really easy to lose sight of why we are doing it all. I recently had an epiphany like the one your IS senior had, and realized that, having been unhappy for a very very long time, I wanted to be happy, and I was prepared to make some sacrifices in other areas of my life in order to be happy. I thought it was for the best, and I've been feeling and doing better. :)

  7. The same exact issues are prevalent at the college level. The pressures to perform are multiplied, especially when a lack of performance can crush your lifelong goals and aspirations. The weight of that pressure accumulates because now you are paying for your education. Your parents are investing thousands upon thousands of dollars on YOU, expecting you to meet THEIR expectations. In this school I am surrounded by prodigies; sons and daughters of doctors, lawyers, politicians, and CEOs. I used to think that I was less fortunate because my parents aren't college graduates or even high school graduates. I admit that my freshmen year in college I felt ashamed that I didn't have the best clothes, wasn't a member of a sorority and didn't fit in with "those girls". But I soon realized how blessed I really was to be in this situation. My mother did not educate me on how to get into college, how to get a medical degree and how to have a competitive edge. Instead she taught me how to be sincere, empathetic, loving and accepting. She taught me how to work hard, but to never let stress overwhelm my life. She taught me how to work selflessly instead of selfishly. With this outlook I have been able to succeed at a top university. I get recognized by faculty not solely on my performance but by my character. I do not exhibit the jealousy, competitiveness and disrespect that other students do. When I commit to a project (be it in research or in the community) I commit to it wholeheartedly because I LOVE what I do.

    I tell this to my residents all the time, "Do what you love". Freshmen always come to this school thinking that they want to be doctors or politicians, but as soon as they begin to take these courses and they don't do well, they start to feel like failures. They go from being a big fish in a little pond to a little fish in a large pond of overachievers. But not everyone is meant to be a doctor or a lawyer, and that's OKAY! If you love to write, than WRITE! You don't need to fit the mold that society built. Doing what you love leads to success because you will put more effort into what you do, and you will be happier doing it.

  8. I'm so happy that a teacher finally noticed what students have to go through just to be successful. For example, I'll use myself. I'm a junior at the school of international studies and I'm taking all of these difficult classes and on top of all of it, I have to balance out a personal life and my dance life. School is important to me, but dance is as well. Almost every single day after school I have to go up to dance which is until almost nine at night, then I have to go home, do chores, the usual beefore I go to bed, then sit up till one or two in the morning doing all of my homework.

    I think some teachers really need to sit down with their student and have a real ocnversation about what they possibly do outside of school. I've noticed that I am not the only one that does extra curricular activities after school that are not sports for the school. Some poeple have choir practice, dance, work, etc and teacher do not seem to understand that. Iknow at least one of my teacher actually satt down and spoke to me about my work load, how long I have to stay up, and what I am doing after school. Yea I may not be one of the smartest kids at my school, but I do try to my fullest potential to pass all of my classes. I'm not the best tester either. That could be a main reason why I'm not doing my best in some of my classes, but I do try.

    So to sum it all up, school is very crazy and time consuming and everybody should understand that.

  9. I feel like these days perfection is not just the goal, it's the only option and if you can't reach it there's something wrong with you. It's crazy to see how much school, IS in specific has changed in past years. From what I've heard, when the IB program first started at IS, only a select few students took on the diploma and that was their entire life. Now we're expected to be full diploma and do A LOT more. In my case play sports, be in clubs and have a job. I think the worst part about all this stress, is how rarely students receive praise. It seems like everyday is more class hours and less celebrate your teenagerdom (a non-existent word was bound to show up somewhere). I think that's why campus clubs, like Ms. Berman's are so important, they give students a place to land. TLC meetings, for example are the best parts of my A day Fridays, Science Scholars saved my Honors Chemistry grade last year, and ISA is taking the steps to make IS a little bit better. But what do all these clubs have in common? With the help of Ms. Berman, Ms. K and sometimes Ms. C, they are student run, which often means the same kids who are full diploma, playing sports and are involved in these clubs (the same ones who happen to be particularly stressed) are the ones behind all the hard work that makes IS better. I'm sure I don't have a solution for all of what I just said, I just hope that at least one person reads this and knows that they aren't alone. Because while the clubs make IS a better place, the reason it's different from all the other high schools is because we're a family.

  10. To quote Ms. James, "You just need to have Jessica time....You don't even know what that is. You don't even know, REALLY." A sad reality, most students at IS have completely forgotten about their own needs, consumed by worrying about what everyone else wants or expects from them. In the words of Ms. James, we all just need to take the time to have "us time". A lot of which will be time spent just trying to find out what that is exactly. Take the time to find out what you really want out of high school, academically as well as socially and emotionally, because in the end that is the only way to achieve any kind of real success or happiness.

  11. It makes me sad for all of us that we are all expected to do this much. We're expected to put in longer hours than some adults, and even things that are supposed to be fun (such as sports and extracurriculars) are closely monitored. In a comment above, someone mentioned Disney Channel specials. That makes me laugh a bit. In those specials, the kids spend their time in class passing notes, leisurely walk home, and spend their evening talking to their friends and getting into wacky adventures. But real high school life is much different. For many, it's a struggle in class to make sure that every piece of information is absorbed - if a teacher didn't make something clear, they may not want to go back and explain. EVERY PIECE of information counts. Then the student heads to their sport/other activity and works hard at that for another few hours. Then they drag themselves home (or straight home from school, if they're lucky) to work on their piles of homework. When is there time for us?

    I'll quote something I heard around school: "There are three things you can have: a social life, enough sleep, or good grades. If you go to I.S., you have to choose two." That's what it's come to - there just isn't enough time. I wish we could live life. I really do.

  12. It is hard to manage ones time when there is a multiple of classes with work to manage at a young age. I feel that if the process was introduced at an older age then fifteen it would be fine. Most students during the week don't have time for friends or family outings because they have work to do. It is hard growing up and seeing your other family members enjoying their weekend at a party while you have to get your work done inside of the house. It is also understandable that every teacher has cretin material, and requirements that they have to get through before the end of the year. It is a problem that is very hard to solve, and have an outcome that is beneficial for both parties.

    Miguel Preciado

  13. Wow this is really nice to here this to here a teacher actually say and voice some of the opinions of the students. But it is true I here my grandparents sometimes parents and even older cousins say "highschool was so much fun & some of the best years of my life". It may seem kinda sad, I've enjoyed highschool and everything, but I feel like I'm still waiting for "best years of my life part". I want to be challenged academically in highschool but I also want to have fun and enjoy being young. I understand that it's very important to impose and promont taking on leadership roles and huge responsibilities. But I feel as if it wasn't imposed on some people so harshly, they would still have the responsibility characteristic but also have time to have fun and do things young people do while they still can!