College-bound kids from across the globe are increasingly internalizing the same harmful message: Only excellence will do when it comes to grades, test scores, extracurricular activities, and college admission.
But expecting across-the-board greatness is a “set-up,” clinical psychologist David Gleason told counselors and admission professionals on Tuesday.
“Trying to conform to these expectations, kids become depleted, feeling scared about their futures, and disillusioned by their inability to do it all,” Gleason tweeted during a #NACACreads discussion of his book, At What Cost? Defending Adolescent Development in Fiercely Competitive Schools.
“So many suffer intense anxiety and depression, manifested by eating disorders, substance abuse, self-injury, and suicide,” Gleason noted. “At What Cost? amplifies students’ cries: ‘Do you realize how hard this is?!’”
Counselors and admission professionals throughout the nation discussed how to address that unsettling trend during the hour-long #NACACreads chat.
Anna Coyne, a counselor at an Indiana high school, said her students are routinely overwhelmed, overworked, and overscheduled. And thanks to social media, it’s easier than ever for teens to compare their accomplishments (and missteps) to the images and updates shared by their peers.
“We are not giving our kids the freedom to be normal,” she tweeted.
Increasingly, educators, parents, and others ask kids to behave like adults far before they are developmentally prepared to do so. And we’re asking them to do it while sleep-deprived and scheduled to the hilt, noted Gleason, who has worked with students for over 20 years.
“Neuroscience incontrovertibly reveals that the frontal lobe, which controls attention and executive functioning, develops last, and not fully until the late 20s,” Gleason tweeted. And as stress surrounding the college admission process increases at competitive high schools, students are too often pushed to their limits.
Later school start times, more free time, and executive function instruction for ninth and 10th graders can help students prepare for college in healthier, more developmentally appropriate ways, Gleason said.
Counselors and admission officers can also push back against the myth that the only path to success is admission to a brand name university.
“We’ve got to stop the mentality that there are only a few paths to success,” tweeted Sara Tones, a high school counselor from Texas who participated in the chat. “There are plenty of colleges to go around.”
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