A student wakes up before 7 A.M. to get ready for school.
By 8 A.M., they’ll be sitting in their seats for their first class.
During their six to seven hours of school they have an hour and a half worth of breaks.
After school, some go to practice sports until the evening. Others finish their homework just in time for their music lessons. Still others stay up late into the night because it’s the only time they have for themselves.
With the bar for college entrance rising every year, students find themselves facing pressure from all sides to be constantly working. Whether that is studying for a test or attending after school activities or volunteering, there is always something to be doing. Even hobbies can be turned into a “product” – art can be a way to enter an art college and sports can lead to a sports scholarship.
These pursuits are all haunted by the same idea: “It will look good on your college application.”
As parents and educators, we must ask ourselves what we want from our children’s education. Part of that is interrogating why we see so many students burn-out during the transition from high school to university.
Although it would be great to rebuild the priorities of the education system from the ground up, that is a vast undertaking that will take years of legislative and cultural changes in how we understand the very purpose and pursuit of education. But until then, the best we can do to ensure students’ mental and physical health is to give them a place for rest.
Here you might be asking yourself: most students already have lots of free time on the weekends and their extracurricular activities aren’t every day. Why do they need more rest?
If you sit down and talk to students, they will be the first to tell you that they feel burnt out. Especially those that have recently graduated into higher education. Students of all skill levels feel a wide variety of social, familial, and societal pressures surrounding their education. While it may be difficult to remember, there was a time where, for many of us, school was our full time job. And just like a “real” job as an adult, it can be mentally and physically draining.Considering how many students experience constant exhaustion, we must acknowledge that something in our current education system is failing.
In addition, students and parents are also always looking for ways to improve a future college application through participating in extracurricular activities. More often than not, I think parents and students want to take what the student is good at and use it to find an extracurricular activity that can be enjoyable. A student who loves to draw and enter art contests, an athlete joins the football team, and so on. But these extracurricular activities are also an investment of time and energy – and the more time and energy is put into them, the more they become the students’ “part-time” job, their “side-hustle.” And because these extracurriculars become “jobs,” they can stop being something a student enjoys as a hobby as they feel pressure to constantly improve and “do something” with their passion. A student who does art in their free time while watching Netflix is going to have different feelings towards it as a practice than a student who is taking art classes and entering art contests.
None of this is to say that a student cannot have discipline and desire to improve in whatever craft or hobby they are interested in. But that motivation must come from within themselves. If they find themselves “outsourcing” their motivation to the approval of their parents, teachers, or peers, there will come a day where that motivation will no longer be available. Students who have been pushing themselves for other people’s sake may find themselves burnt-out, unmotivated, and unsure where to go.
It is crucial for both students and parents to understand that when “rest” is being used in this article, it is referring to complete rest. No pressure and no obligations to anyone but themselves. To rest is to not feel burdened by the pressure to improve. This also teaches an important lesson to students, especially those that find themselves always pursuing greater and greater achievements: it is okay to do something and not be the best at it, to not “succeed” or even be “good.” Of course, many people who pursue music or art want to improve their craft for the sake of self-fulfillment and that is always admirable. But it is important to teach our students at a young age not to seek an impossible standard of perfection and emphasizing how these activities can be places of rest for them is one way to do this.
At Honor Academy, we understand and value the power of academics. But an overworked student is a poor student. In order to create a life-long love of learning, we must give students time to recover and refresh instead of pushing them so hard that they turn against academics all together.
Here are some things you can do as a parent to help encourage your students to take time to rest and recharge:
1. Remind them to take breaks.
While simple, students who push themselves to the point of burn-out often have trouble justifying taking breaks. Having a peer or parent assure them that a break is healthy and okay does a great deal in assuaging these anxieties. It is always better to take preventative measures to stop burn-out before it happens than deal with the messiness of its aftermath, so even this simple action can have great benefits.
2. Give them adequate privacy & space.
Students, teenagers especially, often stifle under the constant eye of teachers, friends, and parents. Simply giving them the space to carve out a place for themselves in the world can offer a large sense of relief. It is important not to pry about what goes on in this space, but always remind your student that you will offer them support. They will come to you if they need to.
3. Encourage their niche hobbies & interests.
Whether it’s baking, guitar, sculpting, collecting stamps, reading manga, or watching old movies, you should support their interest in these hobbies especially if it is something that facilitates rest. Instead of scolding your student for “wasting their time,” listen to them when they try to share their hobbies with you. Not only will this reassure your student that they can continue pursuing this activity, it allows you to make sure that they are safe. Often, students are exposed to inappropriate or dangerous media precisely because they are trying to go behind their parents backs due to a lack of support. If your student is comfortable sharing what they are reading or watching with you, it is easier to make sure that content is age-appropriate.
4. Go to places or do things where they can “unplug.”
Getting students to stay away from screens can feel like an uphill battle. But going out into nature is a great way to rest and recharge. Both exercise and exposure to nature are linked to improved mental health. Social media can also reinforce dangerous social expectations that add to the pressure that students face. To make “unplugging” easier, encourage your student to join you in planning any outings and excursions. At their age, students feel beholden to decisions made by people much older than them and this can lead to a rebellious streak. By joining in on the planning, they can feel like an active participant and are more likely to look forward to these trips.
5. Remind your students that mistakes & failure are okay.
No one wants to see their child fail. It’s only natural that you want what’s best for them at all times. But it is an inevitability in life that there will be things that do not go well for them. And just like any other part of life, students must be taught how to navigate failure. One missed homework assignment does not cause a flunked class. One bad grade does not ruin a student’s chances of success. However, a student will remember who encouraged and supported them during their failures. Be that for your student.
For more ways to support your student, keep an eye on our Instagram page @honoracademyedu for more tips throughout the rest of the month!