My heart is going out to teens these days, especially in my high-achieving community. It seems school districts and parents alike have lost the sense that “average” is really OK, and in some cases, much healthier than “above average.”
An emotional goal of adolescence is to answer the question “who am I” acquiring self-certainty as opposed to self-consciousness and self-doubt. Most teens approach life expecting to succeed and achieve their goals rather than being paralyzed by feelings of inferiority. On a normal path, adolescents seek out people who inspire them and gradually develop a set of ideals and goals for their future. This is all perfectly normal, and if all goes well, teens become young women and young men who believe they can do whatever they set their minds to and are willing to work hard enough for. This process gets stunted if the expectations set for them are unreasonable.
At a recent school board meeting the district reported that a student with standardized test scores in the district’s 25th percentile (translated: higher scoring than 25% of the other kids) ranks in the 75th percentile when compared to other students in our state and the United States. In fact, our two public high schools are ranked #1 and #4 in the state (out of 1,000 public high schools.). In addition, the mean SAT score for our students is 1920, while the state mean SAT score is 1511 and the national mean is 1509. Well, that is a wake up call!
How on earth did “perfect” become the goal? Why on earth are we pushing our children to be so much above average? How this translates into a teen brain is “whoa, I am working my butt off and am not as bright as 75% of the kids in my school. I will never be able to get into college, I will never amount to anything, I am such a disappointment! What is wrong with me? ”
Well, nothing is wrong with any our teens – and I believe that the problem lies with us – the adults in my community – the schools, the parents, the teachers, and the colleges that are setting the performance bar way too high! Most of us are average when held to norms for most things, but what is important is that we all know we are above average in the hearts of our family and the people who love us!